URBANA — The 2020 Champaign County Pride Fest joins a long list of events that have had to move online due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
What used to consist of parades, drag shows, film screenings, and other live events, has now become virtual workshops, Zoom sessions and online discussion panels.
The slogan for this year’s Pride Fest is “Staying Apart, Rising United.”
“We’re not actually together right now, we’re apart” says Darya Shahgheibi. “But even though we’re apart, we’re united.”
Shahgheibi is the program administrator for Uniting Pride of Champaign County. The group says the slogan addresses both COVID-19 and how it has separated people, and recent social and racial inequality protests that have occurred throughout the country. The programming is meant to be an extension of the slogan.
The events are spread out throughout the whole weekend. Some of the events include a Pride Fest online auction and kickoff mix and mingle on Friday, a story hour and pronoun workshop on Saturday, and a biblical self-defense and LGBTQ+ history event on Sunday.
Zev Alexander, youth program coordinator at Uniting Pride, designed some of the events meant for children and teens. He says he chose the events based on feedback he had heard from support groups he worked with and what they were interested in. This is because he didn’t want to make the Zoom sessions feel like the kids were back in school, going through another lecture.
Like Alexander, the rest of the festival also faced obstacles mostly because it is the first time that the Pride Fest is being designed this way. Shahgheibi says that technology, promotion and engagement were all issues.
“A lot of people are feeling Zoom-ed out,” Shahgheibi says. “I know this is my fifth meeting of the day and the other ones were lengthy, so we don’t want to overwhelm people with Zoom meetings. We want it to be interesting.”
On the issue of promotion, Nicole Frydman, a member of the Pride Fest committee, said that it has been very difficult to get the word out to people of the festival.
“When you got a big parade taking place in the center of the town, it’s going to very organically get press,” she says. “Without that component, it’s been a lot harder to try to get the word out to folks that we are doing programming this year.”
To help combat the issue, Shahgheibi says that Uniting Pride is teaming up with local businesses to help spread the word.
“Local businesses are also struggling,” Shahgheibi says. “So we promote their things and they promote our event, so it’s kind of a partnership we’ve created.”
Of course, local business will still be able to decorate their stores in celebration of Pride Fest.
Shahgheibi also says that security is also an issue, as they are trying to avoid getting “Zoom-bombed” as much as possible.
Individuals looking to attend an event must first register online on a form attached to that specific event. After registering they will get the link to the Zoom meeting. Attendees will have the option to register anonymously, in order to help protect the identity of those who may not have come out yet.
While it may not be the ideal way to conduct Pride Fest, Shahgheibi says that the online format helped bring new people to the festival. Some people are able to attend this time around because the online format is much more accessible. Previously some people couldn’t show up simply because Champaign was too far.
Shahgheibe says while there are some positives and negatives to the online format of the 2020 Pride Festival, they want to simply provide a a way to help people get away from feeling isolated due to the pandemic.
“[This year was about] helping people say this is pride, say this gives me a sense of normalcy,” Shahgheibi says. “I’m here, I’m queer, and I’m gonna log onto Zoom and I’m going to show you my pride.”
Anyone interested in registering for an event can visit the Pride Fest 2020 page of the Uniting Pride website.