When the world suddenly went remote in spring of 2020, Dan Huntley and Gretchen Arroyo were faced with an enormous challenge: planning a parade with no attendees.
“Why can’t we do something like that?” said the vice president of Star City Pride. “That’s socially distant. We can still be in the same location and we can still have a parade, even if it’s not what we’re used to looking at.”
The Lincoln-based nonprofit offers members and allies of the LGBTQA+ community the chance to come together and celebrate with food, performances and speakers during its yearly Pride event in June. Around 6,000 attended the two-day event in 2019. This year, concerns about COVID-19 meant that all in-person Pride events would be cancelled, including the organization’s first Pride Parade since its inception in 2006.
Huntley said he knew this cancellation would leave a void in many people’s lives. Pride has always been a chance to connect with people like himself, ever since the first Pride event he attended in Omaha.
“I needed to see people being open and out and proud, and not ashamed and not scared,” he said. “I think my involvement with Pride stems directly from that. I feel like, if we have the opportunity to provide that to somebody else who needs it, then we should be working to make sure that that happens to the community.”
Instead of floats parading through the streets, on June 20, 2020, the organization’s Facebook page broadcast the event — an inverse parade.
“We were able to bring in other elements of the community that normally have the opportunity at Pride to speak to attendees,” said Huntley. “I think it turned out well. We’re really happy with the results. There was a lot of interaction on Facebook.”
The virtual event included speakers like Mayor Leirion Gaylor Baird, Councilman James Michael Bowers and Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks, as well as performances from local drag queens and other artists in the community. The organization estimates that around 50,000 interacted with the event on Facebook.
For many people under the LGBTQA+ umbrella, Pride events in June promote a sense of visibility and inclusivity for the community. This may be especially true for those feeling isolated or marginalized because of their gender or sexual identity.
Pat Tetreault, director of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Women’s Center, said this year’s pandemic may have been especially tough for many LGBTQA+ members of the community.
“As a marginalized community where people are not always accepted within their own families, then that creates a unique challenge of maybe having to go home where you can’t be who you are, or you’re not accepted for who you are,” said Tetreault.
It’s also important, Tetreault added, that communities and cultures know their own history.
“Part of Pride is celebrating our history in a culture that has not taught it, and that also has disparaged it,” she added.
With distribution of the new Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine beginning throughout the United States, the organization hopes to return to their in-person events in 2021. Gretchen Arroyo, Pride’s sponsorship director and co-chair of the parade committee, said the organization is planning to hold in-person events next summer which may still look different than in years past.
The biggest difference, she said, will be in regard to safety.
“Everything’s pretty fluid right now,” Arroyo said. “If I had my crystal ball, I’m hoping everything is going to be back to what we were planning next year. But, we will still have that virtual portion so that if somebody is a little leery of attending then we’ve got them covered.”
The organization will continue broadcasting festival performances and speakers, Arroyo said, to those who may not be comfortable attending an in-person event.
Growing up in Southern California, Arroyo said Pride events were an important part of her early life, making the LGBTQA+ community feel visible and represented. She hopes to bring that same level of visibility to Lincoln. Outside of her involvement with Pride, Arroyo has served 27 years as an event coordinator. She is excited to use this experience to organize Lincoln’s in-person Pride Parade in 2021.
“It’s the personal way for me to give back my experience growing up with a parade and a kick-ass festival, then utilizing my abilities as a professional event coordinator,” she said. “If I can make it better, why not? Why wouldn’t I? It’s my way of giving back to the community.”