By Michelle Talsma Everson; photos courtesy of Virtual Arizona Pride
If there’s one thing you can say about the LGBTQ+ community, it’s that we’re resilient, flexible and hard to keep down.
Because of the COVID-19 health pandemic, the 40th Annual Phoenix Pride Festival and Parade was quickly rescheduled for November 7-8, 2020, the original date for the Rainbows Festival.
With this date change in mind, a coalition of Arizona LGBTQ+ organizations held a quickly put together meeting to coordinate and present the first Virtual Arizona Pride, a weekend of live stream events featuring drag performances, comedy, and music as well as events focused on education, political advocacy, and mental health.
With David Boyles of Drag Story Hour Arizona and Shannon Black of Free Mom Hugs Arizona at the helm, the two-day virtual event will include more than 30 individual events hosted by organizations from across the state.
“We launched Virtual Arizona Pride to help keep people engaged and connected on this very important weekend,” Black says. “It’s not the same as in-person obviously, but we’re trying to fill the gap as best we can. Pride is often the only weekend that people can be who they are, and we’re trying to channel the spirit of Pride, just in a different way.”
Participating organizations include Phoenix Pride, Flagstaff Pride, HRC Arizona, GLSEN Phoenix, Equality Arizona, Drag Story Hour Arizona, Free Mom Hugs Arizona, NCSF, Water of Life, Tucson Pride, and more.
Performers include comedian Micheal Weakley, the Thinly Veiled Shadow Cast, and drag performers Patricia Mason, Rebecca Goodhead, Rosie Cheeks, Mister Phoenix Pride Owen Michael Parker, and Miss Phoenix Pride Tyra Marie.
Virtual event topics include everything from mentorship and personal coaching, drag queen story hour, a coffee chat, online parade, a digital Sunday service, and many more.
How does it work? Black explains that participating performers, nonprofit organizations, and others will present live stream events throughout the weekend across platforms including Facebook Live, Instagram Live, and YouTube.
The events will be collected and promoted on the Virtual Arizona Pride website at virtualazpride.org as well as on the Virtual Arizona Pride Facebook, (Facebook.com/VirtualAZPRide), Twitter (@PrideArizona), and Instagram (@VirtualAZPride) and with the hashtag #VirtualAZPride. Events are free, but audience members are encouraged to donate online tips to performers and make online purchases from vendors to support the community in this difficult time.
“The best thing attendees can do to participate is to go to our website’s events page and attend the events that speak to them most,” Black says. “Of course, please share on their social media, too! This is outside of the normal, we admit, but it may be a step in the right direction to connect Pride groups from across the state and maybe hold more regular virtual events. We just want to continue to remind the community that loves and supports them."
Why is Pride important?
“The importance of Phoenix Pride is summed up with one word – community. It is just as important now as it was forty years ago that the LGBTQ+ community and its allies support and celebrate one another. Phoenix Pride is the hallmark event to come together and renew this sense of community and togetherness.” — Glen Spencer, Executive Director of Aunt Rita’s Foundation
“The City of Phoenix is a more resilient and prosperous community because of our diversity. On Phoenix Pride Weekend, we join the global celebration of the LGBTQ+ community, while amplifying the core values and principles that make Phoenix a great place to live, work, and play. Cities must continue to be the guardians for all our residents and ensure that discrimination and hate find no home in our community. I am proud to host events like Phoenix Pride Weekend that represent just how far we have come, and remind us of how far we still have yet to go.” — Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego
“As members of the community, it is important to recognize that celebrating marginalized groups helps lift everyone up. Pride is about visibility and acceptance. That visibility encourages acceptance and helps remove unnecessary, stigma, and biases. Acceptance and equality are not just thoughts, they have actions you can take part in every day. Pride is just one of them.” — Chris Deaton, co-owner of Truly Beloved, Echo Hall of Fame 2019
“Over the years we met so many wonderful human beings [through the Greater Phoenix Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce] as it made no difference who they choose to love. We formed lasting and deeply enriching relationships and we saw firsthand the struggles and the joys that come from being LGBT. It profoundly moved us. We became active in the community because we saw a need but also because we cared deeply about our new friends. We have laughed together and cried together and plotted to win over the world. Being a part of the community has given us a new dimension and our business has grown. While we have experienced a glimpse of what it means to be gay we feel pride for all our friends. So now when we go to industry conventions those same people that snubbed us want to know us and find out how we did it and can we teach them to be inclusive. For us, that is what Pride means: to be proud to make a difference, be amazing and to change minds and hearts.” — Howard Sr. and Patty Fleischmann, Community Tire Pros & Auto Repair
“Pride is important because it provides mainstream visibility for the LGBTQ+ community. Visibility translates into familiarity and that familiarity goes a long way in erasing bigotry.” — Eric Schenck, Officer at Large, APEX
"… Pride is extraordinary because it gives remembrance to the story of Stonewall, which launched the gay rights movement, thus giving birth to pride. We need to remember that we are a community of individuals, we have the power to shape the perception of our communities.” — Joseph Benjamin, Publicist, Prophecy PR
“Pride is a time to stand out not blend in. Our community historically has had to endure lifetimes of invisibility, the power of pride is being front-and-center about who we are, how we love, and pushing others to not just tolerate but to embrace how beautiful all of us are. We do our best work when we’re leading the next generation into an inclusive world of beauty.” — Nate Rhoton, Executive Director, one n ten
“As an LGBTQ business owner, I couldn’t be more proud of the accomplishments of my amazing team and I’m forever grateful to them and our clients and our partners for always embracing my identity and realizing the simple truth –– that love is love. Pride is our time to celebrate diversity and especially our community’s leadership of inclusivity.” — Ty James Largo, CEO, Awe Collective
“Pride is important because we exist. It is a time for each of us to share our authentic self, for our community to celebrate the fact that we no longer need to hide in the shadows or stay in the closet. Pride is a time for us to reflect on those who fought for our right to live freely and celebrate being a part of the LGBTQ+ community.” — Heather Genovese, VP Crisis & Opioid Services, Southwest Behavioral & Health Services
"… Pride weekend is the greatest opportunity for individuals who are LGBTQ+ to look around and see that they are not alone -- in fact, far from it. Pride is also a platform for our allies and local businesses to come together to support us and celebrate our diversity. For 40 years the LGBTQ community has bonded and formed strong friendships at the Pride Festival and Parade in Phoenix. We can let our rainbow flags fly high and proud for one weekend of the year, without fear - and that's why Phoenix Pride is so important to our community and young people who are able to witness so much love and acceptance every April in the Valley." — Lisa Cardinale, Realtor with West USA
“While we must celebrate LBGTQ rights every day, Phoenix Pride Weekend gives us a moment to stand together and take inventory. We can celebrate the great progress we have seen, remember the sacrifices it has taken, and address the challenges that still lie ahead. As a leader in the arts world, I believe fervently that there’s so much more which connects us than what keeps us apart. Pride Weekend will be a platform for us to connect as people and to celebrate our humanity in all of its diversity.” — Gerd Wuestemann, CEO and president of Scottsdale Arts
"Pride is important because there are countries where it is still illegal to be LBGTQ+, there are members of this community that can’t safely express who they are. Pride events in Phoenix and other communities give us a place where we have support and feel valued." — Jenna-Lee Neff, founder of Solstice News
“Bank of America strives to be a great place to work for our employees, and that means promoting a safe, equitable, and inclusive workplace environment for our lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender colleagues such that everyone is welcome and encouraged to bring their whole selves to work. A big part of that is being visible and proactive in demonstrating our support for each other and for the Phoenix LGBTQ community." — Benito Almanza, Arizona president, Bank of America
"It's important for organizers and event producers to find alternative ways to engage our community right now. We all need to stay connected, and going virtual is a great way for people to participate and stay engaged with each other. NCSF is proud to be a part of the first Virtual Pride weekend, and we hope to help make it a huge success." — Susan Wright, NCSF Spokesperson
“Pride is about finding yourself and celebrating. It started as a riot for LGBTQ rights and has evolved into a celebration, expression, and an onward movement. — Sam Heart, first Ms. Phoenix Leather
Visit virtualazpride.org for complete details.