How is Pride adapting to increasing anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric? Photo: Dustin Humes on Unsplash

Pride month is here along with events around the country to celebrate the LGBTQ+ community. 2023 has been a year full of challenges for the community, with anti-queer and transgender legislation being passed in states like Texas and Florida. This legislation threatens to change everything from how we are able to raise our families to how we celebrate Pride.

With threats of legal action in some areas to calls for violence by anti-LGBTQ+ and white supremacists, how are the organizations behind Pride navigating the changes while staying true to the ethos of why we celebrate Pride in the first place? News is Out spoke to several organizers around the country to get their thoughts on new legal realities, keeping Pride attendees safe and more.

Protecting participants

Pride has always attracted its share of protesters, however, 2023 has brought up additional concerns of safety. Anti-LGBTQ+ groups, including the Proud Boys, have been showing up at drag story hours and brunches all year. Earlier in June, fights broke out outside of a Glendale school board meeting discussing Pride recognition. June 12 marked the seven-year anniversary of the Pulse nightclub massacre, where 49 LGBTQ+ people and allies were murdered in Orlando, Florida. It’s been less than a year since the Club Q shooting in Colorado Springs, Colorado, which took the lives of five people.

How are the organizers of Pride taking safety concerns? In short: very seriously.

Brady Ruffin, the media coordinator for Nashville Pride, shares that safety has always been the main priority of Nashville Pride.

“Nashville Pride is a welcoming place to come together with friends, family and loved ones to celebrate the progress of the LGBTQ+ community,” says Ruffin. “Our board of directors is dedicated to ensuring that Pride remains a safe, violence-free, and inclusive environment. Given the current moment, it is more important than ever for the queer community to join together, united in celebration, joy, and authenticity.” 

According to Ruffin, Nashville Pride has a zero tolerance policy for threatening, violent, harassing or offensive behavior.

At this year’s St. Pete Pride in St. Petersburg, Florida, law enforcement and additional private security, including those in plain clothes, have been secured to combat escalating threats of violence.

“Violence is very much a part of the discourse around Pride and we want to make sure that every single person that comes to any of our events feel safe, and they can show up as their true authentic self,” says Dr. Byron Green Calisch, vice president of St. Pete Pride board of directors.

Pride events are happening all over the country in cities large and small. Photo: Dustin Humes on Unsplash

Denver Pride is put on by the Center on Colfax, and CEO Rex Fuller shared that he feels lucky for the civil rights protections already put in place by the state of Colorado.

“At one point, we were the hate state,” says Fuller, “but since that time, it really spurred a lot of activism and a lot of changes were made.”

As for evolving security needs, Fuller says Denver Pride is taking it in stride thanks to a dedicated group of experienced volunteers and staff who take safety very seriously.

“We have a pretty extensive safety plan that we put in place,” says Fuller. “We do work closely with several agencies to do what we can to keep people safe.”

Denver Pride has also worked closely with the Anti-Defamation League, the hate group watchdog organization.

“In Colorado, they (ADL) have put together a coalition called Hate Free Colorado , which is a coalition of organizations such as ours, the Asian Pacific Development Center, the NAACP, Out Boulder…lots of different groups have all come together to monitor threats, try and respond to threats and be prepared,” says Fuller. 

Groups like ADL and the Human Rights Campaign have raised alarms about the state of LGBTQ+ rights in the U.S. The HRC even went as far as to declare a state of emergency for LGBTQ+ Americans, the first in the organization’s 40-year history. 

Executive Director of Boise Pride, Donald Williamson, says security is always a top concern, no matter the political or social discourse. 

“We try to not look at it from the aspect of making changes to our processes due to any particular rise in hateful rhetoric or religious extremist actions,” says Williamson. “I think security is always a top concern regardless, when it comes to staging major events for the LGBTQ+ community, especially when you live in a state like Idaho.”

Last June, 31 members of white supremacist group Patriot Front were arrested while attempting to disrupt a Pride event in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.

“One can never be ‘too prepared,’ so we consider a number of scenarios when we address security for the festival,” says Williamson.

That preparation includes scalable security contracts that can adjust to provide additional security as the event gets closer. Boise Pride has also strengthened relationships with local law enforcement, the FBI, DOJ and others.

What is Pride without drag?

Florida, Tennessee and Texas have experienced the brunt of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation this year, with calls to ban drag performances and new laws about where and when drag is permitted. 

Ruffin shares that 2023 has been unique in terms of navigating challenges, but it’s far from the first time they’ve dealt with opposition. Nashville Pride has been officially happening since 1988, with smaller versions dating back even earlier.

“For 50+ years, the Nashville LGBTQ+ community has, in some way, shape, or form, held a Pride celebration. And this year is no different,” says Ruffin.  

St. Pete’s Green Calisch shared an unwavering support for drag performers and their vital place in LGBTQ+ history.

“I will say this, full-throatedly with my whole self: we are not backing off on supporting our drag artists and drag entertainers here in the local St. Pete area,” says Green Calisch. “It is drag queens and trans women of color that started the revolution that we know today as Pride. So for us, it is disingenuous to take this moment to step away from the people that really started this movement as we know it.”

St. Pete Pride has been working closely with the city to navigate the ever-changing landscape and legal issues.

“They have been hand in glove and a really amazing partner both at the city level and through the police department here in St. Petersburg,” says Green Calisch.

Boise Pride is looking at this year as an opportunity to educate on the importance of drag in our community.

“Fortunately for the community, the drag ban we saw proposed in the Idaho legislature this year, died in senate committee, so it won’t affect performances at various Pride Festivals & events around the state,” says Williamson. “This actually will give us the opportunity to educate more of the public on what drag really is, how it’s been around since ancient Greece and that drag is not a threat to children.”

Things to look forward to

Despite threats of violence and changing laws, Pride has always been about resilience and celebration.

“Joy is a form of resistance,” says St. Pete’s Green Calish. “We really want to be who we are, and showing up and living out loud is integral to our success.”

Fuller shared that the less-accepting states around Colorado have made Denver Pride a regional draw, with 8-10% of their attendees coming from 50 or more miles away.

“There’s a lot of people who attend from out of state and who may not be able to be fully out in their own homes or own places,” says Fuller. “They are able to come to Denver Pride and feel welcome.”

“Joy is a form of resistance.”

Dr. Byron Green Calish

For Boise’s Williamson, Pride offers a respite.

“The community getting together and seeing attendees of all ages be able to just be themselves, not having to worry about being judged or accepted, because everyone is accepted at the Boise Pride Festival,” says Williamson. “When the festival starts, getting to sit back and just watch everyone engage and enjoy the atmosphere, the entertainment, and the community pride is very fulfilling. It helps you forget, even if it’s only for a few days, that we live in a state with legislators who view the LGBTQ+ with a target on their backs.”

Ruffin is particularly excited about Nashville Pride’s entertainment lineup. “There is so much to look forward to, to be honest!” says Ruffin. “Between the parade, Fletcher, Fitz and the Tantrums and all-day drag, it is hard to choose… but personally, I think I’m most excited for Saucy Santana to perform!”