“I grew up in Geelong in the 1980s and it was a very different place – phobic and very unsafe. There were a lot of challenges and as soon as I could, I moved to Melbourne,” recalled Andrew Guillaume.

He returned to Geelong some years ago to a very different place with a very strong and vibrant rainbow community. In December, he took over as the new President of Geelong Rainbow Inc – the committee tasked with organising Australia’s first in-person post-pandemic Pride festival.

“As a society, because of COVID, we have had to hit the reset button,” said Guillaume. “After such a challenging year, we knew, more than ever, that our community, and region, needed a proper festival to unite, connect and celebrate.”

Geelong Rainbow Festival to be held from February 7-14, will kick off Victoria’s choc-a-bloc 2021 Pride calendar.

(Update: This interview was before Melbourne’s snap circuit-breaker lockdown from Friday as a result of which the Rainbow Festival day had to be cancelled. For further updates check the Geelong Rainbow Inc. Facebook page.)

While around the world as Pride festivals are likely to be cancelled for a second year in a row due to the raging global pandemic, in Australia, which has so far managed to control the spread of COVID-19 infections, the rainbow will keep its tryst with the community.

Advertisement
 In a year that has seen a pandemic, economic hardships and isolation, Pride organisers are veering away from large events – dictated partly by COVID-safe rules and partly by the pressure on finances. Organisers have gone back to the drawing boards to design back-to-basics, smaller events, but perhaps more integrated and attuned to the community’s needs in the times of a pandemic.

Midsumma

Even before the year started, Midsumma lost out on over $760,000 in revenue. Karen Byrant, CEO of Midsumma Pride is unfazed as she and her team work to put together Melbourne’s premiere Pride event.

“This year, we’ve actually separated the core art festival from the Pride march. That was just to allow the maximum amount of time for approvals and things because obviously Pride marches are quite a complex event from the point of view of all the permits that you need to get in a normal year, let alone a COVID year,” Bryant told Star Observer.

Midsumma this year will have over 200 smaller events spread across Pride month from April 19 to May 5, with the Pride march scheduled for May 23. The emphasis this year at Midsumma will be events for smaller groups of people, to ensure the government regulations with regard to social distancing and crowd numbers can be followed.

According to Byrant the show must go on, not least because of the impact that the pandemic has had on the LGBTQI and arts communities.

“Our communities have been severely impacted by COVID. In many of our communities, the isolation that people have felt often triggered reactivations of past isolation and feelings that they’ve had of that. It’s really important that we’re able to return to live events.”

Advertisement
 Midsumma, which according to Byrant is also an arts event, will help that industry recover. “Our artists have been out of work for the longest period, and it’s really, really important that we can try and help reestablish our events for our industry, and for our communities.”

Melbourne Queer Film Fesitval

Melbourne’s other prime annual event is the Melbourne Queer Film Festival (MQFF), which will have a smaller in-person MQFF Together from March 11-21, and a larger festival in October/November. Last year, MQFF had to cut its 30th edition short when the first coronavirus infections hit Australia.

“We are working closely with our cinema partners to ensure that we provide a safe experience for our supporters – who we know are eager to get back together,” MQFF CEO Maxwell Gratton said in a statement. The festival will continue to have online events and screenings that proved very popular during the lockdowns in Melbourne.

2020 marked the 50th anniversary of some of the first Pride festivals in the United States, including New York and San Francisco. And for the first time in half a century they were unable to gather physically due to the pandemic. The major Pride festivals in Australia are celebrated in summer and most held their events before lockdowns were enforced in the country.

Ballarat Frolic

Ballarat Frolic was one of the few Pride events that had to cancel its 2020 edition at the last minute when restrictions on crowd numbers meant that it would not be financially viable. Event organiser Jay Morrison said this year the festival will “take it up a notch.”

“We are thinking of a festival that is a bit more experimental and radical, but a strong emphasis on what Frolic is well-known for – a welcoming environment, human connection and connection to the community.”

Chillout

ChillOut returns this year for its 24th edition as a 10-day event, instead of the weekend of festivities that it is known for. Michele Bauer, Festival Director, pitches it as a time for renewal and joy. “We’ve carefully curated a festival that offers something for everyone: music, comedy, theatre, talks, tours and a whole lot of queer community pride.”

Advertisement
 Many of its regular events have got a pandemic-era tweak like the outdoor Drag Jamboree, and some new events including a queer storytelling event, two nights of comedy featuring a line-up of some of Australia’s top female comedians and a musical headlined by award-winning Australian musician Mo’Ju.

One event that won’t be returning is a physical Pride march. Instead a virtual Pride parade will take its place. Last year, a record 25,000 people headed to Daylesford for the ChillOut weekend and organisers this year are hoping to spread the crowd attendance with smaller events spread across 10 days.

“One of the challenges has been managing people’s expectations of what they feel a Pride event should be,” said Lee Sandwith, Head of Marketing and Communications for ChillOut.

While Australia is one of the few countries in the world to manage the pandemic well, the spectre of the disease that has claimed over two million lives globally remains.

(This interview was before Melbourne’s snap circuit-breaker lockdown from Friday as a result of which the Chill Out Festival has rescheduled this year’s festivities to run from March 4-7). For further updates check the festival Facebook page.)

Geelong Rainbow Festival

Geelong Rainbow Festival engaged the services of a full-time consultant to ensure its events were COVID-safe. The festival returns with the exact number of events as last year – 16, including the Pride march, opening night party, Rainbow Brunch and an inaugural pets parade at Fair Day.

“People have been lonely and we know there’s been some significant loss of life within the community from suicide and significant isolation. So we just knew this was not the year that we could drop the ball,” said Stephanie Bietzel, Secretary, Geelong Rainbow Inc, adding, “We literally pulled the Rabbit out of the hat.

Melbourne Trans Pride March

Another casualty of the recent Melbourne outbreak has been the Trans Pride March Melbourne and the Trans Pride Concert to celebrate International Transgender Day of Trans Visibility on March 31.
“We wanted speakers prior to the rally to share some of their beautiful stories and at the Trans Pride Concert we wanted to highlight and give our local performers, from musicians to drag artists, an opportunity to be on an iconic centre stage like the Federation Square to showcase their talent,” said organiser Miss Katalyna.
However, the uncertainty over the recent outbreak in the city has led the organisers to postpone the event. “We we are unable to go ahead due to the latest cases. We are will still planning the event even if it for later in the year. We want to make sure we keep everyone is safe,” said Katalyna.
“We want to be visible to the general public as well as our own community and let everyone know that we do matter. Our mission is to Pass The Mic and our value is Trans Visibility Matters.” Hear! Hear!
Victoria’s 2021 Pride Calendar
  • Geelong Rainbow Festival – February 8, 2021 – February 14, 2021
  • Chill Out Festival Daylesford March 4, 2021 – March 7, 2021
  • MQFF Together March 11, 2021 – Match 21, 2021
  • Castlemaine Pride Picnic In The Park – April 24, 2021
  • Midsumma Festival – April 19, 2021 – May 5, 2021
  • Midsumma Pride March – May 23, 2021
  • Bendigo Pride Festival – March 12, 2021 – March 28, 2021
  • Trans Pride March & Concert – TBA
  • Ballarat Frolic Festival – June 2021
  • Out In the Open Festival Shepparton – October 28, 2021 – November 7, 2021
  • Melbourne Queer Film Festival – October/November 2021

© Star Observer 2021 | For the latest in lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex (LGBTIQ) news in Australia, be sure to visit starobserver.com.au daily. You can also read our latest magazines or Join us on our Facebook page and Twitter feed.