Young queer people in Port St. Lucie, Florida were disappointed to find out at the end of April that not only was the community’s annual Pride parade canceled, but the Pridefest street fair was restricted to ages 21 and older. To add insult to injury, the event was surrounded by blackout perimeter fencing and hired security.
These measures were taken out of fear that the event would violate Senate Bill 1438, a bill that would prosecute anyone who exposes children to “live adult performances,” particularly targeting drag shows. While the law has not yet been signed by Florida Governor DeSantis, event organizers cite the current “political climate” as their basis to back down. This likely won’t be the last Pride event to be scaled back this year in the face of a national onslaught of anti-LGBTQ laws.
Giving Ground To The Right Wing
While these laws are dangerous, enforcing them upon ourselves is highly misleading to the thousands of young and working class queer people looking to fight back. This concedes to the right-wing narrative that queer life and culture are pornographic and inappropriate for young people, that they are shameful and should only happen in private.
While the far right has been very vocal about this narrative, it is not necessarily widely accepted by ordinary people. The right will make similar attacks on any group of working people rising up for their rights. It is a serious mistake for queer organizations to back down and create space for this narrative to gain ground among broader layers of working people who could be won over. Instead, we should challenge the right-wing on any attempt to limit Pride demonstrations based on this grossly false and reactionary characterization.
Pride events create an important public space not just for self expression but for discussion, organization, and struggle. Beating back these right-wing attacks will require us to tap into the militant history of how Pride began. If we instead surrender this tradition, the only outcome can be confusion, demoralization, and the weakening of our movement.
How Do Young Queer People Defend Ourselves?
Ultimately the queer rights movement will be safer the broader and more organized we can make it. A recent Fox News poll found that 86% of respondents consider right-wing attacks on queer youth to be a problem, and 57% identified it as “a major problem.” These figures should not be interpreted to mean that we can wait for the far right to be quietly defeated at the ballot box, but they show that there is a real basis to link up the struggle for queer rights with broader movements of working and young people.
Queer youth searching for a way to defend our rights should look to the lessons of the militant history of the civil rights and women’s movements of the 60s and 70s, which included the first iterations of the organized queer rights movement in the US. We cannot have any faith that if we disappear from the public eye these laws will simply be defeated in the courts and legislatures. Instead, we need to fight to create the basis for mass civil disobedience and organized action in the streets as the real path to render anti-LGBT laws unenforceable.
A Strategy to Win
Queer youth cannot rely on NGOs and corporate Pride organizations to stand up and defend us from homophobic and transphobic laws, and certainly not without a fight. These groups have long since sold out the fighting character of Pride, turning it instead into a festival of rainbow-colored corporate interests. During the fight for marriage equality, the preeminent pro-LGBT NGO, the Human Rights Campaign came under fire from trans activists for being viciously exclusionary. They excluded trans-inclusive provisions from legislation they were pushing because it was too “controversial.”
A key component of this is the deep roots of these NGOs in the Democratic Party, which has completely stood aside while the right viciously attacks queer youth. Worse, the Biden administration actively propped up attacks on trans kids by providing the basis for schools to ban trans athletes.
Community and anti-corporate pride events have started to pop up across the country in the past years, most notably in New York with the Queer Liberation March. These types of events will become even more important as the organizers of mainstream Pride events fail to stand up to the right. Alternative Pride events should be democratically planned, with organizing coalitions brought together representing various groups and organizations looking to be involved. Having democratic structures will prevent organizers from making unaccountable decisions to cancel events like we’ve seen with corporate Pride.
Schools have correctly been a focal point of struggle so far, with students leading walkouts and demonstrations. These actions can be linked up with teachers’ struggle against cuts and privatizations, which are just one example of how right-wing attacks on marginalized groups are part and parcel of broader attacks on the living standards of all working people.