Pride P.E.I. finds virtual events allow for broader sharing of Island LGBTQ life

Pride P.E.I. organizers are finding a silver lining after moving most of last week's festival events online due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Organizers say digital formats created new space for complicated conversations

Pride P.E.I.'s 2020 festival ran from July 26 - Aug. 2. Many of the 20 events were moved online due to COVID-19. (John Robertson/CBC)

Pride P.E.I. organizers are finding a silver lining after moving most of last week's festival events online due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Festival chair John Kimmel said the necessary accommodation for public health measures has allowed for broader participation. He personally heard from people in eight or nine countries who tuned in.

"We found we extended our reach and the pickup, not only for the live events and participation, but on rebroadcast [it] has been huge," he said.

In addition to a few in-person events, Pride P.E.I. hosted a variety of online conversations over the course of week, including on sexuality and race, sobriety, and sex and disability. 

"Bringing it into a virtual space allows people to be anonymous and to just watch and to not even show their name or their face and to participate and engage with the content," Kimmel said. 

"The in-person sessions do require you to sort of be there and be present."

Space for complicated conversation

Kimmel said the format allowed Pride to approach topics that may have been a bit more difficult to approach in past years, and although they only had a few dozen people participate live, some videos have since been viewed thousands of times. 

"We were able to tackle topics like race and sexuality or making sex accessible, sex and disability and other topics that are a little bit, I would say more complicated," he said.

Kimmel heard from people from other parts of the world who tuned in to the segments, from the United States to Europe to Australia, many of whom are Islanders who now live away.

"Not only have they been following the Islanders who have come home to Prince Edward Island to continue their careers here after maybe 10 or 15 years away ... they use them as those people and their social media accounts to sort of a conduit to queer life on P.E.I.," he said. 

Paraders during the P.E.I.'s 2019 Pride Parade. The in-person 2020 event was cancelled due to COVID-19. (Greg Guy/CBC)

Not unlike Old Home Week, Kimmel said Pride has become an occasion for members of the LGBTQ community to reconnect with the place they maybe have not lived in quite some time.

He said last year's turnout was amazing. 

"I was really blown away at the number of people that not only came back for Pride Week to reconnect with friends or family or just to see what had happened and the evolution of queer life here on P.E.I. in the years since they've left," he said. 

"We really raised the bar for ourselves, but I think for Canadian pride in general."

The festival wrapped up on Sunday, and Kimmel said they are now looking for volunteer board members for next year's events.

He said although this year's virtual events were necessary due to COVID, Pride will likely continue to look at virtual events due to their proven success and accessibility.

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With files from Tony Davis