Out celebs, LGBTQ+ movers-and-shakers, and allies gathered in Manhattan on Monday night for Queerty’s Pride50 celebration, a party that is quickly becoming one of the early kick-offs to New York City’s Pride season.
The vibe at the event — which saluted the 2023 Pride50 honorees of LGBTQ Nation‘s sibling site — was, without a doubt, celebratory. Guests like musicians Crystal Waters and Sophie B. Hawkins, model Thaddeus Coates, and also RuPaul’s Drag Race alums Rosé, Brita Filter, and Marcia Marcia Marcia toasted two honorees: actor Michael Urie and theater director, choreographer, and Broadway Bares creator Jerry Mitchell. The crowd sipped cocktails, enjoyed performances by Kandy Muse and Mykal Kilgore, and danced to DJ Ty Sunderland’s set.
LGBTQ+ stars and straight allies alike took to social media to mark the start of Pride.
The glitzy evening was in many ways a welcome respite from what has come to seem like a daily onslaught of anti-LGBTQ+ political animus over the past year. Looming over Pride Month, the book bans, anti-trans laws, and hateful online misinformation about the queer community weren’t far from anyone’s thoughts. For so many, Pride hits differently this year.
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“Someone today said to me that, this year, the Pride flag is at half-mast,” comedian and author Zach Zimmerman told LGBTQ Nation. “Which was interesting to me, and I had to think about it. I think the flag’s always been at half-mast, and we’re always fighting to push it further and further up. That fight takes different forms year after year, but the forces of oppression in our world haven’t changed. They’ve picked new targets, they’ve gone in deeper ways, but our resilience and power are not deterred by that. We fight back. Queer people always have.”
Zimmerman was far from alone in his defiance. Noting that this was the first Pride Month ever to coincide with the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) issuing a national emergency declaration regarding the state of LGBTQ+ rights, Urie said that “Pride has to go even harder than ever.”
“We all have to go to the max and not be afraid to wear our rainbows and speak our truths,” the Summoning Sylvia actor told LGBTQ Nation. “Because people are trying to use us for entirely political reasons, to create division in the country. To me, that means that Pride is going to slap harder than ever.”
Others insisted that celebrating Pride has always been about resistance.
“Pride will always feel like both a celebration and a protest,” fashion designer and Project Runway alum Tyler Neasloney told LGBTQ Nation. “I don’t think 10 years from now, 20 years from now, 50 years from now it’s not going to change. It’s always going to have a gravity that will not be mutually exclusive with it being a celebration.”
Actor and content creator Brandon Contreras told LGBTQ Nation that the attacks on LGBTQ+ rights aren’t going to change the way he approaches Pride.
“I’ve always been passionate about fighting for queer people, for Black people, for trans people, for the disabled — for every other community,” Contreras said. “But I think, specifically this year, it’s a fight more than ever. It’s a challenge for everyone to collectively get together, rise together, and also celebrate together. Because in this world, it’s people trying to steal our joy. I think as long as we keep powerfully existing, and passionately existing, then we can take on anything. We’re not going anywhere.”
Still, others seemed less inclined to go all out for Pride this year. Nani, an event attendee, told LGBTQ Nation that her circle of queer friends is planning more intimate celebrations.
“I feel like a lot of us are going inwards and seeking comfort within our own community — meanwhile still keeping the spirit and celebrating,” she said. “Because besides all that, I feel like Pride has become, also, a very corporate thing that we struggle every day to keep ours. And yet, things like the marches, they always feel right. But this year it feels like a lot of my close family, we’re keeping it intimate and going to barbeques, seeking healing with ourselves, within ourselves. So, it does feel a little bit different this year.”
Sherrod Lewis, another attendee, echoed that sentiment, adding that incidents of far-right hate groups like the Proud Boys showing up at Pride events and drag shows have made him hesitant to attend big public celebrations.
“I just think that this year, I’d rather be safe than sorry as I know that there are a lot of hateful individuals out looking to find any opportunity to do what they may to incite any type of riot, violence,” he said. “So, I plan to attend more intimate gatherings with friends, family, and loved ones, and just try to be as safe as possible.”
For Blain Surber, an attendee who works as a branding and creative strategy manager at Condé Nast, said it’s hard to celebrate when it feels like the LGBTQ+ community had a knife to its collective throat.
“So, it’s about making sure that it’s not just a party, it’s actually taking a step back and looking at it from a lateral perspective and saying, ‘Am I giving enough, am I doing enough?’ And that means maybe doing a little less celebration and a little more conversation,” Surber said.
Zimmerman also said that he’s thinking more about activism and building solidarity within the LGBTQ+ community this year.
“I feel like in previous years there might have been fierce debate about kink at Pride or sharing our family’s grievances with the broader world,” he explained. “And now that we’re being a little more aggressively threatened by the broader world, maybe we get the family party line straight. We’re gonna present a united front as a family where possible. I’m being more mindful of that.”
Of course, that doesn’t preclude partying. Singer-songwriter and DJ Rod Thomas, who performs as Bright Light Bright Light, said that the Pride events he’s involved with this year are all making an even bigger effort than usual to be inclusive and community-focused.
“I think Pride has a lot more meaning behind it this year,” he said.
Like nearly everyone at Queerty’s Pride50 event, Justin David Sullivan, who is currently starring in the Broadway musical & Juliet, sounded a note of hopeful defiance in the face of everything that has happened so far this year.
“I think all of the fear tactics that are being thrown at us are something that is happening because we are thriving,” they said. “It is a mark of the right being afraid of queer liberation. So, I think that is a wake-up call to us that we are moving forward and that we need to lean into our power and know that we are stronger together.”
“Pride is a beautiful celebration of that and a reflection of what really matters in this community,” Sullivan added. “We have each other’s backs, and at the end of the day resilience is in our blood and I know that we’ll make it out of this time.”