Four LGBTQ+ Event Planners Share What Pride Month Means to Them—and How They're Celebrating This Year
The importance of Pride Month—held annually in June to honor the 1969 Stonewall Uprising in Manhattan—goes beyond parties, picnics, and parades. Ahead, we asked four LGBTQ+ event planners to share their own connection with the celebration and offer a few new ways to honor the festivities this year.
Chanda Monique Daniels
For Chanda Monique Daniels of A Monique Affair, the happiest part of Pride Month is often catching up with friends and neighbors at citywide events. "Pride Month to me means seeing everyone else celebrating my community," says Daniels. "I feel we do this all the time—it's not just one day that I am proud to be a lesbian of color." But the chance to celebrate on a larger scale presents plenty of opportunities for memorable artistic expression. "I do love seeing how diverse and creative we are during this time, because everyone is typically out and about in Oakland!" says Daniels. "My favorite tradition is to attend the Pride parade there. It's based on family and has lots of activities for kids, as well." This year, Daniels plans to skip the crowds and schedule a virtual fête: "Because of COVID-19, I will be celebrating at home and watching virtual film festivals," she says.
Working in the wedding industry reminds event planner and designer Jove Meyer of Jove Meyer Events just how much progress has been made since 1969—and how much work remains. "When I first started planning weddings, I could not legally get married and now I can," says Meyer. "Pride Month for me is a reminder of how far we have come and how much further we have to go for full equal rights." For Meyer, the history of the month-long holiday is just as essential as the celebration itself. "Pride started as a riot and we cannot forget that it came about due to ongoing hate, discrimination, and violence against queer people over many decades—until they had enough and finally stood up and fought back," he says. "Pride Month is a time to celebrate all LGBTQ+ people and remind the world that we are humans, we want love, we want to be happy, and we deserve equal rights free from discrimination and hate for something we did not chose: being ourselves."
In previous years, Meyer spent the day enjoying New York City. "Pre-COVID, I would gather with friends, both LGBTQ+ and allies alike, and hang out around the parade at a bar or three, roaming the streets and taking in queer culture in every shape, size, color, ability, creed, and nationality," he says. "There is an energy in New York City for Pride: It is so joyful, free, and almost fearless, which empowers many LGBTQ+ people to express themselves freely in the streets, which is amazing and beautiful," he says.
This year, he's considering celebrating Pride on Fire Island, "in Cherry Grove, a historic queer community," he says. "The community here has its own Pride celebration and is also hosting events for Juneteenth, to include Black and Brown LGBTQ+ people." But the importance of the festivities in New York City hasn't changed: "I am very excited about New York City's Pride theme, 'The Fight Continues,' which is so powerful and a reminder of why Pride began and of how much more work we have ahead," he says. "Freedom to be yourself completely is a privilege that not all queer people experience. Many face discrimination for what they look like, how they sound, what they wear, or how they appear to others—but during Pride that fear dissipates and they are celebrated out loud and proud in a meaningful way!"
"I arrived in New York from my native country of Panama in 1969, the same year the historic Stonewall riots were happening," says lauded event planner and designer Preston Bailey. "At 19, knowing that I was gay, seeing the courage of those many gay men in that riot helped me a lot [with] coming to terms with my own sexuality. Since then, each year I take the time to celebrate this historical day of liberation. My friends and I just wander all afternoon, taking in the visuals, then end up dancing at the celebration that used to be at the pier [pre-COVID-19]." In years when he spent the Saturday before the parade overseeing elaborate weddings, he contributed to that party: "I'll take the thousands of flowers and decorations and repurpose them to decorate the dance at the pier," he says, adding that one of his "all-time dreams is to create the ultimate floral float to include in the parade." Though this year's festivities will be much smaller, Bailey still plans to mark the occasion: "My husband, Theo Bleckmann, and I hope to still meet up with a few friends and maybe create our own small dance party," he says.
Bryan Rafanelli of Rafanelli Events considers Pride both a time for celebration and advocacy. "As a young person, I looked forward to Pride as much as Christmas!" he says. "Pride was always incredibly fun, super spirited, and a form of political activism for me. I started attending Pride in the mid-'80s and marched with an AIDS Service Organization to stand up for my friends who were dying of this horrible virus. Over the years, it turned into a celebratory experience and always made me smile." Now, no matter where his event work takes him, he sets aside a few minutes to join the celebration. "To this day, if I am in New York City or Boston—or any major city, for that matter—I simply love to stand on the most popular corner and watch the LGBTQ+ world march on by," he says. "I still manage to find a rainbow flag somewhere and wave it proudly." This year, Rafanelli, again, has an event to coordinate. "I will be, as in times past, setting up for a wedding," he says, "only this time, describing to my team all the crazy parades of the past and imagining how fantastic Pride will be next year in 2022!"