Threats and attacks against the LGBTQ community are on the rise this June, with Pride celebrations, schools, and drag shows as the primary targets. This comes amid a wave of anti-LGBTQ legislation being introduced and passed in state legislatures across the country, which seek to ban gender-affirming care for trans kids, outlaw drag performances in the presence of minors, prohibit the mention of LGBTQ people in schools, and prevent trans students from playing sports, among many others.
The rhetoric being used by lawmakers to try to justify these bills has grown increasingly hostile, baselessly portraying the very existence of LGBTQ people as a serious threat to the health and safety of children. As a result, these sentiments have notably incited outrage from conservative pundits, parents, and school board members, as well as far-right activists and extremist groups, like the Proud Boys, who experts say are gearing up for a fight.
The Department of Homeland Security issued a memo last month warning that threats of violence targeting the LGBTQ people have increased since last year and could result in physical attacks, including assaults on “drag-themed events, gender-affirming care, and LGBTQIA+ curricula in schools.” Extremism watchdog groups have also observed an increase in activity from the Proud Boys, telling Insider that the paramilitary group is planning to disrupt Pride events this year, citing messages from the Proud Boys’ Telegram channels, in which members discuss “taking back the meaning of pride” by renaming June “Proud Month” to celebrate straight pride.
“Right now, there’s such a huge focus on the fact that it’s June and it’s Pride Month, so we know that a lot of these groups are really revved up,” Andrea Heymann, the associate regional director of ADL Philadelphia, told the Bucks County Beacon.
The Human Rights Campaign also recently declared a state of emergency for LGBTQ Americans due to the “multiplying threats facing” the community. “In many cases they are resulting in violence against LGBTQ+ people, forcing families to uproot their lives and flee their homes in search of safer states, and triggering a tidal wave of increased homophobia and transphobia that puts the safety of each and every one of us at risk,” HRC President Kelley Robinson said in a statement on Tuesday.
According to GLAAD, there have been more than 160 attacks on drag events since 2022, many of which have included violence and disruptions from the Proud Boys and other extremist groups. Meanwhile, data from the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project shows a total of 174 anti-LGBTQ demonstrations took place all together last year, nearly half of which the Proud Boys attended. This year, however, extremism experts expect even more anti-LGBTQ incidents to occur.
Insider reported that the Proud Boys have been signaling their plans to attack Pride events for months now on their Telegram channels, referring to LGBTQ people as “child molesters” and vowing to put an end to the “sexualizing and mutilation of our nation’s children.”
Just this week, a crowd of extremists, including far-right activists and members of the Proud Boys, erupted in violence at a Glendale Unified School District school board meeting in California in response to the board voting to recognize June as Pride Month. The Glendale rally was organized by a group of “concerned parents” called GUSD Parents Voices, who are primarily opposed to any LGBTQ-themed content in schools. According to the Los Angeles Times, the protestors could be heard chanting “leave our kids alone.”
A similar incident happened days earlier at Saticoy elementary school in LA, in which anti-LGBTQ parents and members of the community protested a Pride Month assembly for queer parents and guardians of students. Those opposed to the assembly showed up carrying signs that read “No Pride in Grooming” and quickly broke out in violence, physically attacking people and shouting anti-LGBTQ slurs.
GLAAD President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis told the Bucks County Beacon that the rise in threats and attacks against the LGBTQ community coincide with the increase in anti-LGBTQ legislation.
“Baseless legislation filled with misinformation was promoted and discussed by lawmakers and extremists using vile rhetoric,” Ellis said. “This is a permission slip for extremists and other irrational people to threaten, harass, and take actions to hurt or intimidate LGBTQ people.” And social media only helps to amplify this fearmongering and hostile rhetoric.
According to Heymann, Libs of TikTok and other “online amplifiers” of anti-LGBTQ extremism like to “use a lot of false allegations” and “inflammatory words, like grooming, child abuse, indoctrination” to get people, especially parents, riled up. “These are really divisive narratives that are being shared,” Heymann said, which then get “cycled online” over and over again. “It’s very, very intentional because everybody is very sensitive about their children.”
Oftentimes, Libs of TikTok’s posts, which regularly incite threats against drag queens and educators, get picked up by media personalities and even politicians, in a never-ending cycle of vitriol and misinformation.
“It’s the extremists’ echo chamber,” GLAAD’s Ellis said. “These posts act like the assignment desk for extremist cable, streaming, and podcast media, who fuel disinformation on their programs, and invite politicians on to foment fear.”
“Extremist pundits boost politicians’ false talking points and target LGBTQ-inclusive events and businesses, drawing a line for their unhinged followers to them, to dox, harass online, and spread dangerous conspiracy theories,” she added.
Thefts and vandalism of Pride flags have also been rampant in a number of states across the U.S., like Pennsylvania, where a rainbow flag was ripped and stolen from a Doylestown candy shop for a third time last weekend. Some businesses showing support for Pride, like Target, have also been faced with a number of bomb threats at certain locations, including a store in Monaca, Pennsylvania, last month.
While no physical attacks appear to have occurred yet in the state, places like the Free Library in Philadelphia are bracing for protests during the Moms for Liberty summit at the end of the month, where North Carolina Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, who has become notorious for his anti-LGBTQ beliefs, is set to be a guest speaker.
“We have to stay vigilant and we have to make sure that we’re standing up and speaking out,” Heymann said.