In 2019, “Chill Out & Proud” took the outdoor judicial center plaza by storm.
In 2020, it’ll be an inside affair.
Due to concerns over the COVID-19 virus, Somerset’s second-year gay pride festival will become “Chill In & Proud,” an online event to be held June 12, 13, and 14.
“This year’s Chill In & Proud Somerset virtual festival will feel a lot like last year’s first annual event,” said organizer Kat Moses, president of Somerset PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays). “We are featuring a variety of art including yoga, painting, music, and drag.”
The main difference is, instead of being out in the plaza space downtown, this year’s celebration will take place via livestream on the Chill Out & Proud Somerset Facebook page, or via the PFLAG Somerset Facebook page.
“We chose to hold a virtual June Pride following the cancelation and postponement of other state Pride festivals as a result of COVID-19, as well as out of concern that we will still be unable to gather in the fall as previously hoped,” said Moses. “June is Pride month, and a Pride month without Pride festivals feels bare for the LGTBQ+ community. Several state Prides have rescheduled for the date we originally chose, which also would have resulted in folks choosing where to celebrate, which no Pride organization wants.”
Additionally, said Moses, the COVID-19 situation “has required many of us to remain in isolation and distanced from one another to protect ourselves and each other which can be detrimental to our mental health. The festival will provide an opportunity for us to gather virtually, socialize, celebrate, and continue to foster community even though we can’t be together in person while also having a lot of fun during this trying time.”
Moses said the status of the events this year being somewhat up in the air due to coronavirus concerns is a crucial element in the decision— “The status of mass gatherings for the fall is unknown,” said Moses. “... The health and well-being of the entire Pulaski County community is our priority and was the ultimate determining factor for a virtual festival.”
That’s notable, as last year’s event was held in October, along with the seasonal Walker Weekend zombie event, and shortly after the 2019 editions of those festivals were over, the dates they would have been held in 2020 most likely were booked in advance by other parties, with some speculation that it was done on purpose to prevent their presence on the plaza this year.
However, “the attempt to book the plaza to block it from our use did not impact Chill Out & Proud Somerset,” said Moses. “We never intended to utilize the plaza as a venue space after seeing both the need and desire for expansion to accommodate more vendors and programming as well as the lack of event-holder rights that the venue guarantees. The plaza space needs a formal reservation and application process in order to provide adequate security for any and all events held there.”
In addition to it being online, there will be a few different features in this year’s now-three-day festival, said Moses, including an artists’ panel comprised of local artists as well as Jonathan and Frances Mayo — the creators of the Cleaning Closets project. Additionally, there will be a talent show of submitted work from locals; the chance to play virtual Jackbox Party trivia games together as a community; and a DJ-led Second Chance Prom for those who weren’t able to attend theirs accompanied by who they wanted or presenting how they wanted.
While the COVID-19 situation presents challenges, to be sure, organizers weren’t going to let it stop an event that was a boon for this area’s LGBTQ+ community, which had never experienced a Pride celebration locally before. The event last year saw 500 to 700 attendees and there has already been an “immense amount of views and interactions” for early publicity of this year’s “Chill In & Proud” event.
“Before the festival ever ended last year, folks who attended touched base with organizers to tell us how deeply the mere presence of the festival had impacted their lives,” said Moses. “Most LGBTQ+ folks, both those who remain here & those who have moved to live in more accepting and affirming communities, never believed they would see a community Pride happen in their hometown. Many of the drag queens from last year’s Jarfly Brewing Co. show grew up in the area & moved to a metropolis area in order to pursue their art but had never been given an opportunity to perform at home.”
And on the plus side, doing the festival this way is less challenging in some ways that holding an in-person event — and not just because last year’s “Chill Out & Proud” brought out some protestors in response who won’t have a plaza to crash this time around.
“Virtual festivals are a lot easier to put together than in-person festivals,” said Moses. “They require a lot less volunteer legwork and a lot more one-on-one contact with entertainment and supporting agencies. The most challenging aspect is ensuring that we don’t face any technical difficulties in the duration of the event. We’re alleviating some of that concern by allowing much of the program to be pre-recorded original content.”
Out of last year’s efforts to recognize an often unnoticed segment of the community came the PFLAG Somerset group as well, which has seen its support meetings bring in 30 to 50 participants each time.
“The reverberating message from those conversations is that we need more visibility, more community events, and more affirmation from our community leaders,” said Moses. “We received regional, state, and national recognition of our efforts & our turnout from a variety of news media, agencies, and organizations. I was invited to present on Chill Out & Proud Somerset 2019 and the impact of rural Pride events on community healing at the Shepard Symposium on Social Justice in Laramie, Wyoming next year.”
For more information, visit the Chill IN & Proud 2020 and Somerset PFLAG Facebook pages or chilloutandproud.org. The event is organized by PFLAG Somerset.
“The reaction to a virtual event has been positive thus far,” said Moses. “The artists who have been booked are excited to offer intimate performances from their homes, and it provides the opportunity for those artists to get even more creative with things such as lighting, backdrops, and video editing than they could doing a live, in-person performance. As for attendees, I think a lot of folks are excited to get to attend a festival on their couch, in their Pride pajamas, without the prospect of sweating or having their Prom dance moves judged, needing a designated driver, or having to be concerned about the health and well-being of themselves or others as a result of COVID-19.”