LGBTQ Community Celebrates Pride in the Face of Online and Offline Attacks

By Christina Anagnostopoulos

(Reuters) – Millions of LGBTQ Americans are taking part in this year’s Pride celebrations amid growing attacks, both online and offline.

Growing protests, legal efforts to restrict LGBTQ rights and political rhetoric inflaming national conversations on issues such as drag shows and transgender healthcare could feed into each other, two researchers told Reuters.

Jay Ulfelder, a political scientist and data scientist at Harvard University, has been tracking anti-LGBTQ protests since 2017. Data shows a sharp increase in events starting in 2022, about 30 times from 2017. Right-wing protests were almost four times higher. probably in the past year and a half to include anti-LGBTQ narratives only when the count started.

Jen Kuhn of Kaleidoscope, a queer youth organization in Columbus, Ohio, said it seemed “surreal” when neo-Nazis showed up at a fundraiser in April waving swastikas and a sign that read “there will be blood”. She said the subsequent support from the local community made her even more determined to celebrate Pride, but with an increased sense of caution and new safety protocols.

LGBTQ advocacy organization GLAAD has already recorded eight cases of Pride 2023 events having to change their plans due to threats of violence by June 1, spokeswoman Angela Dallara said. Half of them are in Florida, where event organizers have tightened security this year.

At least three people were arrested on Tuesday when violence erupted outside a school district meeting discussing LGBTQ inclusivity in Glendale, California.

Asked about the threat level during Pride month, an FBI spokesperson said the agency urges people to be aware of their surroundings and report suspicious activity.

Legal measures to restrict LGBTQ rights are also on the rise. The ACLU has tracked 491 anti-LGBTQ bills in state legislatures through 2023, a record for the past century. There has been a Republican-led effort to limit drag in at least 15 states over the past few months.

And in Florida this year, education officials extended Governor Ron DeSantis’ 2022 initiative limiting LGBTQ discussions in school until third grade, also known as the “Don’t Say Gay,” to now cover all grades in public school. The 2024 presidential candidate has brought culture warfare issues to the fore, as evidenced by this bill.

Proponents of the bill argue that only parents should decide when to discuss topics like sexuality or gender identity with children, while critics say it will further marginalize, endanger and silence LGBTQ students.

Online, slurs like “groomer” β€” a trope that LGBTQ people are “kid groomers” or pedophiles β€” have moved from the fringes into mainstream discourse.

A report by the Center for Combating Digital Hate (CCHR) and the Human Rights Campaign last year found a 406% increase in ‘grooming’ tweets in the month after the passage of the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill in March 2022. CCHR data covering the month of May 2021 to May 2023 seen by Reuters shows that narrative was rare before the bill passed.

Ilan Meyer, a UCLA researcher who is a leading expert on LGBTQ mental health stressors, said it was chilling to see a resurgence of old false narratives, such as gay men doing sex work. harm to children. “If you tell people that a group is going to hurt your children, that gives them the right to be violent.”

Proving causation between online and offline attacks is difficult, warned Joel Day, research director of a Princeton University initiative that tracks political violence nationwide, but online and offline attacks line are mutually reinforcing. β€œAn event, like the ‘Don’t Say Gay Bill’, can increase online chatter. And small talk can increase the likelihood of such bills.

The harmful effects of online and offline aggression cannot be separated, said Kimberly Balsam, a psychology professor and LGBTQ-focused researcher at the University of Palo Alto.

Brigitte Bandit, a full-time drag performer in Austin, Texas, said she has never experienced so much online hostility towards drag as she did last year.

Bandit says the clothes she wears at kids’ events are different from 21+ shows, but her social media feed is filled with accounts sharing risque photos of her as well as claims that it is dangerous for children.

“They’re having a hard time finding anything about me so they’re manipulating my image to post about it and make it look like I’m someone I’m not,” Bandit said, tweeting photos of her in age-appropriate clothing at family events in response to posts targeting her.

For Bandit, the current atmosphere feels like “we’re coming to ‘Pride at its roots,’ noting that Pride began as an annual commemoration of the Stonewall Riots that broke out in New York City after police took storming a gay bar in June 1969.

“We have to realize that we are doing the pride for ourselves,” Bandit said.

(Reporting by Christina Anagnostopoulos; editing by Claudia Parsons)

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