As the coronavirus pandemic first took hold of life in the U.S., LGBTQ organizations, like so many other businesses, nonprofits and advocacy organizations, quickly adapted to a world gone virtual. This meant Zoom meetings with organizing teams, and the like. (In 2020, the usual.)
Though staying “visible” online was quickly sorted out on an organizational level, since then, it’s become clear that to demand change is still as urgent and as viable a tactic as ever. In response to the police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and , the last few weeks have seen thousands of people protesting the systemic racism entrenched in U.S. society and its since its very founding.
Thus, as LGBTQ organizations around the country organized their advocacy efforts this Pride Month, they were in need of addressing two overlapping issues: the coronavirus pandemic, with its requisite social distancing, and systemic racism, with its ever-present urgency.
In the past, Pride parades, one of the most visible aspects of Pride Month, have been critiqued for being too white, too corporate, and devoid of the activism tied to its beginnings.
The activism and protests happening across the U.S., however, have clarified the mission of many LGBTQ organizations, refocusing them on the roots of Pride in the first place — and their advocacy work going forward.
“It’s a critical reminder that revolutionary riots at Stonewall were spearheaded by queer people of color,” Rich Ferraro, chief communications officer at , said. “Every advancement [for LGBTQ people] has been possible because of the action [they] took at Stonewall.”
“What has happened this Pride is a recognition that we can only celebrate our identities because trans women of color stood up for us against police brutality,” Lucas Acosta, a national press secretary for (HRC), said similarly.
So, how do you keep the intersectional fight for LGBTQ rights at the forefront of people’s minds, during a pandemic, during what is seen as this generation’s civil rights movement, and during, of all things, Pride Month itself?
Mashable talked to representatives from LGBTQ advocacy organizations , , , , the , and the to hear about how they’ve adapted their advocacy efforts and overall focus this Pride Month.
Now, staying top of mind requires demonstrating, among other things, why the fight for LGBTQ rights is connected to all of the other monumental shifts currently happening in our society. Here’s what issues organizations have been focusing on to stay visible.
1. Racial Justice and Intersectionality
LGBTQ advocacy organizations are far from the only ones recalibrating their platforms to better incorporate the pillars of racial justice into their work right now. Protests around the country have led to a slew of changes to company policies, state law, and even dictionary definitions.
But for LGBTQ advocacy organizations, as noted above, Pride itself wouldn’t exist without the bold actions of queer women of color. That makes an increased focus on racial justice all the more important this month, and always.
Moreover, the recent, devastating killings of Black trans women like Dominique “Rem’mie” Fells and Riah Milton have led to a swell of All Black Lives Matter and Black Trans Lives Matter protests, which have centered on the epidemic level of violence facing Black trans women.
Though the organizations featured here all maintain their continued commitment to intersectional issues and racial justice, the current moment marks a moment of intense recalibration for many.
For example, over 100 organizations signed a pledge to commit themselves to taking action to support Black Lives Matter as a phrase and movement, including all of the ones Mashable spoke to for this story. Now, they’re all in talks within their respective organizations about how to take their commitments further — whether by making up for past inadequacies, or by doubling down on existing work.
To keep this conversation visible in the meantime, some advocacy organizations are finding virtual ways to loop supporters in on their efforts.
For the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), that starts with educating the public. The organization does work around usually, but with social distancing in place, they’ve continued to educate others through virtual panels and webinars this Pride Month and beyond, Imani Rupert-Gordon, the executive director of the NCLR, notes.
In early June, Rupert-Gordon and NCLR helped organize a on topics concerning the intersection between LGBTQ equality and the fight for racial justice.
Broadcasting chats has been useful for HRC as well, with HRC president Alphonso David meeting with Trevor Noah on June 17 to explain why his “quest for liberation as a Black man is intricately tied to [his] quest for liberation as a gay man.”
At GLAAD, which focuses on the media representation of LGBTQ people, getting others informed about racial justice sometimes means handing over the mic. From June 19 to 21, it teamed up with NY Pride and Black drag performers Peppermint and Bob the Drag Queen for three days of virtual drag performances.
The event raised funds for the livelihoods of New York-based drag performers as well as Black queer organizations.
While Ferraro notes that this kind of work is “nothing new” for GLAAD (it’s GLAAD’s digital adaptation of Drag Fest), they’re still finding more ways to focus on Black LGBTQ organizations.
GLSEN has been focusing on on-the-ground efforts. To that end, it’s working to empower its student leaders to organize the kind of advocacy efforts at their schools that will ensure all students have a safe learning environment by expanding their focus on racial justice, according to a.t. Furuya, a youth programs manager with GLSEN.
“[Black people] can’t do anything without some form of resistance, violence, or backlash,” Furuya said. “I hope this is a big wake up call.”
Right now, Furuya notes, the team is finding ways to help student leaders get local police off of their campuses, a call that has been lately. Currently, Furuya says GLSEN is working to support other organizations already doing this work, and then leveraging its own platform to lift up their work.
For GLSEN, visibility also means accurately reflecting all LGBTQ students in its support material as well, and Furuya says GLSEN is currently recalibrating its entire approach in the wake of protests. To that end, GLSEN wants to ensure this material better reflects the needs of Black LGBTQ students.
“We’re reevaluating everything we have out,” Furuya said of the organization’s resources and informational materials.
Part of adapting the work of LGBTQ organizations in this moment, as Furuya gets at, will require equipping organizations and policy makers with enough information and resources to make substantial, targeted improvements for Black LGBTQ folks specifically. Without materials that reflect intersectional issues within the LGBTQ community, specific solutions are harder to envision and implement.
HRC, for its part, is making sure LGBTQ folks, and particularly Black and brown LGBTQ individuals, stay visible in the eyes of policy makers, both now and moving forward: The organization has been compiling data about the economic and health impact of COVID-19 on LGBTQ communities throughout the pandemic so that policy makers can craft legislation that clearly benefits the community and addresses its needs. (One on the economic impact of COVID-19 on the transgender community was released in June, for instance, and HRC plans on releasing more in the coming months.)
“We’re reevaluating everything we have out”
Though Acosta says it’s been clear that members of the LGBTQ community, and particularly Black and brown folks within the community, have been hard-hit by the coronavirus pandemic, concrete numbers about COVID-19’s impact on LGBTQ individuals are not currently available on a large scale. While collecting this data, HRC has also made clear its desire to see legitimate government sourced data tracking the same phenomenon.
“We’re trying to fill a gap, and that gap shouldn’t exist,” Acosta said of HRC’s data.
With an increased focus on intersectionality and racial justice, organizations have also reevaluated their relationship to allyship as well. This marks a shift in how they’re conceiving of visibility this Pride Month too, with LGBTQ folks with more privilege figuring out how to show up as allies for those with less privilege.
Rupert-Gordon points out that within oppressed communities, such as the LGBTQ community, people sometimes don’t realize the ways in which they’re oppressing people themselves. This Pride Month, though, she’s happy to see a renewed and growing focus on intersectional issues at LGBTQ organizations.
“As a Black queer woman myself, it’s the only experience I have,” Rupert-Gordon said. “It’s the only way I see the world.”
At PFLAG, an organization that provides support to LGBTQ people, their families, and allies, allyship this month means supporting local chapters, which are comprised of parents and families, some of whom have been empowered to into their own work.
To do so, PFLAG is providing resources to families directly involved with their communities by training individual chapters on how to get in touch with legislators, and explain their own story as it relates to LGBTQ rights, Diego Sanchez, PFLAG’s director of advocacy, policy, and partnerships, notes.
“We’re national but we believe in the power of the zip code,” Sanchez said. “Those are the voices that carry the most strength.”
For GLSEN, a shift in the way the organization conceives of allyship itself is underway this Pride Month, according to Furuya. Formerly, one of GLSEN’s most visible events was , a GLSEN mainstay in which, every September, LGBTQ allies across the country take action on their campuses to support LGBTQ students: They might organize ally workshops, or educators might look into provided guides to best support students.
In years past, this week focused particularly on how non-LGBTQ allies specifically could support the LGBTQ community at their school.
This year, though, it determined that the event is going to be called Solidarity Week, formalizing a shift that Furuya notes was already happening more organically. (Planning for this name change started before Pride Month, but Furuya notes that events calling for racial justice across the country in June reinforced the reasons solidarity work would be so important this year.)
Instead of just focusing on allies, the week will be oriented around how everyone can show up and support different people within the LGBTQ community.
Each day of the week, an identity will be selected that students can be in solidarity with. Students working with GLSEN will determine how their own schools incorporate GLSEN’s guides and suggested activities. This will lead to conversations about what it looks like to show up for other people, and how people can determine when to step up and when to sit back.
Furuya notes that sometimes LGBTQ people think they can’t be “allies” to, say, intersex individuals or Black LGBTQ folks, because they already belong to the broader LGBTQ community. This mentality ignores the specific needs of intersecting identities that oppress people within the larger LGBTQ community in different ways.
“We’re really trying to break that down,” Furuya said. “I’m a trans person and I’m queer. I also carry different levels of privilege. What does my solidarity work look like?”
3. Employment Discrimination
Another way some organizations have approached staying visible and relevant this Pride Month is by connecting their current and upcoming work with larger shifts already happening for LGBTQ rights.
On June 15, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employment discrimination for protected classes, includes gender identity and sexual orientation, thus protecting gay and transgender employees from discrimination.
It was a landmark decision, and in light of everything else happening in the world right now, provided some much needed relief for the LGBTQ community.
Though most organizations were prepping for a negative outcome, considering the conservative makeup of the Supreme Court, the court’s decision is instead empowering them to keep the fight against employment discrimination at the forefront of the push for LGBTQ rights.
With the increased visibility from the Supreme Court decision, the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund (TLDEF), for instance, is suing Houston County, Georgia and state officials in North Carolina to challenge the exclusion of medically-necessary gender-confirming healthcare from state employees’ insurance plans.
As noted in its official statement about the Supreme Court decision, in TLDEF’s view, the decision bolsters TLDEF’s argument in these cases. TLDEF has since filed briefs that explain why it feels the decision should also apply when determining the outcome these cases.
This builds on other work that TLDEF was already doing to keep trans visibility at the forefront amid the pandemic and Pride Month as well. Andy Marra, the executive director of TLDEF notes the organization has expanded the scope of its Name Change Project, which provides pro bono council to trans folks so they can legally change their names, to also include digital for trans folks.
The guides, which are available in both Spanish and English, provide information on employment, healthcare, and identification, as well as other relevant issues that might come up during the pandemic. (All the while, Marra says people can still apply for legal help online, where they can then complete necessary documents and virtually meet with pro bono counsel to prepare for court procedures down the road.)
The need to focus on the livelihoods of trans folks right now is dire, considering the Trump administration’s continued attacks on trans rights and the ongoing, deadly violence towards Black trans women.
“This is a really difficult and unprecedented time of violence and disparity… Despite the pain and anger over this systemic problem, I have hope in light of the response [thus far],” Marra said. “As an activist, I have hope it will leave lasting and transformative change in our country. We’re in it for the long haul.”