When Fairfax Pride of Northern Virginia announced the date of its first pride festival, A.J. Campbell was surprised.
Campbell is director of Nice Jewish Girls D.C., a lesbian social group. The day chosen to celebrate gay pride in Northern Virginia, Oct. 4, is Yom Kippur.
“Having it on Yom Kippur – we thought they must not know,” Campbell said.
But in fact, they did know. Fairfax Pride had been applying for a venue for the festival for nearly three years. Some venues denied their application, while others told them bluntly not to apply, according to Brian Reach, president of Fairfax Pride. Finally, the Special Events Center at Bull Run Regional Park in Centreville approved Fairfax Pride. The only available opening was Oct. 4.
Campbell quickly contacted Reach and other festival organizers. “I was shocked that they were having trouble,” she said, “But that being said, I don’t think they realized the impact it would have on the Jewish queer community. You wouldn’t hold the event on Easter.”
Reach said that it’s hard in a multireligious society to hold an event that is not on a holiday.
“We had a spreadsheet with over 170 holidays – Christian, Jewish, Islamic, Hindu, and more – to try to avoid, and obviously we didn’t want to have a festival on Yom Kippur,” he said. “Oct. 4 is also Eid-al-Ahda and Dussehra, so we were in a position where our only date available was a Jewish, Hindu and Islamic holiday.”
About a quarter of festival board members are Jewish. But when they looked at the date and considered their lack of options, they unanimously agreed to move forward, hoping that some other event would cancel and allow them to avoid Yom Kippur.
Meanwhile Nice Jewish Girls D.C. took to social media to protest the Yom Kippur date. “You are not going to believe this but the Northern Virginia Pride committee, a 503(c), has decided to hold their Pride Celebration on Yom Kippur” began a post on July 2. It encouraged supporters to let Northern Virginia Pride know “that it is not ok to exclude Jews and Muslims. Our community is inclusive and they should be too.”
On July 3, Reach contacted an event specialist who negotiated bumping the festival to Oct. 5. During the July 4 weekend, Reach’s team reached out to event sponsors and Jewish organizations, and updated the artwork, forms, website and social media platforms. “We’re all volunteers and work full-time jobs,” Reach said, “so it was during our lunch breaks.”
The response was immediate. “We quickly had a fresh wave of volunteer interest forms submitted on the website, as well as requests for vendor booth forms,” Reach said. “From alienated attendees to rabbis to the heads of Jewish organizations – all were elated!”
Halley Cohen, director of the Washington DC Jewish Community Center’s GLOE-Kurlander Program for GLBT Outreach & Engagement, welcomed the change. “NOVA Pride is respecting the fact that we don’t want to choose between our Jewish and LGBT identities,” she said.
Campbell agreed: “They listened to the needs of our community.”