PRIDE New Haven Triumphs
by Arturo Pineda
Prepare for trouble, and make it quadruple. The House of Lay took to the stage with members dressed in replicas of Team Rocket’s signature black and red uniform. The performers delivered an electric, synchronized choreography to a mix of Black Widow’s heavy metal number In This Moment.
The number was one of dozen’s performed as part of New Haven Pride’s in-person celebrations on October 10th. Throughout the day DJ’s, drag performers, and queer bands performed for more than six hours late into the night at North Haven Fair Grounds. To compliment the inperson celebration, more than 20 virtual events via Zoom and Facebook were also held in mid-September. Virtual events ranged from a Pride-sponsored art exhibit by Hartford-based artist Zulynette Morales, panels and discussions on racial equity within queer communities, and the 4th Annual Mx. PRIDE New Haven Pageant.
Despite the limitations imposed by COVID-19, artists and performers were able to connect with queer communities in new and exciting ways. For Morales, she had to re-examine what it meant to share space with the queer community with the lack of in person events. The exhibit, How To Spell, a one-woman show combined traditional painting with multimedia performances. Many of the paintings are reflections on imposed narratives and how she challenged those same narratives by taking back and redefining her identities. She described the show as not being “stereotypically queer demanded by a broader audience.”
To connect with audiences in her physical absence, she installed QR codes next to paintings that redirect viewers to online videos and poetry.
“There are other points of contact even if we aren’t in person,” she said. “We are still in space together. There is no stopping the connection that can happen through art.”
For drag performers, Rory Roux Lay, PRIDE was a return to the stage after months of not being able to perform in-person. For the first two months of pandemic, Lay did not perform at all and was isolated from their drag family. She and many of other drag performers across the country turned to virtual performances via Twitch and YouTube. Although they were grateful that their drag was able to reach a wider audience, they still longed for that community aspect and the thrill of connecting with people.
“I felt like for months I was getting into drag to walk around the driveway and take it all off.”
As they slowly return to inperson performances, they have been able to see some of her drag family on a more frequent basis. You can’t take those inperson moments for granted especially with the future being so uncertain, they said. For them PRIDE also shone a light on the expansive word of drag by highlighting drag kings, trans, and nonbinary performers.
Lay was one of the performers at the inperson celebration alongside other notable performers including Mz October May Lay, Bubblicious, Sienna Rose, and Xiomarie LaBeija. Not too far from the main stage, a medley of bands and musicians performed on a second stage. DJ Ephraim Adamz and DJ Edgewood pumped out mixes of energetic dance songs which contrasted beautifully with Sinthea Sinatra’s chord progressions on her guitar.
PRIDE was a celebration for the community but also an important gig for many performers, said drag queen, Robin Fierce. In the early stages of COVID-19, she found herself furloughed from her day job as a sales representative. At first it was a challenge, but she found herself examining her artistry and returning to skills she had neglected like digital media and videography. As a self-described performing queen, she was forced to hone her digital skills and began producing mixes and YouTube videos. She had the realization that drag could become a full-time profession.
“I found the time to make this happen,” she said. “I can do this and I should try it to the fullest before I say i can’t do it.”
Both Fierce and Lay spoke about the importance of supporting drag performers and queer artists through monetary support, as many remain unemployed or with limited work due to the lack of in person events. People can also help by sharing performances and art on their social media to increase exposure.
Many of the panels and conversations centered discussions around liberation for queer and trans communities of color. In panels like, Combating Anti-Transness in Policy, trans activists and leaders discussed the barriers trans people face in accessing competent healthcare as a result of transphobic policy. In another panel, Reproductive Liberty for Queer Bodies, panelist explored how to advance reproductive health rights and justice for all LGBTQIA+ people. In their discussions, they spoke about the importance of centering Blackness, indigenous, transgender, and intersex communities.
Ala Ochumare, Youth Program Officer of the Pride Center, saw PRIDE as an opportunity to discuss queer communities working towards racial justice and liberation. For her, queer liberation begins with the centering of Black trans women.
“We’re not trying to write a movie. Once we move with the thought and goal to create liberation for Black trans women then everyone else will be liberated,” she said. “Liberation is the ability to have a job, stay safe, and not have to put themselves in jeopardy everyday and so much more.”
She spoke about the importance of not thinking about liberation as an end but a continuous process of thinking beyond what presently exists and continuously asking which communities lack privilege relative to others. Liberation is about distributing privileges to all communities and abolishing the institutions which allowed systemic disparities to arise, she said.
In a time of lives being lost to COVID-19 and police brutality, PRIDE is an opportunity to reflect on our own lives, said Morales. “People are losing their lives,” she said. “What are we doing with ours while we have them?”
To view some of the PRIDE New Haven content visit the Center’s YouTube channel, click here. Photos in this article courtesy of Linda-Crystal Young.