In Rhode Island the first month of summer is marked with more than just nice weather. The smallest state, which maintains a vibrant LGBTQIA (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex and Asexual) community, features the added visibility of rainbow flags and other signs of queer culture decorating our clothing and our streets, and generally adding color to our surroundings. This is all done in recognition of Pride Month, an opportunity to celebrate LGBTQIA liberation and community. This occasion is observed in countless cities around the world, and celebrations typically take the form of outdoor festivals, block parties and parades.
Though Pride appears all inclusive on the surface, recent years have offered a surge in nationwide protests and discourse slamming many modern Pride events for being whitewashed and overly corporate, long detached from their roots of radical liberation. The protests, which also occurred in Providence in 2016, often cite ongoing issues that include a lack of queer and transwomen of color in leadership roles within Pride organizations, excessive police presence at events, corporate sponsorships and catering to corporate interests, a lack of inclusivity in events for older audiences, and limited effort to provide spaces for families. While many Pride organizations continue to grapple with the ongoing criticisms and protests, alternative events have begun to grow in popularity in cities with some of the most well-established Pride festivals.
For Providence, this alternative is the AS220 Queer Arts Festival (QAF). Now in its fourth year, the QAF returns with a full week of programming happening from June 10 through June 17. The festival is hosted by AS220, a Providence-based art complex and music venue, and is led by a dedicated planning committee comprising 24 of some of the city’s most accomplished creative minds. When asked what motivates the volunteer planners, committee member Ronia “BlueAzul” Peguero stated, “We’re all doing this with our own time because we believe in it and we want to provide an alternative to Pride that is inclusive to the arts and is intergenerational.”
BlueAzul has worked in Providence area nightlife and promotions for 13 years and has successfully created four nights in Providence for the urban gay community. When asked what motivated her to accept her invitation to join the QAF planning committee, BlueAzul said, “For me I think it was a natural yes. Yes, I want to provide an alternative for the usual programming of Pride. I’ve been here for 37 years, and my whole entire life I’ve lived in Providence. I always thought that more could be done, so what better way to make a change than to actively participate in change?”
Blue said this year’s programming is intergenerational, accessible, family welcoming and educational, in order to best serve the Providence community. Blue said that a focus on family is very much lost in Rhode Island Pride events, and discussed how difficult it can be to find appropriate activities for older children and youth. Accessibility emerged as another important theme related to AS220’s recently launched ALL ACCESS campaign, which will allow for improvements to AS220’s flagship building on 95 and 115 Empire Streets. These improvements include installing an elevator, building gender-neutral bathrooms, and making their art and performance spaces more physically accessible to all.
The QAF will offer diverse, unique and artistically stimulating events. Highlights include headlining artists Papi Juice from NYC for an intergenerational dance party; performances from local and national LGBTQIA artists; the Queer Trans Zine Fest (QTZ) celebrating the small works of queer, trans, and gender non-conforming artists; and much more! There will also be a screening of Major!, a film exploring the life of Miss Major Griffin-Gracy, a formerly incarcerated black transgender activist and participant during the Stonewall Riots.
Check out as220.org for more information on the Queer Arts Fest and to view the full schedule, or visit the group’s Facebook page.