It’s officially LGBTQIA+ Pride Month, and bigots across the country are making themselves heard. Marriage equality and anti-discrimination laws have strong majority support, but despite that—or maybe because of it—some of the highest-profile stories as Pride approached have been about hatred and threats.
In recent months, bigots have thrown massive fits over Bud Light featuring a trans influencer in an Instagram post and Target featuring Pride merchandise, claiming they’re showing their own cultural power by boycotting brands that dare to acknowledge the existence, let alone the equal rights, of LGBTQ+ people. But what they’re really showing is how ready they are to resort to violence. Target pulled some merchandise and relocated Pride displays in some stores—not because the market demanded it, but because of threats of violence toward employees, threatening social media posts, and Pride displays being knocked down.
What we have, on the one hand, is major corporations deciding it’s good business to celebrate Pride (by selling stuff), and on the other hand, a minority using the threat of violence to keep those corporations from celebrating Pride. It’s clear which side public opinion is on. The challenge now is preventing corporations from folding to the threats.
“I think [Target changing its Pride offerings] will embolden alt-right actors, who now are going to believe that with social media campaigns and targeted actions against retailers that they can proceed in limiting visibility of LGBTQ people,” Vanderbilt University anthropologist Sophie Bjork-James, who researches white supremacy, told ABC News.
The threats aren’t only coming to big businesses, of course. A Pride event in Bozeman, Montana, was disrupted last month by white supremacists, and event organizers in at least one Florida town have already canceled their event.
“This decision was not made lightly. We have been working hard to plan this event for months, and we were excited to celebrate our community with you. However, we have recently become aware of a number of factors that make it unsafe to hold this event at this time,” St. Cloud, Florida, Pride organizer Kristina Bozanich wrote in a Facebook post announcing the cancellation.
Bozanich told The Hill, “We had to assess whether we could handle if anything extreme were to happen.” She said anti-LGBTQ+ laws signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis were a factor in the decision.
Multiple Republican-controlled states have passed such laws, including ones banning drag performances and discussion of LGBTQ+ people and issues in schools. Hate groups like the Proud Boys have disrupted more than 160 drag events since early 2022, at least 25 of them in 2023. But the sheer existence of hundreds of drag events across the country—in Kentucky and Tennessee and Texas, in libraries and coffee shops and churches—shows the progress that has made hate groups and independent bigots so angry and scared. And in some communities, counterprotesters have organized to fight back against the attacks on drag events.
Parents of toddlers are often told about “extinction bursts,” in which, as they try to move their child past a problem behavior, it gets worse. The child frantically clings to the pacifier or cries extra hard when their parents don’t come to their crib the moment they start crying. That’s the Proud Boys and their fellow bigots right now. Marriage equality is widely accepted. Employment and housing discrimination are widely opposed. Drag brunches and story hours are popular events. And the bigots can’t stand it. Instead of a screaming toddler, though, Pride events and drag events face angry, potentially armed adults—a much bigger problem.
Businesses from Target to Budweiser must not fold on their inclusion of the LGBTQ+ community. Pride events must get the community support they need to be run safely. And we all have to remember that progress—however real and powerful it is—doesn’t mean bigotry has been stamped out and we can relax.
“We must remember that the reason that we have Pride is not because everything’s hunky dory and we can just celebrate our lives,” Kevin Hamm, the president of Montana Pride, told The Hill. “The reason we have Pride is because we still have a fight to fight every day.”
Countless progressive organizations seek to engage and mobilize voters, but coordinating those efforts is a mighty task. On this week's episode of "The Downballot," we're joined by Sara Schreiber, the executive director of America Votes, which works with hundreds of partners at the national and state level to deploy the most effective means of urging voters to the polls. Schreiber walks us through how coalitions of like-minded groups are formed and how the work of direct voter contact is divvied up between them. A special focus is on "blue surge" voters—those who, in the Trump era, joined the rolls for the first time—and why ensuring they continue to participate in the political process is the key to progressive victories.