How Denton celebrated Pride amid the coronavirus pandemic

Denton Gay Pride Celebration

Article Originally Published by Haley Arnold on North Texas Daily

Under more normal circumstances, Pride weekend would have played out quite differently. Community members adorning rainbow colors would have flocked to the Denton Square for free yoga and sidewalk chalking or filed into Andy’s Bar or Harvest House for a dance party.

But this year, the streets around the Square remained empty. Instead, community members took their Pride gear and dancing shoes to the Internet for the two-day virtual celebration, dubbed with the theme “Queer In It Together.”

“For me, the realization [Pride would need to be virtual] was in May when restrictions were lifted even though the number of COVID-19 cases were still rising,” said Spiderweb Salon co-director Nina Chantamapumma. “I knew I wouldn’t feel safe in a mass gathering, so I wouldn’t expect anyone else to put themselves in danger either.”

Pridenton intended to hold the celebration this past weekend, but the coronavirus pandemic caused the in-person events to be rescheduled to Sept. 12Instead, the organization hosted two online events — a virtual showcase cohosted with Spiderweb Salon on June 26, and a virtual dance party cohosted with OUTreach Denton on June 27.

“Fortunately, we had already started experimenting with online gatherings when we hosted a virtual happy hour showcase and open mic when the coronavirus shut everything down back in March, so we felt confident in being able to bring the Pridenton showcase online with the use of Zoom and YouTube Live,” Chantanapumma said.

Anjelica Fraga is the chair of the steering committee for OUTreach Denton, coordinator for Pridenton and collaborator for Spiderweb Salon. Initially, Pridenton considered doing a social media campaign for the month of June, but Fraga said they felt they needed to find another way to acknowledge the community.

“We still want to make sure that the queer and trans community of Denton knows that we’re here, that we love them, that they’re seen,” Fraga said.

Friday’s virtual showcase was held over Zoom and streamed on Spiderweb Salon’s website. Spiderweb Salon, Denton’s creative collective, collaborated with Pridenton last year with a zine workshop and poetry showcase. For this year’s event, creatives took turns performing their songs, poetry and comedy pertaining to their own experience as a member of the LGBTQ+ community. The event was also streamed through YouTube Live, allowing viewers to take advantage of the live chat feature.

Saturday’s dance party on June 26 was co-hosted with OUTreach Denton, the city’s oldest queer and trans-run organization which creates spaces for LGBTQ+ people through socials and annual events. Fraga said OUTreach was previously hosting dance nights at Crossroads Bar before quarantine and also hosted last year’s Pride dance night at Harvest House. DJ Ursula Minor provided the music for the event, which ran from 9 to 11 p.m. on Twitch.

“One of the things I felt I was personally trying to be mindful of when we planned these events is that people didn’t have to have any specific social media to access it,” Fraga said. ” We don’t want people to feel forced to have a Facebook or Twitter or Instagram or whatever… And the other cool thing about Twitch is that it has a chat feature so people can talk to each other, even from separate households.”

Pridenton teamed up with Panector to create this year’s Pride t-shirts, which are available for sale until August 10. They also worked with their team of sponsors and volunteers to create Pride Boxes, delivered to community members earlier in the week. The Pride boxes were sold for $15 and included a commemorative glass, the Philly Pride flag, zines submitted by community members, stickers honoring Marsha P. Johnson and Syliva Rivera, chalk, bubbles and miscellaneous accessories like rainbow sunglasses, koozies and beads.

“We met early in the morning on Oak Street,” Fraga said. “We provided materials for people to decorate their cars, and then we had [people] go out and deliver boxes to different sections of the city. We did dances, people did chalk drawings, people were waving and honking and blasting music, so that was a really fun thing. We got to do something with community members that was still safe and still were able to social distance.”

After delivering all the boxes, the team brought their decorated cars back to the Square for a small parade, blasting music and performing chants.

With OUTreach’s in-person socials being canceled for now, Fraga said they have prioritized offering virtual community spaces for Pride month, notably with their Discord server.

“Members of the community can sign up and we’ll invite them to be part of the server,” Fraga said. “Everybody can interact with each other. And it doesn’t have to be during a social or anything, people can just post and chat with each other. So that has been nice, especially communicating with each other about the protests.”

Fraga said the community has found it important to support the Black community at large, particularly Black and brown trans people, amid viral incidents of police brutality.

“We found it even more important, or just as important, to continue uplifting our community, particularly because of the particular types of violence that Black and brown trans women face, and the fact that we owe Pride to Black and brown trans femmes,” Fraga said. “So we’ve been trying to be very mindful about the way that we acknowledge and have planned and structured our events.”

Local LGBTQ+ organizations have also been backed by several local businesses wanting to help celebrate the community. Kimberly Bien, Salted Sanctuary Soap owner and maker, has created two new soaps in honor of Pride. The sales of these soaps, titled Pride Parade and Peony Rainbow, will run until stock is depleted, and 50 percent of the proceeds will benefit Pridenton.

“I’ve been a longtime supporter of [Pridenton],” Bien said. “In previous years, I’m a vendor at their events, donating the cost of the vendor fee back into them.”

Some of the products she has made for past Pride celebrations include bath bombs with various Pride flags on them. She said it is important for local business owners to highlight the LGBTQ+ community because it honors the people within the community and can help dispel stigmas that may surround it.

“Since we weren’t able to have a public event, I wanted to do something that I could sell online,” Bien said. “I love [Pridenton Coordinator George Ferrie] as a human being and the whole organization because they’re trying to create a safe sense of place and a community, and because they also have long-term goals outside of the celebration, regarding [fundraising for] their community center and things like that.”

On June 30, Pridenton announced via their Instagram page that proceeds from their donations and t-shirt sales are being used to make a contribution to Dallas’ House of Rebirth, a community housing initiative and safe space designed by and for Black trans women affected by oppression. Pridenton is encouraging community members to join them in making a donation through July 5.

Amid the physical barriers imposed by coronavirus and the subsequent cancelations and rescheduling, Chantanapumma said it was meaningful to still have a space to celebrate Pride.

“Being apart from each other during the pandemic has been difficult and not being able to celebrate Pride Month as we have in years past is disappointing,” Chantanapumma said. “However, I think it’s more important now than ever to uplift and honor LGBTQ+ lives. It can be hard to feel the support of a community while we are physically apart, so I’m glad that Pridenton figured out a way to bring us together and remind us all that we are not alone and that we are loved.”

Featured image:  Courtesy OUTreach Denton

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