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Pride in Peril: Reflections on the Anti-LGBTQ+ Panic

The reactionary streak in our political culture has grown bolder, more violent, and more desperate to undo the gains queer and trans people have made in recent years and to erase us and our loved ones from public life.
Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Pride is meant to be a celebration. For many, Pride is a parade; or, Pride is a party. And for sure, this month queer and trans people everywhere will take to the streets in explosions of culture and color and light up dancefloors in nightclubs, bars, community centers, basements, and living rooms. Someone, somewhere will see a gorgeous drag queen for the first time. Someone will get in drag for the first time – probably looking busted, with wonky eye makeup and a $35 Shake-and-Go wig from CVS, but all the same knowing herself to be the fiercest, baddest queen to ever walk the face of the earth knowing 75 percent of the lyrics to Whitney Houston’s “Greatest Love of All.” Someone will kiss their partner in public for the first time. 

Some young soul, or old soul, fresh out of the closet or maybe still in it, will see the beaming smiles of trans and gender non-conforming people in all sorts of bodies and dress; or, will see two lovers resting their heads on each other’s shoulders and think: I have a future.

These beautiful things will all happen. But before you know it, they’re playing Donna Summer’s “Last Dance” in the club, and the clean-up crews are already sweeping the glitter and the opportunistic corporate merchandise from the streets. For all the joy and affirmation experienced in the best of Pride events, the party ends. We turn our heads back to face the rest of the world pointing pitchforks at us. This Pride month, we must ultimately acknowledge that our community is in an emergency situation.

READ: ‘Long Overdue’ LGBTQ Nondiscrimination Bill ‘PA Fairness Act’ Has One Last Hurdle In Pennsylvania Senate

The national state-sanctioned and extralegal backlash to the growing public acceptance of our lives and especially the lives of our transgender brothers, sisters, and non-binary siblings has continuously escalated in the past few years. Not even halfway through 2023, a whopping 556 anti-trans bills across 49 state legislatures have been introduced, up from 174 in 2022 and 144 in 2021. As of the end of April, GLAAD has reported 166 incidents of anti-LGBTQ+ protest and threats and enactments of violence around drag events since early 2022. These have included firebombings, armed demonstrations, and other acts of terror organized by Neo-Nazis, Proud Boys, and other white supremacists. Meanwhile, right-wing media outlets and fascist pundits have called for the extermination of transgender people

The reactionary streak in our political culture has grown bolder, more violent, and more desperate to undo the gains queer and trans people have made in recent years and to erase ourselves and our loved ones from public life. We live now in a full-blown moral panic whose destination is genocide.

What hope for the future, the hope that Pride embodies, can be sustained under these conditions?

Over the past year, I have encountered many well-intentioned people respond to developments in anti-LGBTQ+ politics with a kind of helpless incredulous outrage: “I cannot believe it!”; “How could this possibly happen?”; “Where did our country go so wrong?”; “I just don’t understand why some people want to control and judge other people for their lives and choices.” These are understandable responses, but if we want to mount any effective resistance to the anti-trans climate and secure liberties for ourselves and our loved ones, we must throw off this inert and incapacitating posture of disbelief and confusion. We need to seriously answer for ourselves why a number of Americans hate LGBTQ+ people – and hate us so much that they orchestrate their own lives around the foreclosure of our freedoms.

I think this knee-jerk incredulous concern comes from a common modern attitude that sexuality and gender identity are issues on which the private realm has exclusive claim. In other words, many can’t fathom what is happening because we tend to believe individuals have the right to live how they please and that everyone else should mind their own business. And certainly, I do not want the appearance of my body or the goings on of my bedroom to be subject to public or state scrutiny. No one does. 

READ: Today, Tomorrow, And Yesterday As A Transgender Youth – In Bucks County And Across The Country

Yet, this logic of liberal individualism that everyone should mind their p’s and q’s does not equip us to understand contemporary homophobia and transphobia and gives us no effective tools to defend our queer and trans siblings. In fact, it may even support a continued distancing and disparity between straight and queer people. A world where people of different identities and experiences merely stay out of each other’s business cannot produce the bonds of solidarity and intimate connection needed to create a more just and fulfilling society. The best we can expect from this type of politics is a sterile “tolerance,” and LGBTQ+ movements ought to aim much higher. 

Therefore, I want us to consider that the phobic crusaders, for all their violent malice and contortion of good sense, have gotten something right about gender and sexuality: that in aggregate, our personal gendered and sexual behaviors construct and shape a certain kind of public. In other words, our ability to safely act on our inclinations to take on certain gender identities or expressions, or certain romantic or sexual partners, has public impact. 

But what is that impact? It is to damage the power of a social script used to render inevitable and natural an unequal division of labor, distribution of wealth, and organization of property. 

For so much of our history, the ideals of proper masculinity and femininity enshrined in heterosexual marriage have meant the domination of men over the household while women are saddled with the undervalued and unpaid burdens of child-rearing and homemaking. Queer relationships disrupt this script. 

Furthermore, the “normative” white heterosexual nuclear family has been an instrumental social unit in reproducing the exclusive benefits of white supremacy through the passing on of inter-generational wealth and opportunity. Queer forms of social arrangement disrupt this script. 

READ: Protecting Trans Youth

Finally, the reason that anti-LGBTQ+ panic has focused so much on kids and teens is that for some people, children should remain what they have historically been – not autonomous people in control of their own destinies, but the private property of their parents, and therefore, curated extensions and representations of those parents. Empowered children informed of queer possibilities disrupt this script.

If queer and trans lives can disrupt these scripts of power, what other scripts that naturalize domination and inequality could be placed in the dustbin of history? This provocation is why public acceptance of our lives and LGBTQ+ inclusive education is so threatening to those desperate to cling onto economic power and social advantage.

Of course, the other reason why we are seeing these threats to our community is that those political forces manufacturing this panic will never offer the working-class majority real solutions to our problems. They will not work to provide safe housing, comprehensive healthcare, good education, and stable jobs with livable wages. They produce the culture wars because the only thing they can agree to offer ordinary people is the psychological gratification of exclusion. They can only offer the emotional security of being a part of a righteous, dutiful, and pure team against a group of undesirables, who must be more deserving of their miseries.

That is why it’s so important for our own communities to provide an alternative that emphasizes that the flourishing of queer and trans life and love can provide a better world for everyone, not just those of us who find ourselves under the LGBTQ+ umbrella. After all, no one is exempt from the coercive systems of gender and sexuality that corral us into limited and limiting social relationships and roles, which too often and for too many reproduce an array of inequalities and interpersonal miseries. 

READ: It Takes A Village: Expelling Right-Wing Extremism From Bucks County School Districts

It is very easy to think that movements for queer liberation or trans liberation; or Black liberation or indigenous sovereignty; or disability justice or feminism – this “woke stuff” – represent political projects designed to benefit very specific and “exclusive” constituencies. But in reality, they are each on their own projects of universal emancipation. All of us – people of all gender identities and sexual orientations, of all colors and ethnicities, of all religions and cultures, of all abilities and appearances – have everything to gain from a world where we take care of each other, ensure that our material, social, and spiritual needs are met, and eliminate exploitation and inequality. This is the vision of what Martin Luther King, Jr. called “the beloved community,” the redeemed world of love, justice, and friendship that he and so many others paid for with their lives. Transformative solidarity, rather than embittered resentment, is the only motor that can produce the necessary relationships to build this world.

In the vibrant festivities of this Pride month, I hope that LGBTQ+ people, and our comrades and allies, see in our collective joy a real future – of peace and plenty – but that this future is ours to build or ours to lose. I hope we realize that our future is only as precarious and fragile as we are disorganized and disconnected. Now is the time to find our people and expand our circles: to study our history together, to advocate and struggle together, and yes, to party together. I see our future clearly and I’m ready to fight for it. I hope you are too. 

Happy Pride!

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Daniel Parker

Daniel Parker (he/they) is a writer, adjunct lecturer, and community organizer living and working in the Philadelphia area.

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