The coronavirus pandemic forced Brighton Beach Pride to go virtual for 2020, but organizers successfully made the most of the unprecedented circumstances, bringing speakers and entertainers from across the city and around the world to participate in the neighborhood’s fourth annual Pride event on May 31.
There was even a creative, quarantine-style music performance by individuals cooped up in their homes. With Rainbow Flags in the background and some individuals donning Black Lives Matter shirts, musicians played different instruments and sang, “Profiteers and racists, you may be surprised/ Against your toxic system, we’re getting immunized/ All you fascists bound to lose/ Bailout for the bosses, workers get the squeeze.”
Southern Brooklyn’s queer community gathers for fourth annual event
The virtual Pride gathering, organized by a Southern Brooklyn-based Russian-speaking LGBTQ organization known as RUSA LGBT, focused on celebrating the local queer community, uplifting immigrants, shining a light on queer persecution in Chechnya, and bolstering other marginalized groups that have been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. As in previous years, organizers underscored an intersectional message that included themes of racial justice, and that was even more timely this year in light of the recent killings of George Floyd in Minneapolis and trans man Tony McDade in Tallahassee, Florida, as well as other Black individuals around the nation who have been victims of police violence.
“We see the unrest that’s happening and we see the reason,” Yelena Goltsman, founder and co-president of RUSA LGBT, said in a written statement. “We are in solidarity with those who are protesting police violence and brutality. Just as we say ‘silence is death,’ we should say ‘Black lives matter’ because they do.”
Goltsman underscored the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the Russian-speaking communities in the area, especially among those who are undocumented and lack access to the same kind of government assistance as others. Goltsman stressed to viewers watching the broadcast that RUSA LGBT’s website has a donation page where all of the proceeds go directly to folks in need.
“The first ones to [lose their jobs] are the people who are undocumented, who don’t have support,” Goltsman said. “Those people just lost their jobs immediately, and 180 people have asked us for help. We did help as much as we could with some of the very important donations.”
Elected officials, religious leaders, and activists were among those who appeared on the broadcast during the first half of a three-hour event on YouTube Live. American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten and her wife Congregation Beit Simchat Torah Senior Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum joined State Attorney General Letitia James, City Councilmember Daniel Dromm of Queens, and others who offered words of encouragement for the community.
Activists Ann Northrop and Ken Kidd also appeared on the broadcast holding a long Rainbow Flag that said “RUSSIAN.”
In a brief message, James noted the passing last month of AIDS activist, playwright, screenwriter, and author Larry Kramer before saying how proud she was to stand with Brighton Beach’s LGBTQ and Russian-speaking community.
“Today we celebrate the power of collective action, fighting every way we can,” James said. “We also recognize there is much more to come.”
Kleinbaum, who has appeared at Brighton Beach Pride in the past, voiced solidarity with the local community as she spoke of growing up with parents who were dedicated to dissolving the Soviet Union. Kleinbaum’s wife, Weingarten, said she is the great-granddaughter of immigrants from Ukraine.
“I know many of you came to America to escape the hatred and bigotry many LGBTQ people face in other parts of the world,” Weingarten said. “We’ve made incredible progress, but there’s still so far to go.”
Dromm, who chairs the City Council’s LGBT Caucus, congratulated RUSA LGBT on the annual Pride event and said it is especially important for the community to show visibility in Brighton Beach.
“In fact, I think Brighton Beach Pride is one of the most important Prides in the world,” Dromm said. “It really gives visibility to a community that would otherwise not be known. So when we are bringing visibility to our communities, we are in fact fighting back against chronic homophobia.”
The annual Pride event is anticipated to return to its normal format next May. The march usually begins on the Riegelmann Boardwalk near Coney Island and continues east to Brighton Beach, where organizers and speakers deliver remarks to the crowd in English and Russian.
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