It wasn't clear what kind of Pride month we'd have this year, with COVID-19 lingering and protests against racism and police brutality taking place worldwide. But inclusive spaces are necessary now more than ever, and Pride can't be stopped. Thanks to the passion and ingenuity of LGBTQ+ community members, virtual spaces have opened up to celebrate Pride in a brand-new way, and Animal Crossing: New Horizons just so happens to be the perfect setting for such a celebration.
"Animal Crossing: New Horizons has already proved to be a thriving place for the LGBTI+ community, a great outlet for creativity, and a haven for free expression for members of that community,” says Arnaud Robin, Innovations Director at We Are Social Singapore, the agency that designed Pride Island for free. Pride Island is part of the Global Pride Crossing event, which kicked off on June 18 with free Pride outfit designs and the chance to tour the island for inspiration on how to throw your own New Horizons Pride party. On June 27 you can tune into Twitch or head to the Global Pride 2020 official site to watch Twitch streamers host Global Pride sessions on their own islands.
I got a chance to visit Pride Island ahead of the festivities, and I was absolutely floored by the attention to detail and vastness of the project. It's indicative of the beauty you can find at the crossroads of the LGBTQ+ and ACNH communities.
From NYC to ACNH
I'm an openly-queer cis woman who lives in New York City, and last year it was the host of World Pride 2019, marking the 60th anniversary of the Stonewall riots. It was the biggest Pride festival in history, with an estimated five million people attending in Manhattan alone. However, last year, I celebrated Pride in a different way: my sister and I were in France watching the US Women's National Team win the FIFA Women's World Cup (again). Led by outspoken activist and lesbian Megan Rapinoe, it was a great way to celebrate - but I missed NYC's historical event and was looking forward to NYC Pride 2020.
COVID-19 canceling in-person Pride events was a blow to our collective psyche, especially since those get-togethers, when organized and promoted correctly, can be inclusive spaces for Black and NBPOC members of the LGBTQ+ community. But the creators of Pride Island are aware of the importance of celebrating Pride virtually in a COVID-19 reality and do so while emphasizing diversity. "Pride is so important because it’s an occasion that really brings LGBTI+ people, and their allies, together - regardless of gender, orientation, color or ethnicity - to celebrate," says Robin. "It provides a platform for individuals to learn, express their identity, and connect with others."
As I step out of the Dodo Airlines building and onto the dock at Pride Island, I'm immediately greeted by a gently undulating, inclusive Pride flag - not the traditional six-color rainbow flag, but one that includes triangles representing Black, brown, and trans members of the community. Just a few steps down the rainbow road is a picnic table with a collection of Pride flags emblazoned in front of it - there's an intersex flag, a bisexual flag, a non-binary flag, and many more sitting under the words "Global Pride 2020." No matter who you are or how you identify, it's clear that this island is yours to enjoy.
An island to be proud of
Pride Island's design is a triumph, a place every villager would certainly give a five-star rating. There's a rainbow road stamped on the ground that traverses the entire island, leading you from the cafe that's dotted with stuffed animal patrons, to the chapel, and beyond to the dance club and hall of fame. A rainbow dock extends into the ocean, with a rainbow-patterned hammock at the end of it, offering a lovely place of zen.
There is a massive field of flowers planted in a perfectly even rainbow pattern that would have the most celebrated of Animal Crossing botanists green with jealousy (there are a ton of green mums). The work that must have gone into getting that many flower variants alone are staggering to think about, but Pride Island has nooks and crannies of wonder across its entire landscape.
You'll need to hop across perfectly-spaced squares of land amongst water features in order to navigate certain areas, and there are flowers all over every spare stretch of grass. The chapel area is lined with white blooms, with an organ flanking the aisle on one side and a giant cake on the other. There's a rainbow brick road that's perfect for marching down, and a runway next to the Able Sister's shop dotted with mannequins sporting Pride outfits. There's even a hidden easter egg - a small arcade space you have to navigate a fabulous labyrinth to get to.
Pride Island is as loud, fabulous, and happy as you'd expect.
More than one way to celebrate Pride
Now more than ever, it's important to remember Pride's origins. In America in the 1950s and 60s, the FBI and police departments kept lists of LGBTQ+ community members and their favorite places to frequent. Those places were often raided and shut down, their patrons arrested. In June of 1969, police raided the Stonewall Inn, a Greenwich Village bar and a favorite spot for the most marginalized members of the community. Multiple clashes between Stonewall patrons and police members took place over the course of several days, resulting in Village residents creating activist groups to further focus the fight for equality. The first person to throw a brick at the raiding police officers was a trans-Black woman named Marsha P. Johnson.
While Pride is the celebration of a beautiful community, it's not just about colorful parades, bar parties, and drag performances. Pride should be a multi-tier event that goes beyond the surface level, and the creators of Pride Island showcase that. On the island there's a chapel to hold weddings that may still not be legal in certain player's countries, a collection of free Pride designs in the Able Sisters' shop to help you wear your heart on your sleeve (plus a runway to show it off), and several places to just stop, rest, and take it all in.
Sure, there's a club complete with a light-up dance floor and a DJ booth, but just around the corner from that is the Hall of Fame, which sits outside Blathers' museum. There you'll find easels depicting iconic members of LGBTQ+ history, from trans actor and activist Laverne Cox, to queer Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, and the aforementioned Megan Rapinoe. Sitting in the top row of portraits is none other than Marsha P. Johnson, the catalyst for Pride. These portraits are there to spark a conversation and encourage visitors to educate themselves even more about the community of which they're a part.
Before you leave Pride Island, you're welcome to leave a note on the message board. Mine? "Be proud of who you are."