How to Safely Participate in Pride This Year

drawing of people celebrating pride month

Verywell Mind / Theresa Chiechi

Key Takeaways

  • Even though many Pride events are back in person, queer people need to consider risks to physical and mental health before heading out to celebrate or protest.
  • Encountering counter protesters, aggressive police officers, and other agitators or even the threat of such encounters can be a burden queer people and their mental health. Navigating decisions about COVID-19 could be an additional stressor.
  • Both online participation in Pride and seeking personal affirmations in private are valid ways to celebrate authenticity and will be the right option for those who need to be more discreet or want to be especially cautious.

For decades, queer people have been gathering to participate in parades, protests, and other events that celebrate queer culture and experiences. Many of the community's favorite events were canceled last summer during the height of the pandemic, but some organizations and community groups found creative ways to spread messages about seeking justice and affirmation by going virtual.

This year, with a rise in vaccine rates and much of the world reopening, some events will be back in person—but there are still a variety of risks to consider before participating.

Navigating Mental Health Impacts

Jeffrey Cohen, PsyD, leads a virtual therapy group through Columbia University Medical Center for LGBTQ+ young adults. He explains that the group recently discussed how Pride brings up both positive and negative emotions for queer people, noting that the complicated feelings around Pride underline that there is no right or wrong way to participate in the movement.

He says that queer people might feel a sense of grief as they reflect on the injustices the community has historically endured and continue to experience or mourn the loss of loved ones. This includes violence inflicted upon transgender people, most especially the continued targeting of Black, trans women.

Jeffrey Cohen, PsyD

Some people imagine that coming out will lead to finding new friends and a community to celebrate Pride with, and while it does, many others struggle to find their tribe within the LGBTQ+ community.

— Jeffrey Cohen, PsyD

Dr. Cohen says that some queer people—especially those who feel disconnected from their family of origin or lack a community to celebrate with—are lonely and isolated during Pride month.

He explains that this is especially challenging for those who have additional experiences of marginalization within and beyond the queer community—including those who are Black, Indigenous, and people of color, and those who are transgender. It also includes people who are bisexual, who experience erasure both within the community and in society at large.

During other times, queer people might be more excited or euphoric about the progress they see in their own journeys to live authentically or in the community's ability to be more visible in the world.

Dr. Cohen says, "Pride can be a time for us queer people to be seen and see our lives reflected and celebrated," which boosts mental health and strengthens the community. He highlights that after over a year of isolation, Pride events offer an opportunity to reconnect with each other.

He underlines that Pride can be emotionally and physically exhausting, so it's important for queer people replenish themselves by taking the time to engage with the activities that feel personally meaningful or joyful.

Weighing Physical Safety and Health Risks

Saje Liese, one of two head marshals with the Reclaim Pride Coalition's Queer Liberation March in New York City, says that police tend to pose the biggest physical safety risk to queer people at Pride protests, rallies, and parades. She explains that queer people marching with the coalition at last year's Pride event were kettled into a small area and attacked by police.

Marshals, allies, and those with more privilege in the community created a human wall to try to separate more marginalized members who sought safety in Washington Square Park from the scuffle. The possibilities of these kinds of violent encounters and the threat of other agitators can trigger mental health concerns as queer people worry about their physical safety before and during events.

Jeffrey Cohen, PsyD

Remember, someone else's reaction to you is not a measure of your worth.

— Jeffrey Cohen, PsyD

Additionally, there is a strong need for spaces that respect and affirm sobriety and a need for increased accessibility for disabled people at events. Barriers to participation might make those who are additionally marginalized feel as though they don't have the community they need for support, celebration, and advocacy.

Saje says that protest and parade leaders must create a buffer between participants and aggressors. This includes ensuring that trained police liaisons are present at events and that other trained de-escalators are ready to intervene if counter protestors cause trouble.

She says that very few people will enact physical violence on queer people at public events but that many will still antagonize, chant and make hateful comments, or threaten community members by following the crowd.

"This is why I've talked to transphobes—sometimes for 45 minutes—because if I'm talking to them, they're not bothering someone else," she says, underlining that it's the responsibility of event coordinators and marshals to deploy the tactics they've learned for de-escalation. She urges average attendees who have not been trained in these tactics to ignore or avoid aggressors whenever possible and to flag down event organizers, medics, and marshals if support is needed.

She underlines the importance of paying attention to who else from the community is nearby and to plan for the day as you would for any summertime outing. She says, "It's important to keep track of each other and even to offer each other food, water, sunscreen, and other care items on hot days." She recommends checking flyers, one-sheeters, and information provided by event organizers to know what to bring for weather and safety concerns.

Saje Liese, Head Marshal of the 2021 Queer Liberation March, NYC

My advice to average attendees is to create a safety plan. At the very least, never go to events alone, write phone numbers for legal support on your arms, and know where medics and marshals are at all times.

— Saje Liese, Head Marshal of the 2021 Queer Liberation March, NYC

Attendees should also remember to pack medical devices or coping strategies—including those that promote mental health—before you go. Events often run longer than expected, and participants could be stranded due to a lack of transportation or taken into custody by police. It's crucial to carry anything that might be needed just in case. Participants should consider tools that help keep them calm, centered, and mentally strong in addition to more conventional medical devices or medications.

Covid-related concerns are an additional aspect of planning this year, and Dr. Cohen reminds that some are increased risk for exposure if they live in regions with lower vaccination rates. Saje says that some events will aim to protect the most marginalized people among the group—continuing to promote masks, social distancing, and other pandemic precautions.

Considering the threat of this virus can cause stress for those who are newly exploring the world for the first time in a year. This too can bring about mixed feelings—as people seek community for the first time but worry about venturing out into public spaces. Queer people should offer themselves and community members compassion as they navigate these personal decisions.

Staying Home is an Option

Saje underlines the need to assess risks before deciding to attend an event but also highlights that it's okay to leave an event if it becomes too intense—emotionally or physically—after arrival.

She reminds those who hope to participate in events that live streams are increasingly available and that other online events can be just as fun as a parade, including some that offer interactive elements or ways to meet and talk to other queer people.

Community groups exist on various social media platforms and are trusted ways to explore authenticity and seek social support. Many are discreet and welcome those who are not out in other spaces.

She highlights that justice movements often include contingencies that exist almost solely online, as grassroots organizations and mutual aid groups rely on people at home to manage and organize aspects of the work they do on the ground. She underlines that this is a great way to meet like-minded people without coming out in more public ways.

Saje Liese, Head Marshal

This is often how we find community—through our fight for collective liberation—and that's not always something that happens in person.

— Saje Liese, Head Marshal

Dr. Cohen underlines that exploring Pride with the community isn't the only way to celebrate authenticity. He explains that he makes a Pride playlist and reading list every year which centers on queer artists and themes and supports queer-owned brands. He adds that increased visibility in television and other media means that watching shows—including one of his recent favorites, “Pose”—or creating a personal film festival with queer-centric movies are possible options during down time.

It's also not the only way to practice resistance. He says that queer people and allies can write a letter to incarcerated queer and trans people to support them during Pride and after, learn about the leaders who paved the way for the progress queer people have enjoyed, visit historical sites to honor queer history, and consider donating to queer-run nonprofits.

Saje adds that funding mutual aid groups will allow queer community members to give directly to locals who are most marginalized, often for bail, food, housing, and other necessities.

Queer people—including those who are especially marginalized—can and should be leading organizations in the changes that need to occur to affirm and support their needs. Saje notes that they are the only ones who can tell those with power what changes need to be made and are the best people to most effectively pursue that change.

What This Means For You

There are a variety of options for participate in Pride in this year, including in-person, online, and even individual outlets for seeking authenticity and justice. Consider the risks to physical safety and health as well as mental health concerns before attending events.

Don't forget to recenter after this time of increased visibility and urge allies to step up in the effort to create systemic change year-round.

By Lauren Rowello
Lauren Rowello is a writer focusing on mental health, parenting, and identity. Their work has been published in the New York Times, Washington Post, and more.