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How the Valley is celebrating Pride during protests and a pandemic

With the social unrest that bloomed after the death of George Floyd and the recent deaths of black transgender women like Riah Milton and Dominique Fells, Pride has taken a more solemn tone. 

YOUNGSTOWN — Like other Ohio restaurants and bars, Club Switch, a gay bar in downtown Youngstown, reopened with pandemic-safe restrictions in place including a capacity limit.

That’s part of the reason why Switch won’t be celebrating gay Pride this year with a party: Enforcing capacity limits would require Switch to turn people away from the celebration.

“It doesn’t really embody the spirit of Pride," said Amelia Karousis, the wife of one of the bar's owners. 

And, of course, the COVID-19 pandemic isn’t the only thing on the minds of people planning Pride celebrations this year. 

With the social unrest that bloomed after the death of George Floyd in police custody and the recent deaths of black transgender women Riah Milton and Dominique Fells, Pride has taken a more solemn tone. 

“Pride month is not hitting the same this year,” Karousis told a friend. “And I’m OK with that.”

Last year, Full Spectrum Community Outreach — an LGBTQ resource center in Struthers — hosted Warren's first Pride in the Valley in Courthouse Square, complete with vendors, speakers, entertainment and about 1,000 participants.

With Pride in the Valley and Youngstown Pride Festival canceled this year due to the pandemic, Mahoning Valley Pride celebrations have had to adapt. 

Like many other coronavirus-affected events, Pride is going virtual. Full Spectrum Community Outreach organized a virtual Pride by compiling videos from people and performers in the local LGBTQ community. The video will be available on Full Spectrum's Facebook page on Saturday. 

“It’s kind of a reminder to everybody that you’re not alone in this, even though you feel like you are in this moment,” said Daniel Tirabassi, director of client care at Full Spectrum. "We're still out there. Everybody's still out there pulling for you and wants to be with you, so we thought that was a wonderful way to get that through."

In the video — and his submission to it — there is a focus on the protests around the country for racial justice. 

"Each one of us individually and as an organization feels the strife ... We’re fighting alongside everybody," said Tirabassi.

The video, which will be "quite lengthy" due to all the submissions, includes performances, appearances from vendors and well wishes from community members. 

"It's just a mix of everything we actually have at the festival, but on video," said Tirabassi.

One of the performers featured in the video is Peaches En’Cream, a 21-year-old drag queen who lives in Warren. For her submission, she spent two weeks shooting and choreographing a music video.

"I just wanted to create something for escapism, with everything going on with COVID," she said. "While I was making my video, everything happened with George Floyd, so that was even more heaviness on the world. I just wanted to work super extra hard so everybody can just watch my video and have some time to escape."

It won't be her first Pride celebrated inside or in the midst of painful events. She planned to attend 2016 Pride in Cleveland, but felt scared to do so in the aftermath of the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, which killed 50 people four years ago on June 11. 

This year, she plans to get dolled up and watch the Full Spectrum video. 

"I'm going to just hang out in my house in drag, and I'm going to have all of the videos everyone created for Pride playing up on my television, and I'm gonna have some snacks around, something like that," Peaches said.

The staff at Switch submitted a video, too. Their message was, "We're waiting for you when you're ready to come back," Karousis said.

Karousis included her two children in her video. She's been using the month to educate them about Pride and the importance of protesting. 

"I'm taking the opportunity to ... teach them that in order to make change you have to be loud," she said.   

She thinks Pride's tone this year will highlight what the month of June is all about. 

“I hope people will realize in the future that Pride is not just about rainbows and parties. It’s about celebrating our community's right to be out," said Karousis. "I hope that people notice the absence.”

Jess Hardin

About the Author: Jess Hardin

Jess Hardin is a reporter for Mahoning Matters. She grew up in Pittsburgh and last worked at The Vindicator. Jess graduated from Georgetown University.
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