Pride organizers promise safety at festivities amid anti-LGBTQ rhetoric

US officials have warned about a rise in threats against the LGBTQ community.

June 3, 2023, 6:09 AM

As Pride Month kicks off, the continuing anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric and legislation that has grown over the past several years is on the minds of many people, and event organizers across the country say they have prepared for this and have implemented security protocols that ensure performers and attendees can have fun without fear.

“Are we increasing our plans for security? The answer is no, not because we don't see the need for it, but because our plans have been incredibly robust to begin with for many years,” said Dan Dimant, the media director for NYC Pride.

Cameron Jay Harrelson, the parade director for Georgia's Athens Pride, said that hosting such events in the deep South has always made organizers “hyper aware and hyper-focused” on safety.

“That feels a little more heavy this year with the attacks that we've seen in legislation, in politics across the country,” Harrelson said.

PHOTO: People dressed in drag walk past an NYPD officer in the New York City Pride Parade on June 26, 2022 in New York City.
People dressed in drag walk past an NYPD officer in the New York City Pride Parade on June 26, 2022 in New York City.
Alexi Rosenfeld/Getty Images, FILE

The Department of Homeland Security has recently sounded the alarm on the growing threat of violence or extremism, but queer communities nationwide say they have been prepared for backlash for years.

Since the Pulse club massacre in Orlando, Florida, in 2016 that left 49 dead at the LGBTQ+ venue – and after the recent November mass shooting at a Colorado queer bar that killed five – the community has been on high alert.

“We're in a very scary time,” said Harrelson. “We saw what happened in Colorado Springs not too long ago. We saw what happened at Pulse several years ago … we know what the next iteration of anti-LGBTQ protesters are capable of, so we have to be prepared, hyper aware and vigilant.”

Fears of violence aren't new for the LGBTQ+ community. According to DHS, about 20% of all hate crimes reported throughout the country in 2021 were motivated by bias linked to sexual orientation and gender.

Event goers can expect heavy security, blocked off streets, ample medical personnel, and more at Pride events throughout the country.

In states with few firearm restrictions like Texas, Jeremy Liebbe, director of security for Dallas Pride, told ABC News that there are layers of police, security and threat management both invisible and visible to the public for all events in the city.

“State law allows us to restrict who can possess a firearm at Dallas Pride,” Liebbe said. “Both unlicensed possession of firearms and licensed open carry of handguns will be prohibited with the requisite signs” during the festivities.

PHOTO: A police officer stands near the Stonewall Monument in front of the Stonewall Inn during the 2022 New York City Pride march, June 26, 2022 in New York City.
A police officer stands near the Stonewall Monument in front of the Stonewall Inn during the 2022 New York City Pride march, June 26, 2022 in New York City.
Roy Rochlin/Getty Images, FILE

Where there are counterprotesters, event goers may be shielded by volunteers who block out the hate so attendees can enjoy the festivities in peace.

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“We actually have a group of what we call our queer dads,” said Harrelson. “They are a group of fathers of queer kids, queer youth. And they are coming and holding these large sheets … and they just stand in front of protesters and completely block their signage, their sound, everything.”

In some cases, the themes of Pride events this year will be reflective of the issues going on around the country facing the queer community.

Organizers say they are highlighting the communities most vulnerable to legislative attacks in recent years, including restrictions facing drag performers and transgender health care.

“If you're going to try to take away our drag, we're just going to add more,” Kylan L. Durant, president of the Oklahoma City Pride Alliance, told ABC News.

“Then also we have always put – and even more so this year – putting emphasis on having trans performers on the stage, too, because we know that that is part of the community that is hard hit with a lot of this legislation.”

PHOTO: A police officer on duty during a pride event in New York City, June 26, 2022.
A police officer on duty during a pride event in New York City, June 26, 2022.
Universal Images Group via Getty Images, FILE

Event organizers say that it’s natural for participants to have a heightened sense of awareness amid the current political climate – but they say going back into hiding is exactly what hateful threats are aiming to do. Still, they say people should do what makes them feel the safest.

“We understand the reality of it and we understand people are gonna feel hesitant this year,” said Durant. “But I also want to remind folks that's the thing that they want to do. They want to instill fear so we don't have the celebration, so we don't show up to be around each other.”

Dimant added, “There are bad actors out there who are making threats, who are sharing falsehoods, who are just spreading hateful rhetoric. And they're doing that so that you'll stay home and you won't show up at Pride and live your truth.”

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