In the wake of the Coronavirus outbreak, businesses are facing dilemmas due to quarantine restrictions, travel bans, event cancellations, and so on. Baltimore OUTloud sat down with the Pride Center of Maryland’s Executive Director, Mimi Demissew, to learn about the latest updates on services, plans for the Pride Center, the status of Baltimore Gay Pride 2020 and more.

Charles Smalls: How has the Pride Center, specifically the populations you serve, been affected by the COVID-19 Pandemic?

Mimi Demissew: The way that it’s most affected us is that we’ve had to close down our center to the public. One of the big things that we offer the public is a space where you can come and be seen, be safe and be affirmed.

All of a sudden with us closing the center and saying you no longer have a space to come to was a huge problem for community members. Also, social distancing and isolation is even more difficult for members who already feel isolated or for those who may be in home situations that aren’t always affirming and safe.

Having a space to call your own is profound, especially for elders and young people. It’s also profound for our trans community.

This particular, pandemic and our response to it created a lot of challenges to the communities that we serve.

CS: What other anxieties have you seen surface in the community as a result of this?

MD: We have a lot of community members who we never realized were frontline responders, like people that are working in fast food or in grocery stores. Now these people are being asked to come into this.

On top of that, people are asked to stay home and not work, and don’t even have a paycheck depending on where they work. That’s another added challenge and adds to some of the heightened anxiety that we’re seeing in the community.

As a result, we’re getting a lot of calls for mental health assistance. We’re coming into work to do these calls and to also serve the community as best as we can.

That’s also an added anxiety for my own employees, but that’s what we all signed up for. This is a stressful time, but we’re doing our best to be here for the community and to continue to meet the mission of the organization, which is to serve, unite, and empower sexual and gender minorities.

We’re doing our best to be here for the community as an organization.

CS: I’m personally am not hearing a lot of people talk about the homeless and under-housed populations. What are your thoughts?

MD: That’s a big problem. We didn’t have enough housing to meet the homeless population demand before this pandemic and now people are being asked to shelter in place.

So, in a sense, all of a sudden, we’re criminalizing homelessness. It’s such a huge problem and we don’t have a good way to address it or help.

Another thing that we have to remember is that about 40% of the homeless population in Baltimore city identifies as a sexual and gender minority and of that, the majority are also young people. It’s a challenge that we can’t fix alone as a center, but this is really going to require some funding and some real policy changes from our city leaders and our state leaders.

CS: How is the Pride Center being financially affected by this pandemic?

MD: We’re not receiving some of our payments as regularly as we should have been because our funders are now working with a much smaller staff.

We’re feeling the strain from all over, but we’re just doing our best to manage everything and minimize these effects so that we can continue to meet the needs of our community.

CS: What resources have been put in place to ensure the continuation of Pride Center services, during this time?

MD: One of the things that we have done is move some of our programming online so that we could provide some sort of online support for community members. The next phase is to get the rest of our programs all online so that we can continue to provide all of that diverse programming so that there isn’t a disruption in support services.

We’re continuing to provide case management, but it’s over the phone of course.

Also, we are providing food every day, Monday through Saturday from ten to four. The food is running out by two or three o’clock these days, so people should get here as soon as possible, as it is first come first serve.

We’re also still providing, chest binders for our transgender and gender nonconforming folks who require that.

Next week or so, we’re going to be opening up the helping hands clothing closet, so while we’re giving food, we’re going to allow one person at a time to come and grab some clothing if they need it.

CS: One topic on everyone’s mind is Baltimore Pride 2020. Many cities have postponed and cancelled events. What is the forecasted outlook for Pride this year?

MD: Some folks are looking out there and are saying “hey you know, New York canceled, LA and this place canceled”. I think that’s fine, but we’re Baltimore. We’re different and this is our 45th anniversary.

We’re the third oldest center in the country. It means so much to the community to have this. It’s not just about it being a party, but it’s going to be so much more important this year, especially coming out of this pandemic.

It’s always been a time for visibility. It’s always been a time for affirmation. It’s always been a time for community to forget about all of the other things that we’ve been fighting about and really come together in this one beautiful, unified, space.

Right now, the only thing that we’re doing, as a center, is hoping for the best, but we’re planning for the worst.

Our best-case scenario is everything gets taken care of and we can move forward with our June celebration. If that doesn’t happen, we have some backup dates in store that we’ve worked out with Baltimore city for the weekend of August 28th.

If that is still too soon, we have some other dates in the middle of September so that we can still have Baltimore Pride.

CS: What is the worst-case scenario for pride?

MD: Worst case scenario, if we can’t do a public gathering, then we have some other things in store which we’ll announce.

We have a plan for all possible scenarios, but the main thing is we certainly want to do something, whatever the scenario is going to be.

Our biggest intention is to make sure that Baltimore Pride happen in a way that can still be affirming, empowering and uniting our community.

CS: What is the best way for the public to stay to date on next steps regarding the Maryland Pride Center’s operations?

MD: Sign up for the newsletter, but check out our webpage, & check out our Facebook. That would be the best way we’ll be sending out information.

CS: Is Pride Center working on anything else you would like to share?

MD: Another thing that we have in store is the new community building.

The Pride Center of Maryland is set to launch a new center that will serve as an LGBT center for the state of Maryland. We will be there, but we’re also going to be inviting other organizations that serve sexual and gender minorities in Maryland so that we could operate a one stop shop resource center for sexual and gender minority services.

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Charles Smalls
Charles Smalls
Charles Smalls is a technical writer, artist and content creator with a strong passion for multimedia and storytelling. If you would like to connect with him follow him on twitter (@OnwardThought).