Columbus Community Pride centers joy, healing in 2021

The annual event, now in its fourth year, takes place on Saturday in Mayme Moore Park

Andy Downing
Columbus Alive
Columbus Community Pride in 2019

Since its founding in 2018, Columbus Community Pride has continued to evolve, its shifts intensified both by the ongoing pandemic and the social justice uprisings of 2020 that arose following the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police.

Among the myriad changes, this year organizers have taken efforts to re-center joy, which is an often under-acknowledged tool of resistance. “One form of state violence is dehumanizing, and devaluing, and not allowing access to good mental health resources and care,” said Community Pride organizer Charlie Stewart. “So I think the best way to fight against that is really to foster a culture where healing, addressing our trauma and experiencing joy is all a part of the organizing movement. … We have to be able to sustain ourselves so that we can address the pain and trauma and needs of the world. We need to understand joy so we can understand other feelings, in a sense, and we can know when to step back to take care of our bodies and minds.”

As a result of this push, joy will take center stage this weekend at Community Pride, which takes place at Mayme Moore Park on Saturday, Oct. 9, and features a full slate of drag and burlesque performers (Lady Luna, Amiya Rose), singers (Monee Jae, Teddy Martin), poets (Bxtch, Ruth Awad) and more. In addition to entertainers, this year’s event also features workshops centered on trauma and healing.

Stewart said this year's focus was shaped, in part, by two touchstones, the first being the deaths of organizers Amber Evans and Rubén Castilla Herrera, who passed away within weeks of one another early in 2019, and the second being the social justice uprisings sparked by the death of Floyd that sprung up in Columbus late last May.

“We started to realize we needed to incorporate healing to address the trauma this work will bring, and … even just the trauma we experience from seeing people like us be harmed,” Stewart said. “I’m very thankful we’ve taken these moments of pain and redirected them to really figure out how we can support each other and heal together.”

In memorium photos on display at Community Pride 2019

Other changes to Community Pride have arisen due to the ongoing pandemic, which forced events to go virtual in 2020 and this year moved the larger in-person gathering from June to October, with the hope at the time being that COVID numbers would be in decline. (Community Pride did host a series of more intimate, masked, in-person events throughout 2021, including a trivia night, queer storytelling and a skate party at Skate Zone 71.)

“I think [Community Pride] has evolved in the way we’ve evolved,” Stewart said. “We still have our radical lens and approach, and we continue to honor and understand our elders and ancestors in this movement. We’re really trying to bring a lot of those radical legacies into our work. … But we also continue to evolve in the ways that we acknowledge the current needs of our community.”

That included making a last-minute adjustment earlier this week, with the event cutting ties with Equitas Health. The health care company was scheduled to have a presence at Community Pride but recently came under fire in the wake of a Dispatch report in which 15 former employees were interviewed about the provider's “disrespectful, degrading and dehumanizing treatment” of Black employees.

While many of Community Pride's adaptations have been driven by challenges, including the lingering presence of COVID, Stewart said the pandemic did offer one small silver lining in the sense that the community now feels more global, with organizers in Columbus connected via Zoom, email and online chat to radicals around the world.

“We now have access to things we might not have before the pandemic,” said Stewart, detailing how they were able to connect with a doctor in France who studied the effects of chemical agents on the human body, which provided a more detailed explanation for the symptoms Stewart experienced after being exposed to tear gas while protesting Downtown last summer. “Being able to connect with more radical comrades around the globe, that’s something I’m grateful for. ... It allowed us to connect and figure out if we wanted to collaborate on things, and what that could look like. So, yeah, our community has expanded.”

But there have also been welcome changes closer to home, with Stewart noting that local ire has appeared to lessen in the years since Community Pride formed in 2018 as a way to center Black, Indigenous and people of color within the LGBTQ+ community in the aftermath of the 2017 arrests of the Black Pride 4 and the subsequent lack of support offered to the group by Stonewall Columbus.

“We faced a lot of criticism, a lot of demonization when we said we wanted to do this for the first time. We were blamed a lot and told we were polarizing the community when we simply wanted to create a safe space for us,” said Stewart, who has been increasingly heartened by the number of grassroots Pride events they saw spring up in the city and its surrounding suburbs in the last couple of years. “But I think more and more some of that negative stigma has fallen off of us, and I’m here for it.”