After the COVID-19 pandemic wiped out last year’s festivities, the Reston Pride Festival is back and as committed as ever to both celebrating and advocating for the local LGBTQ community.

This year’s event has been divided into two days, starting this Saturday (June 5) with a virtual festival and marketplace that will go from 2 to 6 p.m. An in-person festival with a free public concert will follow two weeks later at Lake Anne Plaza on June 19.

Nathan Hagen, who serves as treasurer for Reston Pride, an independent nonprofit under the CORE Foundation, says the board decided in December to plan virtual events for the festival to guarantee it would take place in some form, regardless of the state of the pandemic.

That certainty felt important after the experience of putting together the 2020 festival, which had been almost entirely booked and planned out when it was put on hold last spring. Organizers initially hoped to push it back to October, but it ultimately had to be canceled.

“COVID wasn’t gone, you know, in October. It was still taking the life of many, many people in our community and around the world, as it still is today,” Hagen said. “…If someone isn’t vaccinated or even if they are and they just don’t feel comfortable being in a public space, we wanted to create a virtual festival that would give them the ability to still feel a sense of community and, more importantly, celebrate Pride.”

Hagen promises that Reston Pride will still be “very much a party,” but the virtual element also enabled organizers to broaden their approach to programming with the addition of panel discussions on issues that LGBTQ individuals continue to face.

One panel will discuss aging in the LGBTQ community, including discrimination in elder care facilities, and another will deal with issues relevant to families, including families with LGBTQ children and queer couples who are interested in starting a family.

“Both of those panels are going to have some dialogue and perspectives from members of our community and from experts in the area, which we’re really looking forward to hear from them,” Hagen said.

The virtual festival will be headlined by actor and The Trevor Project advocate BD Wong, who will also hold an in-person talk at 8 p.m. that day at Reston Community Center’s CenterStage. For Reston Pride, he provided a video about the importance of supporting marginalized groups from his perspective as an openly gay, Asian American individual.

While the in-person festival will primarily focus on entertainment, led by the D.C. band Wicked Jezabel, it will also acknowledge Juneteenth, which falls on the same day, with a dance performance by Yauri Dalencour and opening remarks from Washington Plaza Baptist Church Rev. Michelle Nickens.

According to Hagen, the in-person festival will not have a cap on attendees after Virginia lifted COVID-19 capacity limits starting last Friday (May 28), but activities and vendors will be spread out to minimize crowding, and masks will be strongly encouraged in accordance with county and state guidance.

Because of the spacing limitations, Reston Pride cut off the number of vendors included this year to 45 organizations, including 10 nonprofits. Hagen says the board of directors offered free space for LGBTQ-oriented nonprofits to share their message and drum up support for their causes in recognition of the challenges that many groups encountered over the past year.

Proceeds from this year’s festival will go to future Reston Pride events and programs along with the nonprofit Rainbow Families, which provides education and support to LGBTQ families and prospective parents.

As the only Pride festival in Northern Virginia, Reston Pride’s organizers make an effort to maintain a focus on the local community and the grassroots spirit with which the festival launched in 2018.

“There’s no ‘brought to you by some major, multi-international company’ at Reston Pride,” Hagen said. “Instead at Reston Pride, it’s brought to you by local small businesses, many queer-owned businesses, and we focus on putting the spotlight on community organizations that support and help queer people in our area.”

A full list of festival events can be found on the Reston Pride website. Anyone interested in volunteering to assist with the in-person festival can fill out a sign-up form or email the organizers at [email protected]

Photo via Chip McCrea Photography

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