How LGBTQ+ Disabled People Are Celebrating Virtual Pride

A BIPOC-inclusive pride flag with a map of the world on top of it.
Image: Dana.S/Shutterstock

Content note: includes mentions of COVID-19 and police brutality toward Black people

Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, many in-person Pride events have been postponed or turned virtual. And while I do miss the experience of dressing in an all-rainbow outfit and celebrating in person with my friends—especially because a few of my close friends have come out since in the last year—the move to virtual events offers an opportunity for increased accessibility as long as organizers commit to hosting accessible virtual gatherings. A virtual Pride offers a safe space where police are not present like they often are at Pride parades and events. And celebrating Pride from home opens up opportunities to disabled LGBTQ+ folks who may have been unable to participate in a traditional Pride event because of access issues.

A Black woman, smiling to camera wearing a red lipstick, glitter liner, and a black shirt with white lining
Photo courtesy of Keah Brown

A virtual Pride may look different from an in-person Pride, but this year, many LGBTQ+ disabled people are excited about the ways they plan to honor the 50th anniversary of Pride.

“This is my first pride out,” explains Keah Brown, author and noted bisexual icon, “and so it was always going to be special and mean so much to me! I’m hoping to celebrate with my social media followers and post pictures in Pride related looks and acknowledge that virtually is just as valid.” In 2017, Keah Brown started the viral hashtag #DisabledAndCute, so she’s well-versed in celebrating self-love online.

Alaina, a white nonbinary person with long hair that is dark brown fading into lavender and gray, stands outside in front of a colorful garden of flowers. Alaina is wearing a rainbow flower crown on her head and a dress with a colorful houses pattern on it. She has one hand on her hip and another hand on a lavender cane. Alaina has blue eyes that are looking into the distance.
Photo courtesy of author.

Like Keah, I plan to post photos of Pride attire that I would have worn to in-person events, even if my friends and I had just decided to get together and have a very queer walk in the woods like we did last year. I bought a rainbow flower crown (inspired by one of my favorite authors, Anna-Marie McLemore) and asked my wife Macey to take photos of me in my colorful outfit with my purple cane decked out in glitter. I’m grateful that I won’t have to factor accessibility into my decision to attend Boston’s Pride events, which have historically not been the best at this.

A transmasculine south Asian person leans on a black cane. He wears a rainbow unicorn romper.
Photo courtesy of Noor Pervez

Noor Pervez, Accessibility Director at Majid al Rabia, feels similarly. “Virtual Pride for me means being able to celebrate Pride with members of my community from home, even if I’m having trouble moving,” he says.

Noor will be celebrating Pride with Masjid Al Rabia online, starting with a PrEid (celebrating Pride and Eid) open mic online and attending Dallas Pride virtually, which will take away some of the stress of flying as a wheelchair user. The PrEid events Noor is participating in center and celebrate LGBTQ+ Muslims. He says, “These in-community events remind me that I exist, that my community is real and strong despite attacks against it. It affirms that we are here and always have been.”

A young woman with short brown hair is standing in front of a tall bookshelf. The books are arranged in rainbow order. She is wearing a white T-shirt with a rainbow heart on the front, jeans, and red boots.
Photo courtesy of Marlena Chertock

Marlena Chertock, a writer from Washington, D.C., was excited to participate in the Unicorn March’s first Bi History Month, which she says celebrates “people whose experiences are often erased.” Marlena followed the hashtag on Twitter and says, “The outpouring of support moved me to share a poem I’ve been working on for a while, called ‘Where the quiet queers are,’ inspired by Hannah Gadsby’s comedy performance Nanette.”

Virtual Pride actions can be intentional in including people who are often erased at traditional modern Pride festivals or in LGBTQ+ media. I watched Remixing the Rainbow, a virtual panel from The Bronx Book Festival that centers queer and trans authors of color with Dhonielle Clayton, George M. Johnson, Arvin Ahmadi, and Aiden Thomas, moderated by Patrice Caldwell, and I’m reading You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson.

As a sensory-seeking autistic person, I will genuinely miss the rich sensory experience of attending Pride, so I’m planning to honor my autistic identity all month alongside my LGBTQ+ identity as if June is an extension of Autism Acceptance Month. That means stimming and dancing to Lizzo and Demi Lovato songs in my flower crown and reading and sharing work by other autistic LGBTQ+ folks.

Marisa Russello, a mental health advocate and writer from New York, will also miss the ability to attend Pride in person but says that one major accessibility barrier for her is that cigarette smoke is a trigger for her migraines, and smoking is common at Pride events. Many Pride events are also not fragrance-free, making them inaccessible to people with chemical sensitivities and allergies. “There are so many benefits to virtual meetings as far as accessibility,” Marisa says. “They eliminate transportation as a barrier, so I can attend NYC Pride events even though I no longer live there. I could even attend Pride events worldwide.”

Pride can also be an important time to honor the history of Stonewall and the legacy of Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera, and other trans people of color who led the movement. “The first Pride was a riot for rights and a recent generation endured the AIDS crisis—supporting those in the community who are most at risk during the pandemic, and honoring ourselves, pays homage to our history in a powerful way,” explains Taylor Linloff, an autistic advocate from Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, who will participate in celebrations and parties but also in community action events such as cards being mailed to isolated LGBTQ+ people. That’s why I’ve recognized Pride so far by donating to LGBTQ+ Black-led social justice organizations and mutual aid funds and organizing a Q&A with trans authors for the We Need Diverse Books blog.

A selfie of Taylor in a pride t-shirt.
Photo courtesy of Taylor Linloff

Linloff also plans to host a Facebook Live talking about their experiences as a gay person who was diagnosed with autism later in life, and says they’re looking forward to feeling at home again during Pride Month. “Pride makes me so happy, and I love seeing everyone come alive and being so unashamedly who they are,” they say. “Virtual does not mean fake or imaginary in the case of Pride, it’s just reimagined. More opportunities to get creative, and who doesn’t like an inspired challenge?”

Existing and celebrating as a multiply marginalized LGBTQ+ disabled person can be very powerful. “I’m going to try to celebrate with the small pockets of joy that I find,” says Keah Brown. “Especially with what’s going on in the world in terms of the brutal killings of Black people, joy is even that much more important so I’ll celebrate by fighting for equality and justice for my people.”

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Alaina Leary is the communications manager of We Need Diverse Books. Her work has been published in New York Times, Washington Post, Cosmopolitan, Teen Vogue, Refinery29, The Oprah Magazine, Healthline, and more. She lives with her wife and two cats in Boston. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram @alainaskeys.