50.50: Opinion

Pride will be hard in America this year – but we need its joy

With bigots feeling empowered in the US, Pride events are being targeted. The queer community needs your support

Chrissy Stroop
Chrissy Stroop
25 May 2023, 9.53am

A Pride parade in Jackson Heights, Queens, New York, last year. This year's Pride comes amid another increase in hateful rhetoric and legal assaults on the LGBTIQ community


Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images

Last year around this time, I warned readers that Americans might be facing one of the most dangerous LGBTIQ Pride months ever. What seems to have been the most violent attack planned on a local Pride event was thwarted by police before it could take place – 31 members of the white nationalist group Patriot Front were found hiding with riot gear in a U-Haul truck near the venue in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. Even so, my informed intuition was correct.

Extreme anti-LGBTIQ, anti-drag, and anti-trans protests were proliferating and escalating last year, and with this year’s Pride Month approaching, LGBTIQ advocacy organisation GLAAD has confirmed there were 166 incidents specifically targeting drag events between the beginning of 2022 and April 25, 2023. This includes “a sharp uptick beginning in Pride season 2022 and continuing through the midterm election cycle”.

Among these incidents were bomb threats and death threats. A public library in suburban Illinois cancelled a drag bingo event, for example, after receiving an envelope containing a bullet and the message “more to come.”

In my own investigative reporting for Religion Dispatches, I documented how right-wing groups, including the Proud Boys, forced an LGBTIQ youth support group in a mostly rural California county to cancel a drag fundraiser earlier this year. The persecution of that group and the church whose pastor, Casey Tinnin, founded it, continued for months. There was a bomb threat against Tinnin’s church, as well as a Proud Boys member livestreaming himself shouting unhinged conspiracy theories and threats through a megaphone outside Tinnin’s home.

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Some of the incidents GLAAD documented escalated into destruction and violence. Molotov cocktails were used on churches in Ohio and a doughnut shop in Tulsa, Oklahoma. In Eugene, Oregon, protesters threw rocks and smoke bombs, and pepper spray was used during clashes between protesters and counter-protesters at an event in Ohio. Many events were met with Proud Boys and their ilk carrying guns and wearing military gear in displays of intimidation. Several involved Nazi flags and/or Nazi salutes.

There’s no way to sugarcoat this: Pride Month 2023 will almost certainly see renewed escalation. June, after all, is coming on the heels of yet another banner season for state legislatures passing anti-LGBTIQ laws, which will only embolden bigots further. The Trans Legislation Tracker, for example, documents 549 specifically anti-trans bills introduced in 49 out of America’s 50 states in 2023, with 71 passing, 102 failing, and 376 still in process. In 2022, “only” 174 such bills were proposed, 26 of which passed.

All in all, the climate of moral panic, legal assaults on queer Americans’ rights, the imposing of “don’t say gay” gag rules in schools and the banning of books featuring LGBTIQ representation from school libraries amounts to a perfect storm for fostering anti-LGBTIQ action. We’ve already seen bigots withholding permits, pulling venues for planned Pride events and abusing their positions of authority to cancel LGBTIQ-friendly events.

Such is the case with Walter Wendler, the president of West Texas A&M University, who banned a student drag fundraiser, citing his Christian beliefs and misrepresenting the art form of drag. That move seems to have been the last straw for many of the faculty at Wendler’s university. Wendler lost a no confidence vote, though as it was non-binding he remains university president. He is also facing legal action.

The faculty response to the Wendler case, at least, is a reason for hope. It illustrates that despite losses and the hostile climate facing Pride organisers and queer folks in much of the States, some Americans are taking steps to fight back. In addition, Tennessee’s broad and draconian drag ban is under a temporary injunction that, remarkably, was issued by a judge appointed by Donald Trump, although Tennesseans organising Pride events are reportedly still taking precautions and unsure of exactly what the rules will be a few weeks from now. Not all the news is bad.

Even so, the sustained dehumanising rhetoric and legal restrictions targeting queer Americans are clearly taking a toll. And they serve to give tacit permission to those who wish to carry out violence against queer people. Many conservatives, to be sure, would not engage directly in intimidation or violence themselves, but by dehumanising queer folks and supporting the legal assault on our rights they show that they don’t in fact care one whit for our physical safety.

As I wrote last year, I would not deter anyone from going to Pride events. I think it’s important that queer and straight folks show up for the queer community in times as tense and dangerous as these. We need the joyful and uplifting spirit of Pride now more than ever, and self-censoring or staying home because of intimidation lets the fascists win. That being said, if you attend Pride events this year, my advice would be to stay vigilant, be aware of all the exits to any venue you may be in, remember “if you see something, say something,” and take whatever safety precautions you deem appropriate.

These days, especially if you plan to attend a drag event or a trans-centered event, you’re likely to be met by more opposition than what used to be the typical handful of hateful and eminently mockable fringe street preachers carrying ridiculously massive banners bearing messages of condemnation. Stay safe, but don’t let the bastards steal your queer joy.

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