By Deepti Hajleh, The Associated Press
NEW YORK (Associated Press) — LGBTQ Pride celebrations that sometimes looked like victory parties battle civil rights advances this year with a darker atmosphere, a national environment of escalating legislative and rhetorical battles over sexual orientation and gender identity.
Large crowds are expected on Sunday at Pride events in New York City and a host of other venues including San Francisco, Chicago, Denver and Toronto, in a return to big, in-person events after two years of pandemic-induced restrictions.
Like every year, the festivities are expected to be lively and festive. But for many, they will also carry a renewed sense of urgency.
In March, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed into law a law banning the teaching of sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade, which critics denounced as an attempt to marginalize LGBT people as a “Don’t Say Like Me” law.
In Texas, Texas Governor Greg Abbott, like DeSantis, a Republican, sent a letter to state health agencies in February saying it would be a violation for children under state law for transgender youth to obtain gender-confirming medical care. A judge has halted the full implementation of any prosecutions of the parents.
“There are a lot of attacks against LGBTQ happening across the country and a lot of it is really about trying to erase our existence and make us invisible, and make our young people invisible and our old invisible,” said Michael Adams, CEO of SAGE, which advocates for LGBTQ elders.
“This year’s pride is especially important and it’s stronger than ever because it’s about people who come up and go out and say, ‘We refuse to be invisible. We refuse to erase.”
The protest has long been a component of New York City’s Pride March, 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 gay bar in Manhattan.
Demonstrators in the 1980s protested the government’s lack of interest in the AIDS epidemic.
In recent years, though, big victories have often been celebrated for LGBTQ communities to celebrate, as in 2015 when the Supreme Court handed down Obergefell v. Hodges by recognizing same-sex marriage.
This is not this year, though.
“This year we saw a heavy attack on anti-gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex bills in many state legislatures, and more of them passed than last year,” said Jennifer Bezer, director of law and policy at Lambda Legal.
There is also concern about a possible Supreme Court ruling to repeal the right to abortion nationwide — a change in a long-established legal standard that has people questioning whether same-sex marriage is next.
Joe Negrelli, 70, a longtime New York City attendee, said it takes home the fact that in addition to partying, activity still needs to be done.
“Can it be overturned? Yes, I think so. It is conceivable,” he said of the court’s decision to legalize same-sex marriage across the country. It “makes me want to put more energy into the march.”
Adams said that anyone who had been “cooled into a false sense of security” by past civil rights victories “has now awakened.” “I think many of us who understand the history of the struggle for equality, equity and social justice in this country know that the battle is never over.”
It is not just legislation. Those who track hate speech say anti-gay and transgender language has surged online, fueling fear that extremists will see it as a call to action, like the series of protests and physical disruptions that occurred at Drag Queen Story Hours, where adults in drag read books for kids.
Earlier this month, 31 members of a white, riot-clad extremist group were arrested over accusations that they were planning a major disruption at a Pride event in Idaho.
Defenders said this did not mean the celebration was over.
“There can be celebration and joy, and also an object of protest,” Bezer said.
Ellen Insig-Brodsky, 89, has embraced these two roles in her decades of Pride presence as a gay rights activist.
“The show is a public display of my identity and my group that I have been a part of for at least 40 years or more,” she said, adding that she will be launching again on Sunday. “I definitely don’t want to miss it.”
After all this time, the hostility and hostility that she sees across the country was not unfamiliar to her.
“The intent to increase an anti-LGBT presence is a return to what I started with” decades ago, she said. At the time, “We didn’t go out. We hid.”
Not Now, she said, “I think we need to show that love can go on, on, and on, and spread.”
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