Thought Leadership

Pride in a Time of Pandemic

The month of June marks the traditional celebration of LGBTQ Pride in communities across the nation and world. This year, Pride will look different. The global coronavirus pandemic has resulted in the cancellation of hundreds of pride celebrations worldwide, a severe setback at a time when fostering community and bringing people together is more important than ever.

Pride is more than just a party — although it’s often the biggest LGBTQ-specific celebration in a given community each year. Pride is a statement of existence and an affirmation of life for millions of LGBTQ people. It is a living, breathing act of defiance against those who tell LGBTQ people we are less than. It is a reminder that while we’re all different, we’re all people deserving of the same rights and treatment under the law.

Canceling in-person Pride celebrations has meant that the LGBTQ community has had to be even more creative in planning and promoting virtual celebrations online. And the list of options grows every day. That’s a good thing for sure. But what does Pride mean in a pandemic? What should communicators know about this celebration and affirmation of queer life?

At a time when social distancing is the norm and attacks against people of color and anyone who is different are accelerating again, the power of Pride is a necessity. It’s important for communicators to understand this context in this Pride Month and year-round, particularly as society evolves while dealing with life in the middle of a global health emergency. 

To help you understand what Pride means and what you and your clients need to understand about engaging the LGBTQ community now and in the future, I reached out to friends and colleagues who are LGBTQ PR professionals, advocates and national community leaders. I asked them to share their thoughts about why Pride is important during a pandemic, the future of Pride and how it will continue in the wake of the pandemic.

Here’s what they told me:

“Pride — even if orchestrated virtually — is an important reminder to LGBTQ people that we are stronger together. Even while we battle COVID-19 as a human species, we still have a long way to go to build a deeper well of acceptance in the name of humanity.”
Elizabeth Birch, former executive director, Human Rights Campaign

“During times of crisis, vulnerable communities, including LGBTIQ people, become more vulnerable. With the onset of COVID-19, LGBTIQ people are experiencing higher barriers of access to health care, rising levels of domestic and family violence, disproportionate food and shelter insecurity, and, more worryingly still, a separation from our chosen families, communities and organizations. We need to connect with the broader LGBTIQ community, to be loud and visible digitally, [even] if we can’t do so in person, to ensure that LGBTIQ people aren’t pushed even further into the margins of societies.”
— Valerie Ploumpis, co-chair, OutRight Action International

“The negative impact of the isolation we are experiencing at this time is compounded for LGBTQ people. The inability to connect with people like themselves can be detrimental to overall mental health. Pride is a time to celebrate which is something everyone desperately needs now more than ever.”
Wes Combs, principal, Combs Advisory Services

“Pride celebrations have been forced to adapt through good times and bad, and this year will be no different. Indeed, it’s been during the LGBTQ community’s darkest hours that Pride events and commemorations have served to galvanize our community, educate the public, and move hearts and minds toward acceptance.”  
— Zeke Stokes, media strategist and former vice president, GLAAD

“As Pride events move virtual by necessity, it provides an opportunity to reorient Pride to its previous balance between celebration and activism. If our community uses Pride to be politically engaged in the presidential race and supports the historic number of LGBTQ candidates up and down the ballot, we can have an enormous impact on our nation’s politics this year.”
Annise Parker, president and CEO, LGBTQ Victory Fund

“Prides around the world have pivoted quickly to creating virtual experiences for 2020 but there are two things to consider moving forward. One, Pride organizations do events and work in the community all year round, so thoughtful planning is already happening for what the remainder of 2020 and 2021 can and will look like, depending on how the pandemic plays out. One major concern is financial viability in a difficult economic climate. My hope is that we understand what an important role Pride plays in our community for every one of us.”
— Cathy Renna, interim communications director, National LGBTQ Task Force and principal, Target Cue

“We hope all communicators will see how the LGBTQ community has come together in innovative ways during this crisis. The community is innovating and helping like never before.”
— Anthony Shop and Thomas Sanchez, co-founders, Social Driver

“We will see Pride flourish not in parades or parties, but in art, music, literature and perhaps just our own love, noise, light and personality. Smart communicators will harness this energy and amplify it — emphasizing authenticity, originality, humanity and compassion.”
— Bob Witeck, president, Witeck Communications

So what does all of this mean for communicators? It means that you should continue to look for ways to engage the LGBTQ community this month (and year-round) on behalf of your firms, your clients and your initiatives. It means that you shouldn’t assume the pandemic has shut down Pride, or that authentically and meaningfully engaging our community is no longer relevant.

What you do may be different — and it may rely more on digital and other communications than before — but it isn’t any less important or vital. At a time when we all need to be reminded of our common humanity, Pride is essential. And maybe, just maybe, Pride in 2020 provides a template for bringing us all together when we need it most.


Ben Finzel is president of RENEWPR in Washington, D.C. He is a member of PRSA and the PRSA Counselors Academy. He was a co-founder of FH Out Front, the first global LGBTQ communications practice at an international PR firm.

Photo credit: shutterstock

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Ben Finzel

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