Virtual Pride: Durham's Queer Community Finds Space in a Pandemic
A pandemic won't slow Durham down from engaging with, learning from, and welcoming our LGBTQIA community.
Posted By Matt Lardie on Sep 23, 2020
Each year Durham hosts one of the most vibrant and inclusive Pride celebrations in North Carolina, but like virtually everything else in our day-to-day lives, 2020 Pride: Durham, NC looks a bit different. With the COVID-19 pandemic and public safety taking precedence, this year’s Pride is going virtual, with live streamed programming September 25 to 27.
Discover Durham has always been proud of the Bull City’s reputation as an open and welcoming community, and our queer-owned businesses are a huge part of what makes Durham so special. In 2016 we were one of the only visitors bureaus in the state to publicly oppose HB-2, the so-called “Bathroom Bill” that targeted transgendered members of our Durham family, and were proud of the way the community rallied in support of the community.
This year, as we continue to celebrate the contributions of Durham’s queer community, we decided to check in with J. Clapp, Executive Director of the LGBTQ Center of Durham and Chair of Pride: Durham, NC to learn more about what life has been like for LGBTQ Durhamites in this challenging, unprecedented year.
Discover Durham: Obviously life during the pandemic has changed for everyone, but for queer people things have been uniquely difficult. As Executive Director of the Durham LGBTQ Center what challenges have you seen that our queer community has been confronting?
J. Clapp: Life in Durham has had a sense of normalcy for many people as they continue to work and be paid for their time in a safe environment...but for many queer people life has not been so smooth. Queer and trans people, and especially those of color, have seen their wages cut and their housing become insecure [as they have all over the country]. We are seeing the impacts of the gig economy having to shut down. Without access to stable employment, many queer people are looking for ways to survive and are not finding the resources in many places. In May, we created the QTPOC Rapid Response Fund and have been providing payments up to $500 to ensure folx would have some resources. We have worked to get those funds out to those in need without any barriers to the funding. Unfortunately, in this pandemic, $500 is only a bandage and not the solution. We recognize that, but we also know the $500 can be the difference between having housing and being evicted.
DD: Durham has become known as a very queer-friendly city. Has that changed for you personally during the pandemic?
J: I believe Durham continues to be a queer-friendly city. I know that folx feel disconnected during the pandemic and the isolation really makes you question your place, but there are still folx out doing the work. Many of the progressive moments and movements in this City during the pandemic have been led by queer people. I have been very proud to see that. I continue to feel safe and seen in this queer-friendly island.
DD: With many things closed down right now and social-distancing rules in effect, where are some safe spaces around town for queer people to gather?
J: I have taken this pandemic very seriously and continue to do so. I believe that the beauty of Durham is the community we build and depending on this community is essential during the pandemic. I have seen my people gathering in places like Durham Central Park and Northgate Park to get in some socializing. I also know of queer-friendly fitness classes behind Accordion Club* and in Durham Central Park. Can you tell I feel best outside? Additionally, I believe that we saw the success of mask usage with all the protesting in downtown. WEAR YOUR MASK, people!
DD: What would be your ideal (socially-distanced & safe) queer day/night in Durham right now?
J: My perfect queer day would be a picnic at the Eno with takeout from Eastcut Sandwich Bar and a dip in the river. Am I allowed to plug a restaurant? Because everyone should get socially distanced takeout from Eastcut. OMG. The veggie burger has changed my entire life. In the Fall, I'll be switching to Duke Forest for my picnics. From there, I would go on a walk through downtown to enjoy the weather and a bit more sun.
DD: Finally, how has the LGBTQ Center adapted to this "new normal"?
J: When COVID-19 was announced as a pandemic on March 10...we were in shock. Three days later, we shut our doors and moved all our programming online. It has been a hard transition as we continue to grow and plan for the future of the Center. One of the first things we did was laid out our priorities for the work we would be doing and we knew two things immediately: 1) We wanted to stay connected and; 2) our Host Home Program was going to need to change. We created the QTPOC Rapid Response Fund, have had some type of dance class or group the entire time to make sure folks have a space to move their bodies for their minds, and have put out more educational events and programs than we could ever imagine. There have been cooking classes, celebrations of queerness, and interviews with celebrities near and far. We are even moving our Pride programming online and will have events with Dominique Jackson from Pose, showing Major!, and even having an additional screening of "Born Again" a film by the artists' collaborative, Brainchild. Yes, we will have drag, musicians, and panels on why what we do is important, but we know that this isn't the same as what Pride has been in the past. We are hopeful for the return of our very accessible and beautiful celebration in years to come.
You can learn more about this year’s virtual Pride: Durham, NC at pridedurhamnc.org. Also, make sure to check out some of our Discover Durham queer resources.
*Outdoor, socially-distanced, queer-friendly fitness classes are provided by Mike Oakes of Grit Fit Durham, email@example.com, or 919-519-7177.
Happy Pride, y’all!