‘A True Disappointment’: How It Feels When Your First Pride Parade Is Canceled

Colin Beresford was looking forward to the summer of 2020, and for the first time celebrating Pride among the crowds of people in Ann Arbor, Mich.

Mr. Beresford, 23, grew up in a conservative Michigan town and described a slow process of coming to understand that he was bisexual, to acknowledge that within himself, and finally to take pride in it.

“For me, it has been scary to accept myself,” he said. “I thought this year could be the year that I go and show myself, and everyone else, who I am. But, just like countless other things, that will have to wait.”

Pride marches and events have been canceled or postponed throughout the country this year because of the coronavirus, and many people like Mr. Beresford in the L.G.B.T.Q. community are missing out on an important moment of visibility and acceptance: their first Pride.

The Pride celebrations are not alone in being called off, but few other events are as much about being seen — by everyone.

“It’s something that’s so central to our identities as L.G.B.T.Q. folks,” said Fred Lopez, the executive director of San Francisco Pride. “To remember that time when we were able to walk hand in hand with a boyfriend or a crush, even amongst hundreds or thousands or hundreds of thousands of people, is really inspiring.”

In place of the marches, parades and parties that have defined Pride in the United States, there will be small gatherings as cities begin to reopen, along with virtual celebrations this weekend. World leaders, human rights activists, musicians and drag queens will participate in a 24-hour online celebration that will be streamed on YouTube and the Global Pride website this weekend starting on Saturday.

But the importance of Pride as a public event that transforms city streets was underscored by readers who responded to The New York Times when asked what the loss of the large gatherings meant to them.

Susanna Yudkin said she had been to Pride marches in the past as an “ally,” but last year went for the first time as an openly queer woman. “Attending Denver Pride with my pride of fellow queer lionesses was nothing short of exhilarating,” she said, describing a newfound sense of belonging, as well as deep gratitude to those who came before her to make moments of open celebration possible.

Gregory Antollino said he still remembered what his first Pride, at the age of 23 in 1988, meant to him. He had just moved to New York City, had not yet connected with the gay community and unknowingly stumbled into a Pride parade.

“I made it a holiday,” he said. “Pride was joyous.”

He has since attended Pride in London, Lisbon and Amsterdam, and he said each experience was as “magical as those in my first years in New York.”

Neil Wu-Gibbs said his first Pride in 2013, when he marched with the Gay Asian & Pacific Islander Men of New York, gave him “a sense of belonging” that helped him decide to move back from Britain to New York City. “It was like a homecoming,” he said.

Though most Pride events were canceled in the spring over fears of large crowds spreading the coronavirus, mass gatherings have returned since Memorial Day in the form of protests in response to the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, Rayshard Brooks, Layleen Polanco and many others.

At many of the demonstrations, people have waved the rainbow L.G.B.T.Q. flag to honor Pride month — a reminder that the first Pride march 50 years ago was itself rooted in protest and followed the uprising against police brutality at the Stonewall Inn a year before.

And this month in Brooklyn, more than 15,000 people — wearing all white — rallied for a Black Trans Lives Matter demonstration, bringing attention to disproportionately high rates at which black trans people are killed and incarcerated, and highlighting the point that they do not always feel fully included in the Black Lives Matter movement.

For many in the L.G.B.T.Q. community, proclaiming their identities is not an easy undertaking. Many choose to come out in a public way, while others share who they are only with close family members and friends, and some never openly identify themselves as gay.

By her own account, it has taken Jennifer Depew, 23, a long time to accept herself as bisexual. She came out this month, she said, first to a friend and then to her family.

“I was looking forward to being able to celebrate Pride this year as someone fully comfortable with my identity, fully a member of the community,” Ms. Depew said. “To lose out on that opportunity this year is a true disappointment — another melancholic note of 2020.”

In countries where same-sex relationships are criminalized or homophobia is endorsed by the state, coming out publicly or celebrating Pride can come with grave risks.

The poet and essayist Chibuihe Obi Achimba, 27, grew up in a small village in southeastern Nigeria and for a long time struggled with being open about his sexuality.

In 2017, he wrote an essay titled “We’re Here, We’re Queer,” in which he detailed his experience with homophobia, spoke out against Nigeria’s laws that criminalize same-sex relationships, and described his longing to find positive L.G.B.T.Q. presentation in Nigerian literature.

After the essay was published, Mr. Achimba said, he became the target of abuse and physical violence. He left Nigeria and came to the United States in 2019 as a fellow in the Harvard University Scholars at Risk program.

So 2020 looked like the year he had been waiting for all his adult life, and he was eager to join Pride, calling it “this global celebration of resistance, love, freedom, happiness and hope.”

“I planned to enact my own deliverance from the chokehold of my country’s state-sanctioned oppression and the sharp cudgels of my countrymen’s homophobia at this year’s Pride,” he said. “But now, we need to wade through the murky waters the coronavirus has stirred up.”

“It feels like a personal loss,” he added.

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