It’s Pride Month, and gay Americans should have a lot to celebrate: A new president who has pledged to advocate for LGBTQ people, an easing of a pandemic that has disrupted their communal activism, and increasing public acceptance of their basic rights, including record-high support for same-sex marriage.
Instead, the mood is somewhat bleak. Congress has so far failed to extend federal civil rights protections to LGBTQ people. Pandemic-related concerns are still disrupting the usual exuberant Pride festivals. And a wave of anti-transgender legislation in Republican-governed states has been disheartening
“The same week I’m seeing all the ‘Happy Pride’ announcements, I received multiple calls from friends about trans kids having to navigate entering psychiatric hospitals because they were suicidal and self-harming,” said M. Dru Levasseur, a transgender attorney who is director of diversity, equity and inclusion for the National LGBT Bar Association.
On June 1, the start of Pride Month, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill making his state the eighth this year to ban transgender girls from competing in girls’ sports at public schools. Arkansas, one of those eight states, also has enacted a law banning gender-confirming medical treatments, like hormones and puberty blockers, that greatly reduce the risk of suicide in trans youth.
“Our opponents have been absolutely shameless in their attacks on transgender people,” said Kevin Jennings, CEO of the LGBTQ-rights group Lambda Legal.
The trans community already faces a disproportionate level of violence. At least 28 trans and gender nonconforming people have been killed so far this year in the U.S. — on track to surpass the previous one-year high of 44 such killings in 2020.
Activists’ concerns extend beyond transgender issues. For many, the top political priority is passage of the Equality Act, which would extend federal civil rights protections to LGBTQ people. It was approved by the Democratic-controlled U.S. House and is backed by President Joe Biden, but probably needs at least 10 Republican votes to prevail in the closely divided Senate — and thus far has no GOP co-sponsors.
Tyler Deaton, who advises a conservative group called the American Unity Fund that supports LGBTQ rights, believes enough Republican votes can be found if language is drafted to ensure the Equality Act doesn’t infringe on religious freedom.
“Senators are having those conversations now,” he said, mentioning Republicans such as Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and Rob Portman of Ohio who have supported some LGBTQ-friendly legislation in the past.
Amid the disappointment, Pride festivities are proceeding, but many have been subject to downsizing and postponement.
The Pride parades in San Francisco and Los Angeles have been canceled for a second year in a row, due to uncertainty about COVID-19 restrictions. Organizers are offering smaller in-person events this month.
Some recent developments have encouraged the LGBTQ community — the overturning of a Trump administration ban on transgender people joining the military; the ground-breaking appointments of Pete Buttigieg, who is gay, as transportation secretary, and Dr. Rachel Levine, who is transgender, as assistant secretary of health.
Among the transgender Americans with mixed feelings about Pride Month is Randi Robertson, who rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel during 22 years in the Air Force and now combines work as an airline pilot instructor with transgender-rights advocacy.
“The fundamentalist, evangelical right has chosen expressly to attack the smallest, most vulnerable part of the LBGT community (transgender people),” she said. “The broader narrative is we’re actually winning. Now is not the time to give up — now is the time to double down and keep the pressure on.”
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