It was a scorching June day in New York City, meaning the time had finally come for me to break out my new tank and hot pink denim cutoffs. What better way to celebrate the start of Pride month than with a pop of color, I thought? As I walked past Pride displays in store windows, minding my own transsexual business, an older man abruptly stepped in front of me, began yelling transphobic slurs, and spit in my direction.
Usually, this would have left me trembling, tearful and angry. But I was numb – my run-ins with transphobic people have become so commonplace in the last year that this was almost expected.
A grim detail stays on my mind: at least 14 transgender people have been killed by violent means in 2022, putting it on track to be the deadliest year yet for trans Americans. On top of the grisly violence against trans people of color, the regressive legislative initiatives targeting trans youth, and the continued economic disparities for members of my community, make me feel like there is truly nothing to celebrate this year. I’m tired of pretending that there is.
Instead of attending a corporate-sponsored Pride party or speaking on a Pride panel for a company that donates to anti-trans politicians, as I’ve done in years past, I’ve decided I won’t be celebrating at all.
On the exterior, queer identities have seemingly become normalized and even lauded. But a closer look reveals a rainbow-washed house of cards that is one gentle blow away from collapsing. As Pride branding has become ubiquitous, LGBTQ+ rights erode quietly in the background. From Florida’s so-called “don’t say gay” bill and Alabama’s ban on gender-affirming healthcare, a total of 28 states have introduced more than 300 anti-LGBTQ+ measures that seek to turn back the clock on our hard-earned freedoms and limit our ability to live authentically.
It almost feels like the past 60 years of activism, heroism and radical education by queer folks have been undone. Instead of being acknowledged as human beings worthy of dignity and respect, we are once again being painted as groomers and predators who are destroying the fabric of society by the rightwing media and trans-exclusionary radical feminists. Only this time, these insinuations are being overshadowed by the phony veneer of LGBTQ+ acceptance from brands and business conglomerates.
Lately, I’ve started to question who all the rainbow grandstanding is really for. Is it intended to uplift queer and trans folks, and indicate support? Or is it meant to make cis, straight people feel altruistic and progressive while doing the bare minimum to actually mobilize tangible change for the LGBTQ+ community? I think it’s the latter, and my spirit has run weary of seeing people express their support for LGBTQ+ folks during the month of June, only to go silent about the atrocities inflicted on our community for the rest of the year.
“It feels like lately, violence and degradation are the norm,” says my friend, who is a Black trans woman living in Manhattan. “The subways aren’t safe. The streets aren’t safe. Nowhere really is.”
Her sentiments have been echoed to me ad infinitum by members of the gender-diverse community during the past several months. Even in the wake of a recent mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas, Republican lawmakers have decided that the true threat to public safety are drag queens lip-syncing on a stage. Texas state representative Bryan Slaton said that he intends to file legislation “protecting kids from drag shows and other inappropriate displays” when the next legislative session begins. And Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene recently tweeted that she will be “introducing a bill to make it illegal for children to be exposed to Drag Queen performances”.
Such misguided efforts to demonize LGBTQ+ folks reek of decades-old homophobia and transphobia that have placed us in a demented time warp and catapulted us back to an era before Stonewall and before the advancement of the modern queer liberation movement.
So, even though buying a rainbow clutch from Coach might provide some momentary aesthetic pleasure, the way forward in the midst of such rampant and vicious attacks on queer and trans lives is through collective organizing, not collecting Pride merch.