Outside of Salinas City Hall on June 4 and donning a rainbow face mask, Eric Mora, who works as a policy analyst for Supervisor Wendy Root Askew and volunteers as a board member for Salinas Valley Pride Celebrations, stood as dozens of bystanders witnessed the ceremonial raising of the rainbow-striped Pride flag. “I thought, is this the end goal? No, no it isn’t,” Mora says, reflecting a few days later. That thought was only affirmed when he was approached by two reporters who asked if it was OK to include his full name and his place of work. “I thought that was weird until I was reminded that there are still many people who can’t be ‘out’ in their workplace,” he says.
During the pandemic, Monterey Peninsula Pride’s usual parade and other events, the Peninsula Pride Parade and Salinas Valley Pride Celebrations events for Pride Month were either canceled or moved online. The flag-raising at Salinas City Hall was the first time that Mora and other local LGBTQ+ activists were able to meet in-person, out in the open, in solidarity with other community members and leaders, in over a year. And a lot has changed since 2019.
2020 brought the pandemic, a world gone virtual and a relentless news cycle that told stories about how everything was not alright, from soaring Covid-19 hospitalizations to nationwide protests and election scandals to wildfires and more. Last year has shaped how Mora and others think about Pride.
After months of virtual work and organizing, he came to see a clear distinction about who is allowed to participate in activist work. There are limitations to participating publicly in in-person events, but also in the digital realm. After so many online discussions and meetings, he wondered about non-internet-connected communities or people who didn’t have a safe home or private space to participate. “There are people who can’t participate because they might not feel safe, or they don’t have a Wi-Fi connection at home,” Mora says. Then he looked at his own privilege; Spanish is his first language, but he’s fluent in English. For non-English speakers, coming together or finding support online may not be an option.
In recent years, Pride may seem from the outside like a celebration of the progress of the rights of LGBTQ+ people, but for many it’s also an acknowledgment of how far society has yet to go, not just for representation but for equity.
The ACLU has tracked 29 bills introduced in 20 states this year alone that aim to limit healthcare access for transgender youth, and another 60 bills in 31 states that would exclude transgender youth from athletics.
For organizers like Salinas Valley Pride Celebrations Vice President Aundria Abad, the past year has made her realize that organizing is hard and emotionally taxing work. She found herself perhaps too hyper-focused on the news, and she had to step away.
“To be honest, I haven’t been keeping up with all the laws and news [in the LGBTQ+ space],” she says. “It’s sad and depressing for LGBTQ+ people right now. Sometimes I feel so disconnected.”
Disconnected from nationwide issues like the onslaught of laws harming trans kids (i.e. the Florida Legislature passing an anti-trans sports bill), or problematic representation (i.e. Caitlyn Jenner running for California governor and her questionable stances on anti-trans policies).
But still, Abad and Mora know that every drop in the bucket toward LGBTQ+ rights is progress. No matter how small. For Abad, that means continuing to raise funds for the Salinas Valley Pride Celebrations scholarships – and taking care of herself. “I know that it may seem like a small thing, but people get burned out. We are all burned out from the pandemic. You have to take care of yourself, and that’s impactful,” she says.
Mora says he’ll keep pushing inclusive workplaces and public space, so that LGBTQ+ people are represented in their fullness, whether they speak the same language or not, whether they’re of the mainstream culture or not.
“To me maybe raising the flag is not a big deal, but some of these public gestures are perhaps measure something non-quantifiable,” he says. “This can mean something big for someone who has never felt comfortable being ‘out’ in a public space.”