Due to concerns over COVID-19, VA Pride has announced that the 2020 edition of their annual PrideFest, originally scheduled for September 26, will not occur.
Considering everything that’s been going on over the past several months with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, it’s doubtful that it came as a surprise to very many people on Tuesday, when Virginia Pride officially announced the cancellation of this year’s VA PrideFest. However, it was still unfortunate news.
The organization cited “ongoing concerns and uncertainty related to the COVID-19 pandemic,” and surely anyone who has been following the recent surges in new coronavirus cases across the majority of the United States knows that these concerns are very real. That includes VA Pride President James Millner.
“Our first and foremost concern is for the health and safety of our community,” Millner said in a statement. “While there was some hope that restrictions on larger outdoor events would have eased by September, we could not, in good conscience, hold an event that put anyone at risk.”
The event, held every year on Brown’s Island on the last Saturday in September, regularly draws 40,000 attendees, some of whom travel hundreds of miles to be there. This year will be only the second year in the past 40 in which there hasn’t been some sort of Pride event in Richmond. However, considering the size of Brown’s Island, a public park in the center of Richmond with multiple entrances, organizers felt that attempting to limit attendance and enforce social distancing would be impossible to manage.
The loss of the Virginia LGBTQ community’s biggest annual opportunity to gather together and celebrate our Pride is particularly tough this year, as Virginia passed sweeping new LGBTQ protections in the General Assembly this year, all of which went into effect earlier this week. It certainly would have made this year’s PrideFest an extremely festive event.
Millner acknowledged that therefore, this loss would be particularly difficult this year. However, he pointed out that, in a time of widespread protests over police violence against Black Americans, there is still a long journey ahead before we can attain equal rights for all.
“Our community has much progress to celebrate this year, but much work remains,” Millner stated. “We firmly believe that LGBTQ organizations like Virginia Pride have a role to play in supporting and amplifying Black voices and fighting for Black Lives. We, as an organization, now have the opportunity to focus on how we can best use our time, energy and resources to support those efforts.”
VA Pride recently took part in the Stonewall Rising March For Black Lives, which demonstrated solidarity between Virginia’s Black and LGBTQ communities. The organization is looking into more opportunities for smaller in-person events and larger virtual programs they can host over the remaining months of 2020.
However, the group recognizes that the loss of PrideFest will be a difficult one. Still, Millner encourages everyone in Virginia’s LGBTQ community to stay positive.
“We know this will be disappointing to our LGBTQ community and our allies,” stated Millner. “But we are resilient. We will not let this steal our pride.”
Photos from VA PrideFest 2018 by Sara Wheeler