Even a pandemic can’t stop Pride.
Cville Pride Week kicked off on Sunday, celebrating the local LGBTQ community through gatherings aimed at a variety of ages and demographics.
While this is the second year in a row that the Charlottesville Pride Community Network, a local organization that provides resources and organizes events for LGBTQ community members, has had to cancel its Pride Festival, a series of smaller, socially distanced events provide an opportunity for connection and celebration this week.
In 2020, all Cville Pride events were cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“When Cville Pride first started, it was just the festival in September. And as it gained in popularity, more people were asking about different opportunities. It grew to be an entire week,” said Elena Michaels, vice president of the Charlottesville Pride Community Network and coordinator for Cville Pride Week.
This year, Cville Pride hoped to host both the festival and a week of events. But as the future of the pandemic was unclear, the organization made the decision to cancel the festival again, but use the Pride Week model to organize smaller events with COVID-19 mitigation strategies in place.
“In 2019, there were around 9,000 attendees. There’s just not a huge amount of space in our longtime venue, the Ting Pavilion, for people to spread out to the same capacity. And because it is covered, and not completely open air, we didn’t really know how comfortable people would be coming out and about,” Michaels said. “So all of that led us to decide to do as many events as we could during Pride Week that have all of the different pieces of what people love during the festival, but just smaller opportunities.”
Michaels said a key part of Charlottesville Pride Community Network’s mission is to provide connection and community to local LGBTQ individuals of all ages and backgrounds. This includes providing a space for youth, she said. This is especially because many of the founders of Cville Pride are parents.
“Our festival has always tried to be very opening and welcoming to all ages and to allies. And because there are not a ton of extracurricular opportunities for LGBTQ youth, and all LGBTQ adults have been youth … we know how imperative it is to have those opportunities and those resources. And so when we talk about what our pillars are and our main focuses for our organization, our youth support and programming is number one,” Michaels said.
Because of this, Cville Pride Week kicked off with the Youth Pride Picnic in Washington Park, where kids and teens gathered to socialize and enjoyed treats from La Flor Michoacana and to learn about resources available to them.
“Having the youth picnic has always been incredibly important to us, especially since we haven’t been able to host some of our other youth programs throughout the year,” Michaels said.
Finding open-air venues for COVID-19 safe gatherings was key.
Michaels said many of the community venues that host Cville Pride have been through Cville Pride’s Safe Space training or reached out to the organization about hosting an event.
“That’s actually how we got things rolling for the event at Firefly. We’ve worked with them before. And the owner there reached out to us and said, ‘we’ve been a part of this in the past and it means so much to us, how can we help this happen?’” Michaels said.
The Firefly restaurant hosted a Pride Trivia Night on Wednesday, where attendees could test their knowledge of LGBTQ history and culture to win a Firefly gift card. The restaurant also featured a “Pride-tini,” with $1 of each sale going back to Cville Pride.
Cville Pride connected with other local bars and restaurants as well, with several of the venues donating some proceeds from the events to LGBTQ causes.
Three Notch’d Brewing co-hosted Cville Pride’s LGBTQ Business & Professionals Happy Hour on Monday, where community members gathered to network, make business connections and celebrate.
Common House hosted a Pride Happy Hour on Tuesday with 10% of proceeds going to Side by Side, a Richmond-based nonprofit that supports LGBTQ youth, and an additional 10% going to Black Transmen Inc., an organization that provides support to Black transgender men across the country.
Even as the end of the week nears, events are still ongoing.
The IX Art Park weekly Thursday Night Market will feature Pride vendors and LGBTQ community resources for all ages from 4-7 p.m. Following the market, the park will host a free drag performance featuring local performers, ages 18+.
Also on Thursday, community members can enjoy a specialty cocktail at the Vitae Spirits downtown tasting room from 5-9 p.m. $1 from each cocktail sale benefits Cville Pride.
The week’s festivities will close out at 2 p.m. on Sunday with a free movie showing of drag comedy “To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Love, Julie Newmar” at the Piedmont Virginia Community College Dickinson Theater.
But pride doesn’t end after this week, Michaels said. Charlottesville Pride Community Network hosts events throughout the year, including specific support groups for transgender individuals, events for youth and an ongoing LGBTQ film series with the Jefferson-Madison Regional Library. While the organization shifted many of its gatherings to Zoom, the goal is to try to have more in-person, socially distanced events, Michaels said.
“Last month, for the first time ever we had a group go on a hike. You know, gay people like to be in the outdoors. We want to take advantage of all the amazing things that are in Central Virginia that people around here like to do anyways and combine them with opportunities to connect with your community,” she said.
Michaels said the goal is for there to be something for everyone at Cville Pride, and LGBTQ people are not a monolith and have differing interests.
“I think in Charlottesville there is certainly a decent sized LGBTQ population. But people in Charlottesville, because it’s a more affirming area, people [may say they] don’t need to come out to events to feel affirmed. [We want to] to engage people in the things that matter the most to them and for them to find community that way and make sure if they want to bring our allies and their families, they’re welcome too,” Michaels said.
“LGBTQ people exist everywhere. So we want to give all room for all types of interests where they can find community,” she said.
More information about Cville Pride Week and other Charlottesville Pride Community Network resources and events is available at cvillepride.org.
Cville Pride asks all attendees to wear a mask at indoor events and stay home if unvaccinated or experiencing COVID-19 symptoms.