Proud, (But Not So Out) During COVID-19

Duval County's LGBT population learns to adjust during Pride Month.

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For Duval’s LGBT community, October offers a month to support and celebrate identity. The festivities include the annual block party in Five Points and the iconic Pride Parade, which has rolled through revelry and fought for progress for over 40 years. However, since Florida remains a hotspot for COVID-19, Jacksonville has cancelled these traditional Pride events indefinitely for the health and safety of everyone. As a result, there has been mixed morale. 

“I have not been to a pride parade,” said Darby Carver, a Riverside resident who identifies as genderqueer and pansexual, “This would have been the first year I felt comfortable enough to go out and actually had the time to go. But Pride was scheduled so early during our knowledge of COVID, I’m glad it was cancelled so people could stay in and be safe.” 

Varying levels of spirits have been affected by the pandemic - especially for those involved in live performances and the arts. But many carry optimism in their pocket; for a vibrant, creative, and talented community, improvisation during troubled times is always welcome. From drive-in drag shows in Montreal to virtual raves in the queer-ran “Club Quarantine,” Jacksonville is also paving the way for safe, inclusive and socially distant fun.

Geexella, renowned local DJ and activist who goes by they/them pronouns, has continued to play shows on platforms such as Twitch. “I have been doing so many of them!” they said, “It’s actually been kind of cool to connect with community literally all over the world.” They were ecstatic about how broadly and effectively they could remain connected while remaining diverse and maintain close ties. “I was able to do my first BIPOC line up…I also have been able to connect more with youth via my Girls Rock camp family.” 

Carver has also been a spectator of some of these pandemic -friendly events.  “While the community has had a strong presence on social media before the pandemic, I feel like they’ve really been hard at work offering space parties and workshops over Zoom.” Additionally, the arts continue to thrive for LGBTQ artists with online events and works that are distanced. “6 Feet Away gallery, ran by Shawana Brooks, is a great example of uplifting voices in a safe manner,” they recommend.

Some of these workshops are being offered this month by Duval gay-youth organization JASMYN (Jacksonville Area Sexual Minority Youth Network). “We are a youth center and program, so we find ways to continue to help the youth,” says JASMYN CEO Cindy Watson. 

“We use virtual platforms to connect such as Discord and Zoom where we host events.” Some of these initiatives include Q-Chat, an online chat and support network hosted by facilitators for LGBTQ teens. JASMYN also recently held its annual Coming Out Day Breakfast on the 11th virtually, and showcased Jericho Brown, a gay Black writer who recently won the coveted Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. Despite being virtual, almost 500 people attended this year’s breakfast. “We had a great deal of comradery and support there. This year, we had 30 local companies sponsor us. We have to look at how we get people together in ways that are safe, engaging, and fun,” Watson said. To honor pride through October, JASMYN also plans to continue to host more virtual events and chats, including Jericho Brown’s visit available to view with free registration through October 28.

Geexella isn’t letting the pandemic stop their career or activism. “Pride not happening didn’t really affect my hustle or grind. LGBTQI+ folx are imaginative and resilient.” The community is doing its best to remain cautious and considerate, aware and intersectional as not only COVID keeps Floridians on their toes, but the election as well. “There’s a lot going on with current politics regarding the rights of queer people, so it’s still important to speak up and spread information,” encouraged Carver. 

Watson shared a similar sentiment, “I think the LGBTQ community has fought hard in Jacksonville. They felt discouraged when HRO was struck-down in May, but Jacksonville City Council brought it back with corrections to ordinance in June. It had a higher pass-rate than 2012. That’s progress.”

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