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🌈 How PDX Pride transformed during the pandemic

It’s FRIDAY.

And that means we’re talking about all things Portland Pride in honor of — you guessed it — Pride Month. Today’s feature is about how Pride celebrations had to change course last year due to the pandemic, how such festivities are being handled this year as something resembling normalcy resumes, and the magic that goes into making these events happen.

Without further ado, let’s jump into it.

The pandemic scuttled any idea of “normal” that much of the world once enjoyed. This was especially true for live events: Almost overnight, one of the most joyous, spontaneous things a human being could experience became a severe health hazard.

Despite the strength and resilience inherent to the very idea of Pride Month, Portland’s annual, colorful, LGBTQIA+ celebrations weren’t immune from these changes. This was the case in 2020, and even with the positive developments of the past few months, there are still logistical challenges to hosting events in 2021.

So how did organizers navigate the pandemic to safely celebrate Pride this year and last? Bridgeliner aimed to answer that very question.

📅 Last year

2020 kicked off strong for Portland Pride — organizers were planning on commemorating the second annual George T. Nicola LGBTQ+ History Fellowship, and things were in the works for the first expansion of the Waterfront parade and celebration in well over 15 years.

And then the pandemic hit.

Just like other Pride festivals around the world, Pride Northwest made the hard decision to postpone and ultimately cancel the parade and celebration for 2020.

The LGBTQIA+ community is no stranger to a large-scale health crisis exacerbated by neglectful government policies, having previously navigated the AIDS epidemic. So, in order to protect its community, organizers made the difficult decision of canceling the festivities.

“While the festival and parade were canceled, Pride was not!” Pride Northwest organizers wrote on their blog about having to shift the event. “Our small team of three immediately began planning a series of events online celebrating Pride. This year it was important more than ever that we focus on how Black Lives Matter in our community. Pride Northwest has been actively engaged in the issue of police accountability as [the issue] regards our community through direct conversations with law enforcement for some time, and so this is not a new topic for us. Our first-ever Virtual Pride showcased local and national Black queer talent, and sent a powerful message that Pride Northwest will continue to center these voices and advocate for true equity.”

A majority of Pride Northwest’s events went virtual in response to the pandemic. (📸: Cassie Ruud)

Film screenings, live panels, and art from Black and Indigenous local artists made up the bulk of last year’s virtual Pride celebration — and if you missed out, you can still watch the virtual Pride Parade on their YouTube channel. Organizers said that in a normal year, interest in Pride celebrations would slow down in subsequent months — this wasn’t the case in 2020.

Pride Northwest kept going, offering direct service and activism throughout the remainder of the year; to name a few causes Pride championed, they went on to advocate for sheltering unhoused Portlanders, providing financial support to folks impacted by the pandemic, and ensuring that Black, Indigenous, and more LGBTQIA+ people of color were included in the city’s COVID-19 Housing Assistance program.

With Pride 2020 virtually wrapped, it was time to start planning for the future.

⏰ What Portland Pride looks like in 2021

The answer? It’s a combination of a choose-your-own-adventure novel and a scavenger hunt. 

Events are still primarily virtual (since we are still in a pandemic, and although we’ve made progress and are far past the uncertainty of last year, we’re not completely out of the woods yet), but now that some restrictions have loosened, a select number of in-person Pride Northwest events have been able to take place this year.

The Diva Drag Brunch started the month off strong with its all-star cast of Portland drag performers, and things are wrapping up this week with Pride Pics at Zidell Yards — Pride celebrations are blooming like a bush of rhodies all over the city.

This year’s Pride Parade was pre-recorded at the Portland International Raceway, and you’ll be able to watch it this weekend on Sunday, June 20 on Pride Northwest’s YouTube channel (they’ll also be holding a Zoom community watch party so make sure you check that out too!).

So what had to happen to make all of this come together?

As the pandemic winds down and more Oregonians get vaccinated, next year’s Portland Pride celebrations will look a little more familiar. (📸: Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons / Another Believer)

✨ How the magic happened

As Debra Porta, executive director of Pride Northwest, told KGW, organizers “had to get creative.”

She stressed that marches have proved as effective as past celebrations through the comfort of seeing a wave of faces from fellow LGBTQIA+ community members and allies. This visibility accomplishes the same mission of Pride Month bashes in a normal year.

“We knew Pride was going to happen,” Porta said in that same interview. “Pride will always happen. It just may look different.”

Several states have been trying to enact anti-LGBTQIA+ legislation this year. Porta said she wants the year’s visibility and ingenuity  of Portland’s Pride celebrations to help folks who are struggling and emphasize the LGBTQIA+ community’s humanity and strength in the face of oppression.

An artistic tribute to these qualities will be captured in the form of Portland’s only LGBTQIA+ mural at the end of this month set to be unveiled by July at the latest. The piece is called “Never Look Away” and features eight pioneers of the movement: Marsha P. Johnson, David Martinez, Asa Wright, Angelica Ross, Aydien Dowling, Kathleen Saadat, Lynn Nakamoto, and Rupert Kinnard. Pride Northwest is still fundraising for the mural, and if you’d like to donate to this historic art project, you can do so right here.

While Portland Pride may have had to shift and pivot over these past two years, radical strength and continual transformation have always been key to the LGBTQIA+ community’s history and affirmation of its members’ shared humanity.

For a full list of Pride Northwest events, check out this link.

Thank you to our Bridgeliner Unabridged members. Stories like these are made possible with your membership and support.