50.50: Opinion

This could be one of the most dangerous Pride months ever

Daily mass shootings, Christofascist mobs and attacks on LGBTIQ rights make Pride risky – but it’s still uplifting

Chrissy Stroop
Chrissy Stroop
16 June 2022, 9.55am

Disarm Hate banner at Pride in New York, 2016

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Brigette Supernova / Alamy Stock Photo

June is LGBTIQ Pride Month, and festivities are already under way across the United States – in many cases, for the first time in two years, since Pride parades and celebrations were among the gatherings that had to be cancelled during COVID.

Pride events are often picketed by hateful street preachers, but the community pushback tends to make them look small, petty and pathetic. For me, personally – street preachers and misgivings about rainbow capitalism aside – Pride events typically lift my spirits and leave me full of positive feelings.

They are welcoming and inclusive community affairs, and, as someone whose immediate blood family will most likely never join me at Pride, I always find it heartwarming to see families enjoying the experience together.

Disturbingly, people attending a family-friendly drag brunch in early June at Mr Misster, a gay bar in Dallas, Texas, were confronted with insults, intimidation and violent threats from people that the media are largely describing – blandly – as “protesters”, but who could more accurately be described as a seething Christofascist mob.

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While some of the dancing at the brunch might be characterised as mildly suggestive, it was certainly no more so than the dancing of cheerleaders at professional sporting events.

Members of the angry mob carried a Christian flag, described themselves as fascists, chanted ‘groomers’ and bellowed ‘You’re disgusting!’

The utter lack of concern with the sexualisation of children in heteronormative contexts makes it clear that right-wing Americans are, in fact, motivated by anti-gay animus, rather than any concern for children. (After all, the same people are willing to allow kids to be gunned down in school rather than see their precious “gun rights” curtailed.)

Members of the angry mob outside Mr Misster carried a Christian flag, described themselves as fascists, chanted “groomers'' right outside the bar, bellowed “you’re disgusting!” and “the fist of Christ will come down on you very soon” in the faces of peaceful brunch attendees, and discussed how “fun” it will be “to take away all of your rights. Every single one.”

In one instance, a member of the mob was prevented by antifascists from approaching a family with children who were leaving the event. It’s not clear exactly what this man intended to do, although it seems safe to suggest that at the very least his intentions included intimidation.

Normalisation of abuse

The resurgence on the Right of the old lies about queer individuals being “groomers” and “paedophiles” is a deflection from the normalisation and acceptance of abuse that characterises authoritarian communities – such as the right-wing Christian community I grew up in.

So does Texas’s (frankly evil) inversion of reality in its policy of defining well-established parenting and medical best practices relative to transgender youth as “child abuse”.

The “groomer” narrative was also on display among protesters at a recent Pride event in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, where 31 white nationalists from across the country – members of a hate group called Patriot Front – planned to commit violence. Such an outcome was narrowly averted when an alarmed local reported suspicious activity to the police. Meanwhile, a far-right activist who has called for violence against antifa and Black Lives Matter posted “gotcha” videos from Los Angeles Pride to his social media, accusing parents who brought their children to the event of “child abuse”.

As should be surprising to no one, actual groomers and paedophiles thrive in spaces defined by patriarchal theology, or, more generally, by the ideologically reinforced imposition of social hierarchies based on immutable characteristics.

Perhaps no recent news underscores the elements of projection and deflection in these hateful developments more clearly than the release of a report on widespread sexual abuse and cover-up in the Southern Baptist Convention – the largest Protestant denomination in the US – over the last 20 years. SBC leaders kept a secret list of 703 known abusers, while simultaneously denying that the denomination could maintain such a database and covering up child sexual abuse and other sexual misconduct by pastors at every turn.

While performing in drag and being transgender are, of course, entirely separate phenomena, the angry mobs attempting, sometimes successfully, to shut down drag events must have been emboldened by the spate of successful legislative and bureaucratic attacks on trans rights in Texas and other states this year.

Christian Right’s obsession with drag

To be sure, American conservatives – right-wing Christians, in particular – have been fixated on drag for some years now, decrying, disrupting and attempting to ban the perfectly innocuous Drag Queen Story Hour (DQSH) events in which a drag queen reads a story to children at a library. DQSH events are held across the US, as well as internationally, from Mexico to Japan to Australia.

But Mr Misster’s fascist mob still represents a disturbing escalation. In its immediate aftermath, Texas state representative Bryan Slaton (a Republican) vowed to introduce a ban on drag in the presence of children in the state’s next legislative session – a session that is also shaping up to include debate on a Florida-style “don’t say gay” bill as well an attack on tenure for university professors and a ban on teaching the actual facts about racism in the US in Texas public schools.

Meanwhile, even before this ugly display, violent threats forced the cancellation of a planned DQSH event that was meant to be part of Pride in the town of Apex, North Carolina. When the cancellation was announced, right-wingers – the self-proclaimed opponents of ‘cancel culture’ – gloated on social media. (It appears that the reading will now be integrated into a larger drag queen performance on the main stage.) A group of Proud Boys also disrupted a DQSH event in California, shouting anti-LGBTIQ slurs at the organiser.

Homophobic and transphobic violence are nothing new, and the legislative and rhetorical assaults on LGBTIQ folks we’ve experienced over the last few years has been accompanied by a rise in hate crimes – a brutal reality for members of other marginalised groups too, of course. And anti-LGBTIQ violence is always a risk at Pride.

All these facts underscore why Pride is necessary – and also why queer identities and the diverse spectrum of gender and sexuality need popular representation, as well as an age-appropriate presence in education.

The acceptance that such representation fosters is something the Christian Right fears. Now that the Right’s rage is boiling over, I worry that this could turn out to be one of the darkest Pride months the American LGBTIQ community has experienced in a long time.

I would not deter anyone from attending Pride events this year – I plan to myself – but I would urge an extra degree of vigilance in this time of daily mass shootings, raving Christofascist mobs and scapegoating of the LGBTIQ community by the Christian Right. We must not let the terrorists win.

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