Louisville Pride Foundation and COVID-19: Building Community in the Midst of Crisis

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by Lucia Burton

To be queer means to be together. To hold each other’s struggles. To celebrate and reflect on the lived experience. How can an organization such as the Louisville Pride Foundation — one where community building is at its epicenter — create a collective when today’s physical interaction is exactly what is causing the disparity of millions in the midst of COVID-19?

Mike Slaton, executive director of the Louisville Pride Foundation (LPF), has built LPF’s response to COVID-19 around their goal of bringing people together through “collaboration, empowerment, and celebration,” all in a virtual, technological manner.

While analyzing the community’s immediate response to the pandemic, Slaton noticed that the first response of many people was to help whoever they can; in most cases, that turned out to be a neighbor, family member, close friend, etc. While such relief does not go unnoticed and is appreciated beyond measure, it unintentionally also leaves some people out. Slaton sees the potential for more of an impact to be made if we use the resources that are already available to us: organizations such as Meals on Wheels, Dare to Care — groups that have been active for decades who have the capability of helping people by the thousands.

This is where LPF shines: in the past few months during the height of COVID-19, the organization has continued to build their community through various online events while ensuring that the queer community is not only part of the population receiving aid, but that they are also part of the relief effort as well.

In Slaton’s words, “to be queer means you’ve experienced isolation at some point in your life.” Their most notable effort has resulted in what Slaton has coined “Digital Pride”: an online drag show, shared on Facebook Live, that employs local drag performers who are currently out of work due to the virus. During the hour-long segment, the drag performance is meant to bring people together, serve as a temporary distraction from the seemingly constant negativity, as well as a time to field monetary donations that are used as a fundraiser for LPF, the One Louisville COVID-19 Response Fund, and as a means to compensate the drag performers for their time.

As the first Digital Pride was very successful in raising over $1000, Slaton hopes that this weekly event can continue to raise money, raise awareness, and break through the barrier of isolation.

“Community Conversations” is another online event, broadcasted through the LPF Facebook page and hosted three times a week by Slaton. In this series, Slaton holds video conferences with various community members on issues such as racial disparities during COVID-19, the Transgender Day of Visibility, and mental health during COVID-19.

Each of these conferences are held as Facebook Live events, so anyone is able to watch them, submit questions, and engage in conversation with others who are also watching. Instead of being able to have these discussions in person, this platform has become the next best thing to encourage conversation around these pressing issues, create solidarity and connection between groups, and open up discussion that enables continued learning and understanding.

Starting the week of April 26th, LPF and several other LGBTQ+ organizations will be hosting weekly public video conferences with local service providers through Facebook Live. These broadcasts are designed to share the needs and resources of these providers, so as to give solutions to those who are in need of help, as well as motivate those who want to help. These publicized video calls, as well as LPF’s COVID-19 Needs and Resources webpage, show us that “we don’t need to build the wheel from scratch” as Slaton says — instead, there are already organizations and coalitions that are ready and willing to help anyone who needs it.

While the impact of COVID-19 has isolated many, technology has been a remedy for many as well, bringing a community together in ways that we could have been using all along. LPF’s next challenge is to reach those who do not have access to technology, making sure they are included in the dialogue as well. As we continue to heal from COVID-19, LPF plans to continue the digital programming they have launched, as well as reaching those who are not able to attend their events and access their other resources. In a time where every day something changes but still somehow all feels the same, in a time of darkness and uncertainty, in a time where we need each other now as a collective, the Louisville Pride Foundation is laying down rocks to tread on when there are no bridges to cross.

If you’d like to help the Louisville Pride Foundation continue their work, please consider donating your time or money by becoming a sustaining member, serving on LPF committees, or volunteering now or at future events. All digital programming mentioned can be found on their Facebook page.

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