Pride month events return with new mission to uplift people of color, trans civil rights

As many Pride events return to full-scale, in-person gatherings for the first time since 2019, organizers are taking dramatic steps to make their events more inclusive and focused on fighting threats to LGBTQ civil rights.

Pride organizations have added more people of color and trans people to their leadership ranks, while making participation more accessible for disabled and low-income people and others from diverse backgrounds through free and online events or changed locations. A few have banned police and corporations from gatherings based on behavior considered harmful to segments of the LGBTQ community.

Organizers said it is no surprise that Pride events were in need of a makeover after two years of global upheaval.

The COVID-19 pandemic, which wreaked havoc with scheduling for two years, put a new focus on health and income disparities in the nation and the LGBTQ community, while police brutality was put on trialin many states in partfueled by the Black Lives Matter social justice movement.

More recently, Republican-dominated states began introducing a record wave of bills aimed at the LGBTQ community, including Florida's "Don't Say Gay" law, which restricts classroom discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity, and a Texas gubernatorial order, blocked for now by a state appeals court, that treats gender-affirming medical care treatment for trans youth as "child abuse."

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Zack Hasychak of the Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest LGBTQ civil rights organization, said he expects a large and vocal turnout at this year's Pride events, but also a desire to reconnect with others after the pandemic.

"These things are all going to combine to make this Pride season one for the record books," he said.

While Pride events are primarily held in June for LGBTQ Pride Month, some organizers have already begun hosting celebrations focused on uplifting people of color, trans people and others who have been most under attack in recent years during the pandemic and economic fallout.

When Mobile, Alabama, returned to a full-scale Pride celebration earlier this month, organizers were eager to recognize trans people, a community that has seen record hate crimes and violence in recent years as well as anti-trans legislation.

On April 8, Trans-Lucent, a first-time event celebrating trans people held the day before Mobile's traditional Pridefest, "took on a new urgency … for a community that was feeling a bit battered" by recent anti-LGBTQ legislation, said Chance Shaw, president of organizing group MobPride.

Earlier that day, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey signed laws restricting medical treatment, sports participation and restroom usage for trans youth.

"We had multiple speakers talking about the impact, the relevance and what we were doing to combat these anti-trans bills and we ended the evening with a second-line parade," Shaw said. After a day where people felt "like their very existence was being debated, it was an uplifting way to end the night – with music and flags and marching through our city."

Seeking greater inclusivity

Pride Month commemorates the anniversary of 1969's Stonewall riots, a turning point in the pursuit of LGBTQ rights that saw bar patrons fight back against police raiding the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in New York City.

The Stonewall leaders included trans people and people of color, but criticism has grown in recent years that many Pride events have historically not reflected the diversity of the LGBTQ movement.

That's changing, with Latina, Black and trans leaders now leading Pride organizations in some of the nation's largest cities, including New York, Houston and Los Angeles.

"I am speaking to you as a Puerto Rican lesbian from the Bronx," said Sandra Pérez, who became executive director of NYC Pride last fall. "Leading this organization was never on my radar, but both the leadership and staffing have changed considerably and I think that's reflected in a lot of Prides."

A wider representation of LGBTQ identity will be seen at NYC Pride from June 24 to 26, when singer Kim Petras is slated to becomethe first trans performer to headline the Pride Island music lineup, NYC Pride media director Dan Dimant said.

In Los Angeles, LA Pride faced criticism that its longtime eventin the gay-friendly, but largely white city of West Hollywood didn't adequately represent the broad representation of LGBTQ life.

As one way to become more inclusive, organizing non-profit Christopher Street West – which named Sharon-Franklin Brown as its first Black transgender woman board president in September 2020 – is moving its June 12 LA Pride parade to Hollywood, the birthplace of the Los Angeles event and an area with slightly more diverse demographics. On June 10, LA Pride will sponsor a day of free events at Los Angeles State Historic Park, about six times larger than the previous festival site and close to the city's even more diverse downtown and Chinatown neighborhoods. That also will be the site of its June 11 Pride in the Park festival, a ticketed event headlined by Christina Aguilera.

"Pride does not belong to any one neighborhood," said Gerald Garth, LA Pride's vice president, community programs and initiatives. "We're really excited to be in the park because it gives us access to public transportation in a way we have never had, it creates a level of geographic diversity we've never seen and allows us to engage the community in a much broader way than we've seen historically."

Organizers also want to embrace other long-marginalized LGBTQ people.

In Washington, D.C., temporary virtual offerings set up during the pandemic are becoming a more permanent solution to afford greater accessibility for people who can't attend Pride in person, including those with physical disabilities, said Ryan Bos, executive director of Capital Pride Alliance, which has made "reUNITED" the theme of its June 10-12 celebration.

"It's our responsibility to create as many accessible options for folks to have these experiences," he said.

After the isolation of the pandemic, Pride gatherings will serve as a balm for the entire LGBTQ community, but especially for segments whose pain has been aggravated because of inadequate income and healthcare, said Kendra Walker, co-president of Pride Houston, which oversees the city's June 25 celebration and parade.

Pride "gives people hope, especially when they're hopeless. There's been so much loss of family, income, connection due to the pandemic," she said.

LGBTQ youth, a group that is the subject of much of the proposed state legislation and faces a greater risk of suicide, especially need the support of Pride, Walker said.

"Kids need to see us out there proud, to see the doctors who are out there being proud. They need to see the teachers, they need to see the lawyers. They also need to see our allies, to see that there are people who don't think that they are different. They see them as human," she said.

Speaking out against anti-LGBTQ bills

Being visible, especially in large numbers, serves as a sharp rebuke to legislation aimed at LGBTQ people, said André Thomas, co-chair of NYC Pride, whose June 24-26 events are themed "Unapologetically Us."

That theme is designed "to show people who we are. We're still here and we're not going to hide. We're not going to live under these restrictions," said Thomas, the first African American man to serve as co-chair of NYC Pride. "The message this year is that we are continuing to be us and not having to apologize despite the number of attacks that are going on."

Hasychak, of the Human Rights Campaign, said Pride events can serve as both emotional reinforcement and an organizational opportunity to fight anti-LGBTQ legislation.

"Whatever state is coming after trans kids, there's going to be a Pride there. … So, you can try to legislate against queer people, but we are still here and we're going to make sure that everyone knows that," said Hasychak, the organization's point person for Pride organizations and events. "At the same time, the way we try to stop this legislative hate is through political action. Being at a Pride festival … is an opportunity for us to educate people about what's going on in their state and give them resources to contact their state legislators to try to overturn some of these bills."

Banning police at Pride month events

Some Pride organizers are also taking political stances to make a point.

In March, Seattle Pride cut ties with corporate sponsor Amazon ahead of its June 26 parade because of its political contributions to lawmakers who support anti-LGBTQ legislation and oppose pro-LGBTQ bills, including the Equality Act, which would ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing, education and other areas. It passed in the House of Representatives last year but not the Senate.

Others have adopted restrictions on law enforcement involvement, citing safety concerns by segments of the LGBTQ community, including people of color and trans people, given their past experience with police.

NYC Pride last year banned corrections and law enforcement exhibitors from Pride events until 2025 and moved to rely more on private companies and community organizations for security, reducing NYPD presence at events with the goal of keeping police officers at least one block away from event perimeters.

"The sense of safety that law enforcement is meant to provide can instead be threatening, and at times dangerous, to those in our community who are most often targeted with excessive force and/or without reason. NYC Pride is unwilling to contribute in any way to creating an atmosphere of fear or harm for members of the community," the organization said in a statement announcing the security policies.

The economic and racial disparities exposed and amplified by the pandemic and the police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and other Black people led to the reconsideration of policies, NYC Pride's Pérez said.

"We have looked at what has happened in the landscape and at the people who have been affected most by racism and economic disadvantages and said, 'Are we doing enough?' I think the standard has changed for evaluating what it is we need to be doing," she said.

In New Mexico, the board of ABQ Pride, which organizes the Albuquerque event, voted 9-1 this month to prohibit police from having a float or a booth at this year's festival.

In a blog post, the organization said the decision not to invite police "was not only based on the social climate of the country, but also based on relations between the LGBTQ+ community, the Black community, and our dealings with APD."

In Alabama, MobPride's Shaw hopes the strong attendance for the Mobile events – about 1,000 for Trans-Lucent and 5,000 for traditional Pridefest, two-thirds more than 2019 – bode well for upcoming gatherings.

"I think it’s both a good sign in terms of people are ready for events like this after COVID and people are also ready to engage in their community in meaningful ways," they said.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Pride Month after COVID will focus on people of color, trans rights

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