While Bucks County celebrates its LGBTQ community for Pride Month, it also needs to recognize that this community is under attack – not just locally like in the Central Bucks School District, but statewide and across the nation.
I reached out to Marlene Pray, Director and Founder of the Rainbow Room, Planned Parenthood Keystone’s LGBTQ+ youth center in Doylestown, to put this year’s Pride Month in context.
“June is Pride Month, a time when we celebrate and validate the identities of the LGBTQ+ community,” said Pray. “However, we are deeply concerned about the uptick in recent anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric and actions, not just in our community – but across the nation.”
Central Bucks School District has been ground zero in the right-wing culture war targetting LGBTQ youth, though its leadership doesn’t want to admit it. In particular, it seems like Superintendent Dr. Abe Lucabaugh is in denial. Never mind one school board member previously compared Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion to Nazism. (It should be noted that there actually are three minority voting members – Karen Smith, Dr. Mariam Mahmud, and Dr. Tabitha Dell’Angelo – who support LGBTQ students, but their votes are obsolete with the right-wing voting majority.)
Pray, who holds a Master’s Degree in Human Sexuality Education and has over 30 years of professional education, training and consulting in LGBTQ+ issues, human sexuality, public health and youth development, calls what she is seeing “frightening.”
“We know that LGBTQ+ youth face greater challenges than their counterparts, including lack of mental health supports, bullying, and discrimination,” said Pray. “Any form of invalidation of LGBTQ+ youth – that includes removal of LGBTQ+ books, Pride flags, and refusal to use a youth’s self-selected pronouns – is reprehensible and further contributes to anti-LGBTQ+ sentiment.”
So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the Education Law Center of Pennsylvania wrote a letter to the school board stating that “Central Bucks has created a hostile environment for LGBTQ students,” despite Superintendent Lucabaugh and school board President Dana Hunter’s suggestions otherwise.
The ACLU of Pennsylvania is another group that agrees that what’s happening in Central Bucks is not just frightening, but alarming.
“What the school board is doing around library and classroom library books will have a real impact on students, on families, on teachers, and whether intended or not, and it appears that it is intended, LGBTQ students feel targeted,” said ACLU of PA Legal Director Witold Walczak. “That’s both a tragic and very dangerous situation.”
Really, this shouldn’t surprise people.
First, it is because what we’re seeing happen in the school district is part of an organized right-wing nationwide assault on our schools, particlularly targetting books and curricula addressing LGBTQ and race issues.
But second, even though there have been some gains since the 1969 Stonewall Uprisings that sparked the modern LGBTQ liberation movement and for which we celebrate Pride Month, LGBTQ bigotry is still systemic and institutionalized.
Look at Pennsylvania, the only state in Northeast that doesn’t have a statewide law banning discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. In Pennsylvania, conversion therapy is also still legal, the barbaric medical quackery that amounts to torture.
Nationwide, in just the first three months of 2022, there were at least 238 anti-LGBTQ bills filed in state legislatures.
And according to the Prison Policy Initiative, “LGBTQ people are overrepresented at every stage of our criminal justice system, from juvenile justice to parole.”
We still have a long way to go.
But back in Doylestown, even beyond the school district the environment can be hostile. Republican Doylestown Township supervisor Nancy Santacecilia distributed hate propaganda attacking Pray and the Rainbow Room. It apparently also referenced The Great Replacement Theory, as noted by the Anti-Defamation League’s Emily Kaufman. This anti-LGBTQ backlash we are facing is actually part of the far-right’s (now the Republican base) broader project to roll back the clock to the 1950s, if not to create a reactionary Christian Theocracy. And the foot soldiers for this Crusade include school board members, conspiratorial ReOpen groups, the Republican Party’s “Christian Nationalist” and “homophobic” gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano, and all the Penridge Area GOP members who laughed and cheered Mastriano’s transphobic joke at a recent event.
This is why it is so urgent that people in Bucks County are engaged Allies in the fight against LGBTQ hate and bigotry. And not just for Pride month or on Election Day; we need everyday Allies who show up and/or speak out, whether it is at Youth4Unity and the Rainbow Room’s Queer Artistry & Open Mic, or a summer school board meeting.
LGBTQ youth’s lives depend on it.
“Pride Month has always been about struggle and resistance, in addition to celebration and parades,” said Pray, who is also Regional LGBTQ+ Youth Education Coordinator for Planned Parenthood Keystone. “It is a learning moment for us all that despite our progress we must continue to fight for the rights of all LGBTQ+ folks.”
Will you join the fight for LGBTQ rights?