//Pride in Intermission

Pride in Intermission

The Fresno Rainbow Pride Parade 30th anniversary celebration is on hold, for now.

By Lisa Talley | lisa@fresnoflyer.com

“It’s a gut punch,” reflects Jefferey Robinson, Co-Chair, and CEO of Fresno Rainbow Pride’s parent organization, Community Link.

The COVID-19 pandemic has undeniably changed 2020, and with it, the cancellation of all the large events and celebrations slated for the entire year, including Fresno’s Pride parade. While recognizing and respecting the need to ensure the public’s safety, Robinson explains that it still doesn’t make losing the beloved event any less painful for the community.

“[Pride is] almost like a rite of passage. It’s a place where we can be rejuvenated … [when] we feel oppressed or under the microscope or judged, we don’t have the ability to always be as out as we want to be. For many people, they need this event, and others like it to refresh their souls and gather new strength to carry on and move forward.”

Fresno’s Pride parade and celebration have, for what would have been 30 years, this year, also served as the kickoff event for ‘Pride season.’ While June is officially dubbed ‘Pride Month’ (in commemoration of the Stonewall Riots that sparked the gay liberation movement), parades and celebrations continue well into the fall—ending in November with Palm Springs’ marking of the occasion. In fact, many California cities don’t overlap dates, making it easy for people to attend multiple events across the state without conflict. Fresno Pride creates a springboard into the exciting months ahead for many in the community who then travel to San Francisco, Los Angeles, Sacramento, or San Diego, for example. But with a pandemic in full swing and an unpredictable timeline for a resolution, losing the Fresno Pride celebration means a halt to the entire season that was to follow. A hard-hitting reality for the LGBTQ community. Acknowledging this, many organizations have found a way to continue honoring Pride, Fresno among them.

“We are on pause, and during that pause or intermission, we’re going to have the ‘Quarantine Edition’ as a placeholder, something for us to connect and celebrate with our community, allies, and friends about Pride in general,” Robinson shares.

Fresno Rainbow Pride’s original theme was ’30 years of Pride,’ a direct reference to their 30 years of work within the community and ongoing organizing of the event. While this ‘Quarantine Edition’ is a modification of the celebration, it won’t carry over the initial theme. The organization also determined that the parade would not be rescheduled into the fall when it is likely that large gatherings and events would see an authorization to start up again from health officials. According to Robinson, the decision is rooted purely in logistics and an appreciation for the other organizers who typically host their events in the later months. Attempting to reschedule a massive celebration such as Fresno’s Rainbow Pride Parade outside of their usual time-frame would not only likely interfere on an already cramped calendar, but would also create competition for resources that would limit everyone’s ability to acquire what they need. Something the organization sees as ‘stepping on the toes’ of many of their neighbors.

“We are going to have the 30th annual Pride parade when it is appropriate when it is safe to do so. And if that means it happens in 2021, that’s when the actual 30th parade will happen,” Robinson explains.

In the meantime, Fresno Rainbow Pride has come up with multiple virtual events to help ease the sense of loss felt by the community in the canceled parade.

On Saturday, June 6, the organization will host its ‘Quarantine Edition,’ live-streamed to their social media accounts. The stream includes a schedule of live performances from Drag Queens and Kings, musical sets put together by local DJs, pre-recorded videos of community members expressing what Pride means to them, and sponsors sharing their work on behalf of the community. Leaders, Grand Marshals, and local politicians will also say a few words. These and archival footage from past parades will grace the stream in a montage of Pride celebration.

Shortly after, within a couple of weeks, Fresno Rainbow Pride will host ‘Pride at Home.’ The theme is virtual and encourages people to put together their best Pride outfits and strut their stuff at home. Again, the submissions will stream on the organization’s social media platforms.

“Many people spend a lot of time putting together their Pride outfit. Even if you’re a casual guy or gal, you’ve got it kind of planned out with a Pride shirt, beads, a hat, a bow, or something you’ve bought [specifically] for coming out to the Pride parade,” elaborates Robinson.

To culminate the month-long celebration, the organization plans to put together a car parade of sorts. Like the drive-by congratulations of birthdays and graduations seen throughout the pandemic – a way to unite in the festivities while honoring the social distancing guidelines – Fresno Rainbow Pride will create a similar moment for the occasion. Participants are encouraged to decorate their cars as wildly and, as Robinson says, “as fabulously,” as possible. The organization will film the event for release on their social media accounts. Details on when and where it all takes place are to be determined. Interested parties can follow Fresno Rainbow Pride online for updates as things progress.  

For those looking to fill their season with even more Pride, Robinson also hosts a monthly radio show. ‘It’s a Queer Thang’ airs every third Friday from 5 pm – 6 pm on 88.1FM (also available to live stream on www.KFCF.org). This month’s show is dedicated to Pride and will not only cover the work Fresno Rainbow Pride has been doing in Fresno but others around the globe. A notable mention is the Global Pride virtual event taking place on Saturday, June 27.

“Pride organisations from across the world will celebrate Global Pride 2020. With musical and artistic performances, speeches from activists and campaigners, and addresses by public figures, we will stream 24 hours of content that reflects and celebrates the beautiful diversity of LGBTI+ people everywhere.” (Quoted from their website, www.GlobalPride2020.org)

The June episode of ‘It’s a Queer Thang,’ unlike the Fresno Rainbow Pride virtual events, is only available live when it airs. Due to copyright licenses for the music played during the show, the episode will not see a repeat broadcast. Listeners will have to tune-in at the exact time to catch the show or risk missing the experience altogether. However, the radio show does run all year round and continues to discuss a variety of topics related to the LGBTQ community. Recent episodes have mainly geared towards the COVID-19 pandemic. Discussions include organizations that have shifted their service delivery, highlights of virtual support groups, and how people can stay connected during this time. But the general conversation remains around a constant theme.

“We like to say, it’s always good queer talk, music, news, and events,” shares Robinson.

Jeffery Robinson and his husband Juan Bustamante with Renee Potik and her wife Kay Taus

Fresno Rainbow Pride also has projects in the works that continue throughout the year, beyond the annual Pride celebration, such as the Oral History project under the larger Qistory umbrella. ‘Qistory’ (queer history) seeks to document, record, store, and preserve the LGBTQ history in Fresno and the Central Valley. The Oral History project revolves around recording individual testimonies on personal experiences in the community. Stories such as those from the elderly about their lives as a queer person in the Central Valley throughout the decades.

Just before the stay-at-home orders swept through the state, Fresno Rainbow Pride partnered with StoryCorps, a non-profit organization whose mission is “to preserve and share humanity’s stories in order to build connections between people and create a more just and compassionate world,” to record numerous testimonies. Residents may remember a stylish airstream trailer parked outside of CMAC’s building in downtown Fresno earlier this year – that was StoryCorps’ traveling recording studio. Robinson and other organizers worked with the non-profit to coordinate and record several stories from members of the LGBTQ community, growing the Oral History library. 

“StoryCorps said they had not [seen] that large of a response in their travels and were really impressed at the turnout. We pushed hard to the community [that they] needed to take part in this,” Robinson furthers.

Those recordings will live in not only the Qistory archives, but also the Library of Congress, where StoryCorps collections will become a permanent part of American history. Stories are also available on their website, www.StoryCorps.org. 

And Fresno Rainbow Pride is still looking for contributions from the public. Currently, concerning safe practices during the pandemic, recordings of personal testimony are on pause. However, Qistory also seeks to preserve items that speak to the culture of the LGBTQ community. Things such as business cards from a gay business, ashtrays, matchbooks, or shot glasses bearing a gay bar or club’s logo on it, political buttons, fliers, posters, ads, love letters between couples in a long-lasting relationship – “literally anything” as Robinson says. The organization wishes to add these materials to its archives for future display. Anyone unsure that an item qualifies or has questions about how to submit an object, email clinkinc@aol.com for more information.

While the traditional celebration of Pride may not be available this year, organizations across cities, states, and even the world are finding ways to continue honoring it – both during the season and all year long. Pride may be in an intermission, but it is certainly not forgotten.

Follow Fresno Rainbow Pride on social media for more information and to stay updated on everything they’re working on: @pride_fresno on Twitter, @fresno_rainbow_pride on Instagram, and Fresno Rainbow Pride Parade and Festival on Facebook.