NEW YORK (AP) — LGBTQ Pride commemorations that at times felt like victory celebrations for civil rights advances are grappling with a darker atmosphere this year, a national environment of intense legislative and rhetorical battles over sexual orientation and gender identity.
Large crowds are expected at Pride events in New York City and a number of other locations including San Francisco, Chicago, Denver and Toronto on Sunday, a return to large, in-person events after two years of pandemic-related restrictions.
As every year, the celebrations should be exuberant and festive. But for many, they will also bring a new sense of urgency.
In March, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed legislation banning teaching about sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade, which critics denounced as an attempt to marginalize LGBTQ people and as a “Don’t Say Gay” -law was convicted.
In Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott, like DeSantis, sent a letter to state health officials in February saying that under state law it would be child abuse if transgender youth received gender-affirming medical care. A judge has halted full implementation of all parental prosecutions.
“There are so many anti-LGBTQ attacks across the country and a lot of them are really about wiping out our existence and making us invisible and making our young people invisible and our elders invisible,” said Michael Adams. CEO of SAGE, which advocates for LGBTQ elders.
“This year’s Pride is especially important and more powerful than ever because it’s about people standing up and stepping out and saying, ‘We refuse to be invisible. We refuse to be erased.’”
Protest has always been an element of New York’s Pride Parade, which roughly coincides with the anniversary of the start of the June 28, 1969 Stonewall Uprising – days of angry demonstrations sparked by a police raid on a Manhattan gay bar.
Demonstrators in the 1980s protested the government’s lack of attention to the AIDS epidemic.
In recent years, however, they have often been celebrations of major victories for LGBTQ communities to celebrate, such as in 2015 when the Supreme Court ruled in Obergefell v. Hodges Decree recognizing same-sex marriage.
But that’s not this year.
“This year we have seen an onslaught of aggressively hostile anti-LGBTQ+ legislation in many state legislatures, and more of them have been passed than last year,” said Jennifer Pizer, Lambda Legal’s director of legal and policy.
There are also concerns about a possible Supreme Court ruling overturning a nationwide right to abortion — a reversal of a long-established legal standard that has people wondering if same-sex marriage might be next.
It brings home the reality that alongside celebration, there’s still a need for activism, said Joe Negrelli, 70, a longtime NYC Pride attendee.
“Could it be overturned? Yes I think so. It’s conceivable,” he said of the court’s decision to legalize same-sex marriage nationwide. It “makes me want to put more energy into the marching.”
Anyone who might have been “lulled into a false sense of security” by previous civil rights successes “has now woken up,” Adams said. “I think many of us who understand the history of the fight for equality and social justice in this country know that the fight is never over.”
It’s not just legislation. Those who follow hate speech say anti-LGBTQ language has been on the rise online, raising fears extremists will take it as a call to action, like the rash of protests and physical disruptions seen at Drag Queen Story Hours have taken place where adults in drag read books to children.
Earlier this month, 31 members of a white supremacist group were arrested in riot gear on charges of planning a major disruption at a Pride event in Idaho.
That doesn’t mean the celebration is over, supporters said.
“There can be celebration and joy, but there can also be meaning in protest,” said Pizer.
Ellen Ensig-Brodsky, 89, has filled both of these roles in her decades of Pride participation as an LGBTQ rights activist.
“The parade is the public display of my identity and my group, which I have belonged to for at least 40 years,” she said, adding that she will march again on Sunday. “I definitely don’t want to miss that.”
After all this time, she’s no stranger to the animosity and hostility she sees across the country.
“The intention to increase anti-LGBTQ existence is a return to what I started decades ago,” she said. Back then, “we didn’t get out. We hid.”
Not now, she said, “I think we need to show that love can last and go on and spread.”
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