Cancelling the annual Guelph Pride festival due to COVID-19 was never an option. Organizer Odesia Howlett held out hope that the festival could run as usual, but when it became clear that gathering in-person would be impossible, she worked with fellow committee members and other local pride festivals to move the celebration online.
From June 1 to June 7, Guelph Pride will be running a virtual Pride festival featuring a range of events that include outdoor roller skating, trivia, Zoom workouts, drag makeup tutorials, livestreams and more.
“We came together to hammer out a pretty full festival, which I’m really proud of,” said Howlett. “We were in connection with tri-Pride and Toronto Pride … a lot of it was taking events that people know and love and popping it on the screen.”
That was easier said than done.
Since its establishment in 2003, the Guelph Pride festival has grown to include a range of public events such as concerts, exhibitions and movie nights in lieu of a large parade. This year, Howlett and her team had to consider the logistics of running mostly in-person events on a completely different platform, amid the stress of the pandemic.
With so many people out of work, they also had to ensure that all performers and facilitators were fairly compensated for their time. It was a process that she says was stressful, but ultimately worth it.
Jesse Tetrault is the owner of Bent Bar Fitness, a downtown business that provides body positive and queer-friendly personal training. Tetrault will be hosting two virtual fitness classes over Zoom. One will be accessible and designed for those with low mobility, while the other will be a high intensity core workout.
“I don't do any scales or girth measurements,” said Tetrault. “I focus on the energy aspects of fitness and how it makes you feel within your body instead of trying to change what your body is.”
Athena McQueen, the resident drag queen of the eBar, will also be hosting her own event as part of the festival. McQueen is a transgender woman who, prior to the pandemic, regularly hosted LGBT events at the downtown bar. She will be hosting a virtual drag makeup tutorial and Q&A with her fans.
“I'm going to be showing people how to do a typical feminine drag face. I'm going to talk about the kinds of products you would need to achieve the effect, offer solutions and just chat with people,” she said.
The festival will wrap up on June 7 with a Netflix party hosted by Guelph Queer Equality (GQE) and a virtual workshop with a behavioural therapist about supporting one another during tough times.
“When creating these events, I wanted them to be at different levels of sociability,” said Howlett. “I want people to know that all of these events are going to be with people who are excited to meet each other and create relationships. We want to keep that community strong.”
She added that people who feel especially isolated during this time should reach out to stay connected with a range of businesses, organizations and individuals that promote safe spaces and queer-friendly environments.
McQueen says she is proud to be part of the queer community because of its adaptiveness and resiliency.
“We have faced oppression and we know what it's like to deal with a virus that goes unchecked by a major government power,” she said. “That didn’t stop us back then and [COVID-19] won’t stop us now … as long as we are able to reach out to each other and connect.”
Guelph Pride is a subsidiary of Out on the Shelf, Guelph’s LGBT2Q+ resource centre and library. The organization is currently looking for volunteers to join the committee for the 2020-21 year. For more information on volunteering and for a complete schedule of Guelph Virtual Pride events, visit guelphpride.com .