By Noah Deeds and Nick Vargas
When COVID struck in early March, 2020, we moved our programming online for what we believed to be just a few weeks. During that time our Pride Visalia committee continued to plan for our 4th event Memorial Day weekend. However, by early April it was becoming apparent that we wouldn’t be able to have Pride as the cases began to shoot up and restrictions on gatherings increased.
We were worried. Pride Visalia is our largest fundraiser of the year and helps sustain The Source LGBT+ Center’s services to people living with HIV and LGBTQ+ youth, as well as free counseling, peer support groups, and the actual community center. If we didn’t have Pride, we might not have a center.
With only 6 weeks to plan, we pivoted to creating a virtual event that could be aired the same day we would have had Pride Visalia 2020. Our committee, our staff, local drag queens and the people who rely on The Source for services and support collaborated to create Pride Inside. As we were creating the event we were concerned that no one would show up or that it wouldn’t be engaging enough for people. We also wanted to deliver benefits and visibility for our sponsors, all of whom remained on as sponsors when informed that we were shifting to a virtual event. We did what we could to market it through social media, partners, word of mouth, and local media.
Around 3,000 people attended Pride Visalia in 2019. Our social media following was at least 16,000 people in May 2020. Yet, we had only a few hundred people interested in attending and we knew many of those might not show up. Could we raise the amount we needed to, deliver value to our sponsors, and spread Pride vibes to our area in an effective way? It didn’t seem likely with our first major virtual event and with no blueprint to follow.
May 23, 2020, Pride Visalia, was shaping up to be a key moment in our center’s history and either pave the way for a future or begin the epitaph of a grassroots movement to make a hostile area more inclusive for LGBTQ+ people. At noon we started the stream. Immediately we noticed people signing on and viewers going up. There was a lot of interaction in the chat, engagement on social media, and when it came time to give during the program – we raised nearly $10,000.
It was not the amount we would have raised with an in-person Pride but it was a huge start. Pride Inside showed our team that a virtual event could be done and that people would show up and support. One of our attendees said that they were, “just happy to have Pride at all and to reconnect with their community.” Our sponsors were thrilled with the response and the way we incorporated them during and after the event. An unforeseen bonus for sponsors and for us is that the content lives on forever on YouTube and social media. Logos, commercials, messages and drag shows can be viewed by anyone at any time; thus giving more longevity to sponsors and the community.
Pride Attendance Reimagined
Accessibility is fast becoming a necessary consideration within the planning process of events, especially for events such as Pride that are fundamentally about the inclusion and equitable treatment of all within our diverse community. Transportation and accessibility has always been a large deterrence for event attendance; many who wish to be a part of The Source and our events are within another county, city, or state. Now, people can access our events from anywhere in the world from the comfort of their own living room.
It is often assumed that just because an event or venue is ADA compliant that the barriers for those with disabilities are eliminated. That is not the case for many with invisible disabilities, or disabilities that require extra considerations. Virtual events help bridge these needs in accessibility, and we have seen that firsthand within our attendance numbers. One of our disabled attendees mentioned that “It was nice to not have to worry about finding accomodations and the extra stress” that goes along with in-person events.
Pride is a day of jubilee for the LGBTQ+ community, a symbol of overcoming discrimination and cultivating solidarity through our differences. Pride Inside is an evolution of those principles. It was a response to a global hardship that impacted LGBTQ+ folks in ways that exacerbated long lasting issues within our community, particularly around our need for each other and spaces in which we can freely express ourselves. In meeting that need, we also bridged another longstanding gap for those with barriers to equitable access and inclusion.
We hope that you join us for even better Pride Inside than our last on May 29th at 12pm. After that, our hybrid (in-person & virtual) Pride Visalia 2021 event will take place on October 23rd! Our Executive Director, Brian Poth, says that “with the massive community response from 2020’s Pride, we are excited to bring together the best of both worlds with our hybrid Pride Visalia 2021 later this year!” Bring your friends, family, or support for The Source’s Pride events by reaching out to the website or number provided below.
Sponsor, attend, and support Pride Visalia at www.pridevisalia.org or text “Pride2021” to 43506