words by Casey Tanner (she/her)
This month, many in the LGBTQIA+ community are holding space for grief, protest, and celebration as Pride month intersects with both quarantine and anti-racist protests across the world. While few queer folks know what it’s like to confront pride during a quarantine, holding space for both pain and joy is anything but new—especially for queer BIPOC.
Pride month marks the anniversary of the 1969 Stonewall Riots, a series of demonstrations originating in NYC’s Greenwich village and led by Black and POC trans women and drag queens.
Nearly 50 years later, in 2016, the gay Latinx community of Orlando Florida was targeted in the Pulse Nightclub Shooting. Furthermore, police brutality and anti-Blackness persist in egregious ways to this day. BIPOC in the LGBTQIA+ community (especially Black trans women) know what it’s like to both celebrate their identities while being targeted because of them. Grief, protest, and celebration is not a new combination for many in our community.
Alex Jenny @alexjenny_
This holds true for Alex Jenny, aka The Drag Therapist. As a therapist, Alex Jenny specializes in gender identity development and trauma recovery. As a drag queen, she is dedicated to using her art to celebrate trans femmes of color and create spaces in queer nightlife that center around authenticity and healing. For Alex Jenny, pride month is “usually a time of blooming. [She] feels the weight of winter melt away, and the sunshine means it’s time to frolic, play, adventure, and celebrate.”
She goes on to describe this time as usually both “chaotic and manic, trying to let all that energy flow through you without feeling like bouncing off the walls constantly.” This year is a bit different. Not just for Alex Jenny, but for the entire drag community.
“Pride is usually the busiest time for us,” she says. “The cancellation of Pride will have a huge financial detriment to artists, event planners, and business owners, as this time of year is usually our most profitable.” People in the community not only look forward to, but rely on this income for expenses throughout the year.
Crocodile Lightning, a burlesque artist who tells stories through movement across the world, echoes these sentiments. She recalls her first Pride in the United States, as a Thai-Chinese trans introvert “in the middle of a loud, proud, colorful [parade] in awe of the collective sense of liberation.”
Crocodile Lightning @CrocodileLightning
Even while “smiling ear-to-ear, [she] could still hear [her] mom’s voice telling [her] to blend in, or to ‘tone it down.’” She calls this a “funny little dance of conflicting messages” that reminds her there are “many ways to celebrate who we are.”
This year, perhaps more than ever, queer folks are finding ways to hold space for this kind of multifaceted remembrance. Crocodile Lightning shares that burlesque artists “are certainly experiencing grief and loss financially and emotionally. Burlesque entails so much work behind-the-scenes, such as rehearsing, costume making, touring, bookings shows, arranging for flights and accommodations, teaching classes, collaborating with photographers, and more. I tend to plan my bookings and collaborations a year or two in advance so the pauses placed on these booked opportunities affect me deeply.”
Beyond the financial implications, Crocodile Lightning also misses the human connection with a live audience. For her, burlesque is a “public ritual of self-love and self-acceptance which is like Pride in many ways.”
Jari Jones @iamjarijones
While the annual Pride Parade is the most obvious yearly event, rituals within the queer community extend far beyond this public celebration. Organized marches, dance parties, vigils, and spaces of healing escalate within the community during June each year. More than anything, Alex Jenny and Crocodile Lightning say they will miss being with their loved ones—the pregame kiki, parade, and gathering at home with chosen family.
Even with these losses, both are optimistic about the way they and the community will respond. Alex Jenny sees this year’s Pride as an opportunity for rest, intimate moments, and self-love. Crocodile Lightning looks forward to a delicious Thai home-cooked meal to nourish her body. She deeply trusts that “social distancing will not stop our bodies’ wisdom and minds’ intuition to cultivate emotional connection.” Alex Jenny adds that she believes people “will be pushed to be their most creative, innovative, intuitive and bold selves given the opportunity to find new ways of showing pride and coping.”
People will be pushed to be their most creative, innovative, intuitive and bold selves given the opportunity to find new ways of showing pride and coping.
I believe it’s important to note Alex Jenny and Crocodile Lightning are both avid anti-racist activists, who shared their perspectives on Pride with me prior to the widespread protests on police violence and systemic racism. I have no doubt that this has affected them both deeply, and perhaps shifted their intentions this month.
Without knowing it, perhaps the creativity, boldness, and intuition they spoke of is, in actuality, the call for the LGBTQIA+ community not to shift attention away from the anti-racist uprising, especially for those of us holding white privilege. Pride this year might be about honoring Stonewall by de-centering ourselves and centering the BIPOC folks who have always been at the heart of it all.
How to Support LGBTQ+ POC Artists
If you’re looking to support drag performers, burlesque artists, and BIPOC communities this Pride month and beyond.
Share performers' shows. Tip them; encourage others to tip them. Many of these artists have Venmo accounts linked to their social media.
Hire these folks for their many talents outside of performing. These may include make up, styling, sewing, audio mixing, comedy, singing, video editing, and cinematography.