By Tara Roberts
COVID-19 has changed plans for physical Pride events this month, but virtual celebrations are coming up across the Inland Northwest — and the organizers of local interfaith events hope the flexibility of digital space will draw more people to participate in the spiritual side of Pride.
OutSpokane announced in April that it would host Spokane Virtual Pride week in June, with plans for an in-person event Oct. 17, and the North Idaho Pride Alliance shifted from the usual Pride in the Park to a monthlong multimedia CDA4Pride campaign.
Kimberly Gazzo, the community volunteer organizing CDA4Pride’s interfaith discussion, said an online event doesn’t replace in-person perks like hugs and live music. Still, she’s excited to offer a service to those who might not otherwise attend a Pride event, like young people whose parents might not be willing to take them or people who do not feel ready to attend an in-person event.
“This is a service people can attend completely anonymously,” she said. “You can log in, you can watch, you can listen, you don’t have to turn on your video, you don’t have to identify yourself, and maybe you’ll hear something that brings you peace or hope, or a desire for more.”
Jessica Mahuron, the outreach coordinator for North Idaho Pride Alliance, said virtual events offer people the convenience of participation on their own time and in the safety of their own homes, with the opportunity to connect more later.
“We’re very saddened that people couldn’t come together physically at our event and we know this doesn’t quite replicate it, but I know we’re reaching a much wider audience as well,” she said. “We can reach people across North Idaho — maybe as far as Moscow or Plummer or Orofino, any of these places.”
Jan Shannon, who has been the lead organizer of Spokane Pride interfaith events since 2016, said she hopes the online Interfaith Pride Service also will draw people around the region, as well as reach those who can’t attend live.
“The video is longer lasting — we can broadcast it and re-broadcast it and reach more and more people,” Shannon said.
The Interfaith Pride Service will be somewhat like in-person events from years past, with speakers from a variety of faith traditions, including the Rev. Chris Snow of North Hill Christian Church, Rev. Andy CastroLang of Westminster United Church of Christ, Rabbi Tamar Malino of Temple Beth Shalom, Ven. Thubten Chodron of Sravasti Abbey and a dozen others.
“It’s not just interfaith, it’s also new-age spirituality. We really try to be just as broad as we absolutely can,” Shannon said.
Shannon, who is the former assistant pastor at Westminster and recently earned her Master of Divinity from Iliff School of Theology but is not currently serving a congregation, will host the service live.
The CDA4Pride interfaith discussion also will include speakers from a spectrum of faith groups, including the Episcopal and Methodist churches, the Unity Spiritual Center and the Reform Jewish community. The event, which does not yet have a set time, will be through Zoom, with some live and some pre-recorded presenters.
Gazzo, an ordained minister in the Community of Christ denomination who recently earned her Master’s in theology and is working toward becoming a professional chaplain, will lead the discussion.
While local faith groups have participated in Pride in the Park for years, this new online event is a way to reimagine how faith groups collaborate with Pride in Coeur d’Alene, Mahuron said.
Gazzo, who became involved in LGBT groups after her oldest son came out as transgender, and she said she is eager to share a message of support and love to local community members.
“My goal for the entire thing is just to spread the news that wherever you are in life, you are completely a child of God and you’re completely loved, that God’s undeniable and forever available grace is there for everyone,” she said.
Shannon, a gay woman who was ostracized from a conservative denomination when she came out, said interfaith Pride events are an important way to elevate people’s body, soul and spirit.
“We know the queer community has been damaged in all three ways,” she said. “Their physical bodies have been damaged by the extreme poverty they often face due to employment problems. Emotionally and psychologically they have been damaged by the way they’ve been treated by society in general. And we know that spiritually they’ve been abused by several types of faith groups, not just conservative Christianity.”
The theme of Spokane Virtual Pride is “Stay home, stay healthy, stay proud,” and Shannon said this is a perfect fit for the interfaith service.
“To stay home means this is your home, you are your own home. We know people treat you badly, and we know sometimes even the people in your house can treat you badly. But stay home in your own heart, and be true to who you are,” she said. “If you desire to find faith … all the faith leaders at the virtual service want to give you that freedom and opportunity.”
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Tara Roberts is a mother, writer, journalist, educator, Lutheran and ice cream enthusiast who lives in Moscow, Idaho, with her husband, two children and dog.