Anti-LGBTQ+ activism spiked during Pride Month, with California leading the way
- Anti-LGBTQ+ activism spiked in June, according to the monitoring group ACLED.
- Pride Month saw more anti-LGBTQ+ demonstrations than any other period since 2020.
It is one thing for people to do as they like in the privacy of their own homes, the argument goes, but to a loud minority of Americans the act of stepping outside and existing as one's true self is a bridge too far. They now label calls for acceptance "indoctrination" or "grooming."
As the LGBTQ+ community has become increasingly visible in entertainment, politics, and corporate America, there has been an accompanying spike in anti-LGBTQ+ activism. Tangible evidence of cultural progress — a giant beer maker partnering with a transgender influencer, for example — is now often met with fire and brimstone from right-wing campaigners.
In fact, new research found that the recent effort to roll back gains for gay and trans Americans spiked during Pride celebrations, including in "blue" states such as California, which was home to a full 1 in 5 of the anti-LGBTQ+ demonstrations last month, according to the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project.
"This past June saw the highest ever single-month level of anti-LGBTQ+ demonstrations since ACLED began collecting data for the United States in 2020," Kieren Doyle, the North America research manager for the group, told Insider. ACLED defines demonstrations as in-person events with three or more people. "This new peak in our data comes after anti-LGBTQ+ demonstrations had already surged to their highest point on record by late 2022."
Wesley Phelps, an associate professor of history at the University of North Texas and host of the podcast, "Queering the Lone Star State," said that it makes sense that actions targeting the LGBTQ+ community would increase following its dramatic inroads in the 2000s, including the Supreme Court's 2015 decision in Obergefell v. Hodges that legalized same-sex marriage. Since then, much of the country has shifted from merely tolerating LGBTQ+ people to accepting them and their increased visibility.
"If you put yourself in the mindset of an anti-LGBTQ person in the 1980s, there's not a whole lot of reason for you to organize and demonstrate against the rights of queer people — because there really weren't very many," Phelps said in an interview. "And it's not only visibility, right? It's also queer people saying mainstream society needs to kind of rethink the way that they've thought about us, rethink the way they act around us, and rethink the way they trust us. That's asking something of people in a way, I think, that is just ripe for backlash."
Anti-LGBTQ+ activism spikes, blue states included
The report from ACLED, which also tracks violence in war zones, notes that while many demonstrations were billed as anti-Pride, they also targeted drag shows and gender-affirming care. Such actions were recorded in 26 states and the District of Columbia, but were concentrated in Texas, New York, and California, with just under 20% of recorded anti-LGBTQ+ events taking place in the Golden State.
The finding comes after ACLED previously reported a more than 300% increase in anti-LGBTQ+ actions by far-right extremists in 2022, compared to the year before, which it said "strongly" correlates with ensuing acts of violence against people who are perceived as gay or transgender.
It also correlates with a legislative push to roll back gains for the LGBTQ+ community, Sophie Bjork-James, an assistant professor at Vanderbilt University with a focus on the religious right and white nationalism, told Insider.
"There's been an organized anti-LGBTQ movement since the 1970s. And, you know, they've often inspired legislative policies about restricting rights — or denying rights — for LGBTQ people," Bjork-James said in an interview. "But I think we are in a fairly unprecedented moment of rights reversal."
An 'anti-woke' alliance
Key to explaining the current moment is the emerging, de facto alliance between right-wing actors who have not always seen eye to eye. Although there may be some crossover, Christian nationalists, who believe a conservative interpretation of the Bible should inform public policy, are not necessarily white nationalists; the same is true in reverse, with some white nationalists viewing Christianity as weak and effete.
But religious conservatives and racist extremists can at least agree on "wokeness."
Former President Donald Trump — who once boasted about a transgender performer taking part in his Miss America contest — has demonstrated that many white evangelicals are willing to overlook personality flaws and other disagreements, and vice versa, if it means achieving political power and victories in the culture war.
Trump's 2016 campaign helped forge such coalitions, with far-right groups themselves exploiting issues of sex and gender — topics ripe for demagoguery — to recruit new members and make inroads with more mainstream conservatives.
This negative reaction to the increased acceptance of LGBTQ+ people, made especially visible by corporations such as Target celebrating Pride Month, itself risks a backlash, however: Most Americans support gay marriage, for example, and many are likely uncomfortable with images of armed vigilantes deciding for themselves who can read books at a library. Indeed, according to ACLED, in June about half of the dozens of anti-LGBTQ+ demonstrations "were met by opposing demonstrators who showed support for LGBTQ+ rights." There were also twice as many pro-LGBTQ+ events.
That — visibly showing up for LGBTQ+ rights — is what Bjorn-James argues will determine whether far-right activism proliferates or recedes.
"If we connect the dots in terms of, you know, drag shows, Pride events, and rainbow flags being sold at big box stores," she said, "this is really [a fight] about who belongs in public."
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