Pride, in 2023, feels a bit surreal. For months, we have heard the worst people on the right relentlessly labeling LGBTQ people, in particular transgender people, as groomers preying on the nation’s children. The lack of any evidence of this has been irrelevant: they know that if they repeat these empty claims enough, people will grow accustomed to them and, eventually, just accept them as true.
As this goes on, locations across the country have passed increasingly dark rules against transgender and other people. Bathroom bills have returned, as have bans on drag, “don’t say gay and trans” bills, and bills barring our ability to access care and medications. The worst of these have been in Florida, though large swaths of the country have become dangerous for transgender people to set foot within.
I’ve also recently spoken about the way that “corporate pride” has also been targeted, with Hershey’s, Disney, Bud Light, and Target being high profile targets of right-wing animus. These, of course, aren’t just targeting these companies, but will force other companies to weigh their support of LGBTQ people against the cost of the negative publicity they’ll face. I suspect we are nearing the end of the era of “corporate pride” for a while yet.
It’s a frustrating and, frankly, depressing time to try to celebrate pride — and yet, when I pass the elementary school down the street from me, I see the Progress pride flag on the pole outside, just below Old Glory and our own state flag. The same flag was recently adorning the Truman Balcony of the White House, overlooking the largest Pride event ever held at Executive Mansion.
Even as Target pulls flags and swimsuits from their shelves, other companies still sell LGBTQ-themed goods. North Face was attacked in the same way as Target. But made it clear they weren’t caving in. You can still get plenty of rainbow-themed products, drinks, snacks from scads of other companies, if you feel the need to do so. They may even be marginally better than what passes for chocolate and beer from The Hershey Company and Anheuser-Busch, but I digress.
The point is this: even during this time of runaway hatred and violence surrounding pride, Pride is still going on this year. It’s a bit like the end of How the Grinch Stole Christmas, where even after the eponymous character removes theist vestiges of the holiday, it still happens, showing that it exists in the people, not in the baubles nor the cans of who hash.
Here’s the secret: the backlash against Pride, against drag, and against trans rights has a simple cause. It’s not about “grooming,” or about “mutilating children,” or whatever horror stories the right is shouting. It’s Not even about Dylan Mulvaney being slapped on a Bud Light can nor about Target selling items festooned with queer-affirming statements.
No, it’s about this: the right is losing.
This has been happening for a long time. The attacks on trans rights came as a direct reaction to Obergefell v. Hodges in 2015 and the fight for marriage equality, and it shouldn’t surprise us to see these attacks ramp up to new, awful heights as Donald Trump and the GOPs influence has waned after the 2020 election. They can see their power being threatened, and are looking for any possible foothold. While they attack us, they also attack women’s rights, Black people and other people of color, immigrants, and any other target they can find. Even their attacks on Disney or Anheuser-Busch can be viewed in the same way. They need that outrage to feel power and strength, and feel like they aren’t standing on so much shifting sand.
This is where we come in. They are so desperate to feel potent, and need to see us scared, cowering, and in fear of them. All their protests, all their rage, it’s all so they can continue to feel that power that’s slipping through their fingers.
As I said before, this pride season is surreal, with us dancing into a world that is hostile, even violent. I’m not going to downplay that. I do urge you to be cautious, and remain safe in the face of all this. This is not a time for unnecessary risks — but this is also a time to balance that against our community’s strength. It is a time for us to stand together against those who would seek to have us live in fear.
It is incumbent on us that we continue to thrive. We need to continue to show our radical, beautiful joy.
That may well be your participation in your local Pride events, arching in the streets, dancing at the stages, or otherwise being a part of the mass of people showing our pride and our joy. This is the most obvious thing we can do this month, to show that we will not be so easily cowed.
It is more than this, however. It’s living every day. It’s being out, and proud, and vibrant in a world that would rather sap us of your glorious color. It’s every day you embrace hope and possibility when the right wants to hand you limitations and fear. Every one of us who is out, and joyful, and visible — even in the smallest ways — shows the waning power and influence of those who stand against us.
Right now, it is a radical act just to be yourself — so be yourself boldly.
Gwen Smith wishes everyone the best Pride you’ve ever had. You’ll find her at www.gwensmith.com/.