Arts·Queeries

Attention LGBTQ folks: This is an emergency, and we need to rise up to help our struggling siblings

From drag performers to comedians to theatre makers, COVID-19 is devastating queer artists and institutions.

From drag performers to comedians to theatre makers, COVID-19 is devastating queer artists and institutions

The annual Pride Parade is replaced by a Resist March in West Hollywood, June 2017. (Mike Blake/Reuters)

Queeries is a weekly column by CBC Arts producer Peter Knegt that queries LGBTQ art, culture and/or identity through a personal lens. It won the 2019 Digital Publishing Award for best digital column in Canada.

In the past week, the COVID-19 pandemic has drastically and rapidly caused thousands of LGBTQ artists in this country to see their projects, income and general well-being become more or less decimated. Theatre makers, drag performers, musicians, actors, comedians, filmmakers, photographers, visual artists: everything they'd be working toward was put on an indefinite pause. Worse, the (often financially fragile) institutions — from bookstores to theatres to bars — that support them have been force to close, their futures beyond this situation unclear. So as we all self-isolate our way into whatever abyss COVID-19 is taking us, it is absolutely crucial that those of us privileged enough step up to help folks survive by whatever means we can.

Thankfully, in addition to being a remarkably talented bunch, we queers know a thing or two about being resilient and organized in a crisis. There's already dozens of ways to help out, whether that's sending a tip to your local drag artist while you watch Drag Race in your living room (ask them for their direct payment info), buying gift certificates to theatres and venues that support queer art, watching our favourite queer comedians online and sending them cash, or buying movies, albums, books and art to help keep you company during your quarantine.

Perhaps the most comprehensive initiative at this time is the brilliantly conceived Emergency Survival Fund set up by the beacon of light that is Glad Day Bookshop. Given that both Glad Day and the people they serve are faced with such an immediate crisis, they created a fund through their non-profit arm Glad Day Lit that supports both the store and the community it represents. Donations are split like so:

30% - Paid work for LGBTQ2S artists and performers
30% - Swift grants to LGBTQ2S artists, performers and tip-based workers for food and housing
10% - Swift no-interest loans to artists, performers and tip-based workers
15% - Goes toward Glad Day Lit admin costs and becoming a charity
15% - Goes toward keeping Glad Day open

"We know that vast numbers of queer artists do not get grant money, are not part of an artist union and don't get a paycheque from an employer — all the mechanisms that the government might use to provide financial support to artists," says Glad Day's Michael Erickson. "We know that most measures to support people will miss the people in the most dire need. This fund is meant to provide swift, emergency financial support to reduce the chance of a personal and community crisis."

Responses from a poll Glad Day Lit conducted earlier this week with LGBTQ artists. (Michael Erickson)

Having already raised over $15,000 in just a few days, the goal is now to make it to $100,000. That amount would allow the fund to support 100-150 artists, performers and tip-based workers, as well as keeping Glad Day open for one month.

"We are talking about a group of people who are used to surviving on very little, not corporations that need thousands or millions of support," Erickson says. "Over 60% of our applicants are just asking for $200 or less to get through the next two weeks — unless they need to pay rent, in which case that amount skyrockets for people in Toronto. What that means is that if someone give a donation of $100 it can change someone's life right now in the next 24 hours."

Erickson also notes something we all need to remember as the pandemic worsens: there's a lot of government talk about financial support for families and businesses and the possibility of using income tax filing as a way to figure out who needs help.

"This sounds to me like the people who already don't fit into society — people who are at the highest risk — are going to be forgotten, isolated and devastated," he says. 

So let's do everything we can as a community to ensure that where the government falters, we step up. And I will do whatever I can with this platform to help. One of the greatest honours I've ever had in my career has been having this opportunity to showcase the staggering talents of Canadian queer folks working in the arts. And I will now do my best to use it to help us all get through this, hopefully shining a light on how remarkable our rise out of the COVID-19 ashes will be in the process. So if you think there's something or someone I should cover in this column, email or DM me. If you think you have something to write about yourself, pitch me and we'll try to commission you. And honestly, if you're just having a hard time and need to talk, reach out. I'm trapped in my apartment for a while anyway and could use the social interaction.

Stay strong, everyone. And take solace in the fact that if there's one thing LGBTQ folks know how to do, it's rise the fuck up for each other when it matters the most. 

CBC Arts understands that this is an incredibly difficult time for artists and arts organizations across this country. We will do our best to provide valuable information, share inspiring stories of communities rising up and make us all feel as (virtually) connected as possible as we get through this together. If there's something you think we should be talking about, let us know by emailing us at cbcarts@cbc.ca. See more of our COVID-related coverage here.

About the Author

Peter Knegt has worked for CBC Arts since 2016, writing the LGBTQ-culture column Queeries (winner of the 2019 Digital Publishing Award for best digital column in Canada) and spearheading the launch and production of series Canada's a Drag and interactive project Superqueeroes, both of which won 2020 Canadian Screen Awards. Beyond CBC, Knegt is also a stand-up comedian, the filmmaker of numerous short films and the author of the book About Canada: Queer Rights. You can follow him on Instagram and Twitter with the same obvious handle: @peterknegt.

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