By Cassandra Castillo, Assistant Features Editor—
As October is nationally recognized as LGBT History Month, Chattanooga Pride celebrated by hosting virtual and in-person festivities from Sept. 25 to Oct. 4.
This month-long celebration ties in with National Coming Out Day, which takes place Oct. 11. Cities across the country and across the world have begun to show support by displaying the pride flag in an effort to raise awareness for its history.
In the Chattanooga area, a non-profit organization called Tennessee Valley Pride raises awareness for people who identify as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, or Transgender (LGBT). This board aims to improve conditions for these individuals by raising awareness and educating the community. Just one of the ways they accomplish this is with their annual Pride festival.
This year, events such as the LGBTQ+ Mental Health Panel, Trans Community Panel, and Interfaith Night allowed audience members to connect with the panelists on a more personal level. Events like the Pride Kickoff Party, Drag Queen Bingo, and Briana’s Block Party allowed people to get down and have a good time.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Chattanooga Pride gave people the opportunity to participate in-person and online. Community panels and showcases were viewed live on Facebook. Meanwhile, in-person events were located in downtown Chattanooga restaurants such as The Big Chill and Grill or The Honest Pint, where they hosted Drag Queen Bingo Nights. Guests had their temperature checked before entering.
The Trans Community Panel was a way for panelists to connect with viewers online to discuss matters concerning the LGBT community, specifically the trans community. AJ Hogan, the Tennessee Valley Pride chairperson, was one of eight panelists that discussed their journey and encouraged those still trying to find their true identity.
“For anybody going through this journey, it is scary and it is terrifying sometimes,” Hogan said. “It is a lot. It can be heavy. But it is so important because this is our journey, it’s your journey, and we are growing and as scary as all that can be, we matter.”
To many university students in the city, events like this make them feel welcome. Many students in the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga come from towns outside of the city, so coming to a different setting that celebrates differences can be exciting for them.
UTC freshman Kurtis Stychyn is one such student.
“That does not happen where I am from,” Stechyn said. “We have to travel to Nashville to experience anything like it. Chattanooga is really progressive compared to most places in Tennessee. I wouldn’t expect anything less.”
The last day of Pride 2020 consisted of the Black Queer Liberation March and the Grande Finale Pride Drag Show. The march began in the Bessie Smith Center, and was composed of many eager participants, one of whom being District 8 city council candidate and activist, Marie Mott. She believes Chattanooga, like the rest of the country, needs transformative change, and that its citizens should be the ones to continue that change.
“One of the most important actions in any democratic society is the right to protest and highlight the wrongs in our society,” Mott said. “We cannot be silent about the injustices we see or, by sheer silence, we are complicit. Pride in its origin was a rebellion. Trans, and more particularly, Black trans and queer lives are under attack within our communities and at the hands of state sanctioned violence. It’s imperative for the community to support our LGBTQIA neighbors and ensure they know they have a respectable place in Chattanooga. They are not alone.”
Pride 2020 was deemed a success considering the pandemic could have caused a lower number of participants. It ultimately had a better turnout than the Tennessee Valley Pride expected. They look forward to continuing to raise awareness for the LGBTQ+ community.