When we sat down earlier this year to select a theme for our nineteenth street festival, the recent losses of Bowie and Prince lay heavy on our hearts.  They are heroes to us as they are to so many of you, not only for their vast, multifaceted talents but for their insistence on daring to be different, subverting their audience’s expectations around sexuality, gender, and genre, and refusing to be judged for it.  We built our theme around images of our local heroes, Folsom Street East regulars, who exemplify those same virtues – some of the beautiful weirdos who make a scene and who challenge us to be all that we can be.

We could never have known then how poignant our choice of theme would be in light of what happened in Orlando early Sunday morning.  Some of us knew some of those killed – a bitter reminder of just how small and tightly knit our beloved community can be. All of us are grieving along with all of you, even as we are putting the finishing touches on the street festival, because in our grief we are determined that the party will go on. We know it must go on because the work we do is more critical now than ever before.

In planning the street festival, Folsom Street East has always worked with NYPD, the Fire Department, and other city agencies to ensure everyone’s safety and security.  This year is no different.  NYPD in particular has consistently placed special emphasis on making sure that people going to or coming from the festival are safe on the streets and in the surrounding area, and our liaison from the local precinct has advised us that their efforts will be doubled in light of the past week’s events.

Since its inception, Folsom Street East has raised funds for the New York City Anti-Violence Project (AVP), among numerous other community organizations.  For over 35 years, AVP has provided free and confidential assistance to thousands of LGBTQ and HIV-affected New Yorkers each year through direct client services, community organizing and public advocacy. AVP has also successfully championed LGBTQ-inclusive language in federal domestic violence and hate crimes legislation.

AVP is more than a resource for New York City’s LGBTQ community; it is a staunch defender in the fight to end violence against queer and trans people across the country.  Proceeds from this Sunday’s Folsom Street East street festival go directly to support this vital work on our community’s behalf.  If you are unable to join us this year, we urge you to consider making a gift to AVP directly.  If you are a survivor of or a witness to violence, please call AVP’s 24-hour bilingual hotline at 212-714-1141 to speak with a counselor.

Since 1997, Folsom Street East has created a space which not only supports our physical safety but allows us to freely share with one another and with the world who we are, what we desire, and how we love. A violent strike in one of our cherished community spaces is meant to send a message that we don’t belong together.  There is no greater victory for our opponents than to keep us apart, alone, uncertain, fearful, silent.

In the past few days, the whole world has reverberated with the voices of millions who refuse to stand alone in silence. Folsom Street East stands with them and we stand with you. We refuse to be defeated. We will not lower our freak flag.  We invite you to be one of our legion of heroes and come rally around it with us this Sunday.