By DEEPTI HAJELA, Associated Press
NEW YORK (AP) — LGBTQ Pride commemorations that sometimes felt like victory parties for civil rights advancements are grappling this year with a darker atmosphere, a national environment of heightened legislative and rhetorical battles over the sexual orientation and gender identity.
Large crowds are expected Sunday at Pride events in New York and a slew of other locations, including San Francisco, Chicago, Denver and Toronto, as part of a return to large in-person events after two years of restrictions caused by the pandemic.
Like every year, the celebrations promise to be exuberant and festive. But for many, they will also bring a renewed sense of urgency.
In March, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed legislation banning the teaching of sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade, which critics decried as an effort to marginalize children. LGBTQ people and lambasted as the “don’t say gay” law.
In Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott, like DeSantis a Republican, sent a letter to state health agencies in February saying it would be child abuse under state law for transgender youth. to seek gender-affirming medical care. A judge halted full implementation of any parental lawsuit.
“There are so many anti-LGBTQ attacks going on across the country and a lot of them are really about erasing our existence and making us invisible, and making our youth invisible and our elders invisible,” Michael said. Adams, CEO of SAGE, which advocates for LGBTQ seniors.
“This year’s Pride is especially important and it’s more powerful than ever because it’s about people stepping in and coming out saying, ‘We refuse to be invisible. We refuse to be erased.’”
The protest has always been a feature of New York’s Pride Parade, which roughly coincides with the anniversary of the start of the Stonewall uprising of June 28, 1969 – days of angry protests sparked by a police raid on a Manhattan gay bar.
Marchers in the 1980s protested the government’s lack of attention to the AIDS epidemic.
In recent years, however, they have often celebrated major victories for LGBTQ communities, such as in 2015 when the Supreme Court ruled in Obergefell v. Hodges acknowledging gay marriage.
It’s not this year, however.
“This year we’ve seen an avalanche of aggressively hostile anti-LGBTQ+ bills in many state legislatures, and more of them passed than last year,” said Jennifer Pizer, Chief Legal Officer. and policy of Lambda Legal.
There are also concerns about a possible Supreme Court ruling overturning a nationwide right to abortion — a reversal of a long-established legal norm that has people wondering if same-sex marriage could be the next.
It’s a reminder of a reality that in addition to celebration, there’s always a need for activism, said Joe Negrelli, 70, a longtime NYC Pride attendee.
“Could he be overthrown? Yes, I believe so. It’s a possibility,” he said of the court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide. It “makes me want to put more energy into walking.”
Anyone who might have been “lullened into a false sense of security” by previous civil rights victories “has been woken up now,” Adams said. “I think many of us who understand the history of the fight for equality, fairness and social justice in this country know that the fight is never over.”
It’s not just a law. Those who follow hate speech say anti-LGBTQ language has increased online, raising fears that extremists will take it as a call to take action, like the wave of protests and physical disruptions which took place at Drag Queen Story Hours, where adults in drag read books to children.
Earlier this month, 31 members of a white supremacist group, wearing riot gear, were arrested on charges of plotting a major disruption at a Pride event in Idaho.
That doesn’t mean the celebration is over, the attorneys said.
“There can be celebration and joy, and also purpose in protest,” Pizer said.
Ellen Ensig-Brodsky, 89, has taken on both roles during her decades of involvement with Pride as an LGBTQ rights activist.
“The parade is the display, publicly, of my identity and my group that I have been part of for at least 40 years or more,” she said, adding that she will walk again on Sunday. “I certainly wouldn’t want to miss it.”
After all this time, the animosity and hostility she sees across the country is no stranger to her.
“The intention to increase the anti-LGBTQ existence is a throwback to what I started with” decades ago, she said. At the time, “we hadn’t gone out. We hid.
Not now, she said, “I think we have to show that love can persist, go on and spread.”
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