New challenges bring Pride celebrations closer to the community
Published in June, 2020
The landscape of LGBT Ann Arbor has changed considerably in recent years. Local gay and lesbian bookstore Common Language closed in 2018, and when owners Martin Contreras and Keith Orr sold Aut Bar to the BarStar Group last year, patrons hoped the 25-year-old Ann Arbor institution would avoid a similar fate. But in early June Aut Bar announced plans to permanently close, saying in a Facebook statement that "the financial impact of the COVID-19 crisis has proved […] to be simply too much to bear."
Other local queer groups are feeling the effects of Covid-19, too. The LezRead book club has experimented with online meetings, Out Loud Chorus canceled their May concert, and Ypsilanti-based drag troupe Boylesque Michigan has moved its programming online. In addition to virtual bingo and online benefit shows, Boylesque is planning a July 3 country-themed drag show (a benefit for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline) in the parking lot of Alive Ypsi, which audience members can watch from their cars or online. (Note: due to heat concerns, this show has moved to a livestream-only format).
Ypsilanti's online Pride celebration, held on June 5, drew inspiration from the successful online programming that many local groups are putting out. Virtual Ypsi Pride featured live music-including a performance by Out Loud Chorus, burlesque and drag performances, and DJ sets. Signs of Pride are also visible in the streets. "[bringing] Pride to the outside world and off the internet felt crucial," A. Popkey, an Ypsi Pride Organizer, told The Gander. Ypsilanti residents participated in Project YARD (Ypsi Area Rainbow Decorating) by decking out their homes, storefronts, yards, and sidewalks in rainbow- and Black Lives Matter-themed paint, flags, and chalk art.
Planning for Ann Arbor's August 1 Pride celebration is well under way. Director Joe Schoch says that "people can expect much of the same if they've been to Ann Arbor pride in the past, just in a virtual setting." The celebration will
be held on AnnArborPride.com and will feature a combination of prerecorded and livestream performances on a virtual "main stage." There will also be an online directory of sponsors and a "kid's zone" with drag queen storytime, arts & crafts instructions, and kid-oriented messages of love and support.
This year's celebration boasts a completely local lineup: "local artists, local drag performers, local bands, and local sponsors." Details are still to come, but the program will feature poetry, dance, drag performances, yoga, and more. The recently-announced headliner is musician Laith Al-Saadi, an Ann Arbor native whose blend of blues, soul, and classic rock earned him a spot in the finale of NBC's singing competition show The Voice in 2016. The celebration will also be active on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. "We want it to be as interactive as possible," says Schoch.
New this year, Ann Arbor Pride is teaming up with nonpartisan groups to provide online voter registration. "In support of the increasing visibility of racism in the United States, we wanted to make sure that people can have their voices heard in the upcoming election," Schoch notes. Ann Arbor Pride is also supporting local businesses with a silent auction. "It's a great way for businesses to raise money for themselves and raise awareness for Pride," says Schoch. It's not too late to sign up for the auction, and businesses can choose to donate what they earn (all proceeds from Pride go to the Jim Toy Community Center).
An upside of moving Pride online has been increased accessibility. "We're noticing really cool impacts that we didn't think about until people reached out and started sharing their stories with us," says Schoch. "People who are not comfortable with crowds, people who have never been to a Pride before because they don't have transportation or because they aren't out but they want to explore. We are able to share with those people."
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