The past couple of years at PrideFest, my anxieties around the potential for violence have become more intense. I’ve often tried to brush this off and focus on what I’m there for—to be present for the people I’m spending time with. Like many others, I want to be able to enjoy Pride without fear.
For anyone who has noticed these anxieties arising, you are not alone. Your feelings are real and worth being attentive to. It IS scary to see increasing state-sanctioned hate against trans and nonbinary people and those in our support networks—family members, service providers, partners, and more. These fears might be especially noticeable for folks who have previously survived violence.
With rising waves of anti-trans legislation across the US, there is evidence that anti-LGBTQ (and specifically anti-trans) rhetoric emboldens people to act out and promote violence. Over the past several years, trans and nonbinary communities have been hit with increasing threats of violence and attacks like the Colorado Springs shooting at Club Q, numerous bomb threats against healthcare clinics offering gender-affirming therapy, and anti-LGBTQ protests outside of drag events and even schools.
While June is often an occasion to celebrate LGBTQ+ communities, fear surrounding anti-LGBTQ legislation has led to cancellations of pride events in some places (like Texas and Florida). In states enacting “drag bans,” some performers are nervous about being arrested or fined. And while these bans target drag performances (described as “adult performances”), trans and nonbinary people may also feel concerned about being perceived as being “in drag” just for being themselves.
“I know trans men and women who are servers at restaurants and they go up to a table to serve. If they go up to a table to serve a table and there’s a child there — there’s a possibility that they can literally be charged with a crime for doing their job and serving the table. It’s 2023. How did we get here?” – Jordan Allen, a trans man and drag king in Nashville.
Although these legislative efforts look different across the country, with some states enacting protections for gender-affirming healthcare and sanctuary laws for trans and nonbinary folks seeking healthcare outside of their home state, hearing about these legislative attacks and threats of violence against others in our communities creates a sense of fear everywhere. Folks who are attending pride events, or staying home instead of going out, may be carrying fear from other states that extend beyond what’s going on in our hometowns.
Anti-trans legislation and rhetoric have a significant negative impact on trans and nonbinary people’s mental health, as well as those in our support networks. Pride month in particular may bring up emotions that are difficult to navigate, as the desire to celebrate our communities and stand up in resistance to hatred are intermingled with fears about safety in public spaces. For some, pride may not feel like an occasion to celebrate this year. All of these feelings and fears are well-founded, and reflect the tumultuous culture of state-sanctioned hate we are living in as trans and nonbinary people.
In a blog post about pride month, Erin Reed writes about the conservative backlash to photos of LGBTQ people celebrating and resisting at pride events:
“Each snapshot from every Pride event serves as a stark reminder: despite their daunting push of 530 anti-trans bills across America in 2023, their objective remains unfulfilled; we are the people they failed to eradicate.” – Erin Reed
It may feel especially important for some people to celebrate pride this year, as experiencing trans joy and continuing to exist, despite these constant challenges, is an act of resistance and resilience. Even when we do feel that strong draw to be connected with our communities and show up publicly to share hope and joy, fears about emboldened hatred and violence may sit at the back of our minds, making it difficult to be present with the people we love. How do we manage these fears, which come from a place of awareness of real risks and past experiences?
There are absolutely actions we can take to feel safer, and reduce the risks of participating in pride events or direct action this year. At the same time, we are limited by what we can do as individuals, and even while taking steps to be prepared for unsafe situations, we may still encounter protestors, law enforcement, or people who intend to disrupt or harm those attending pride events.
This is why I want to emphasize that celebrating pride in ways that feel safe and true to where we are currently—mentally, emotionally, and physically—is always okay. For some people, this may be dancing to music at a crowded pride event with a group of friends. For others, this may be having a small get-together or doing something creative. And for others, this may be spending time on quiet reflection, and honoring the very real fears and grief we are holding.
Keeping in mind that there are many ways to celebrate pride, here are some strategies for staying safer and reducing risks when attending pride events and direct action.
When attending any type of pride event, it’s often helpful to communicate with someone about where you’ll be in case you need to be picked up, when you plan to get home, and what they should do if they aren’t able to contact you.
If there’s someone in your life who is staying home, you might plan to meet up with them and debrief and decompress afterward, if you’re anticipating the event to be emotionally-charged.
When planning an outing, see if you can find out more about the event location so you can familiarize yourself with the area, where exits are, and a location to meet up with friends if you get separated. Event websites may also have information about what security measures they have in place.
Find out what the law actually means
If you’re living in a state that’s been enacting anti-LGBTQ legislation, you may want to familiarize yourself with what this legislation actually means. For example, this article provides details about anti-LGBTQ legislation passed in Florida. Of particular interest for trans Floridians attending pride events at public venues is HB 1521, a bill that criminalizes transgender people for using the restroom that matches their gender identity. The bill prohibits gender-inclusive restrooms and changing facilities in schools, public shelters, healthcare facilities, and jails. The bill is planned to go into effect on July 1st, 2023.
Erin Reed describes the impact of this legislation:
“House Bill 1521 will effectively give second-class citizen status to transgender people in Florida. The wording of the bill states that if a cisgender person is in the bathroom with a transgender person, an employee can tell the transgender person to leave. Should the transgender person not leave immediately for any reason, they will be charged with criminal trespass, which can carry sentences of up to 1 year in jail – likely a jail of the wrong gender identity, which will put trans people in immense danger of sexual assault.” – Erin Reed
She elaborates that trans people using public restrooms that align with their gender identity can be targeted regardless of their legal gender status.
Although the bill won’t go into effect until after pride month, trans people in Florida are already feeling the impacts:
“Florida’s bill goes into effect July 1st. But people are already really stressed, changing their behavior, and facing increased harassment. One thing that’s scary about the bill is how much it encourages harassment—people face arrest if they don’t leave when someone tells them to, which to me really encourages people to surveil and harass other people.” – Emil Rudicell
Emil shared some of the strategies people are using to navigate this new legislation, with some uncertainty around how it will actually be implemented and impact people’s lives. Some people are:
- Avoiding bathrooms
- Being strategic about which bathrooms to use – considering how crowded it might be for example
- Leaving if there is a line, no stall available
- Going to places that have single-stall bathrooms
- Drinking/eating less while out
- Choosing where to go or going out less based on bathroom access
Clearly, avoiding using the bathroom or eating and drinking are not healthy habits to develop, and people are finding imperfect solutions that allow them to be safer when having to use public restrooms. Some people plan to leave Florida (or have already left) as a result of anti-trans legislation.
Despite the fear and uncertainty surrounding this legislation, Emil shared:
“I’ve also seen examples of trans resistance. Folks are having gatherings of trans community to support each other and be themselves. Some people are being more bold and upfront about their identities as a form of resistance. Within trans relationships, people are checking in on each other, offering practical support and a place to process. A lot of folks are also highlighting that trans folks have always lived in Florida and always will, and are finding ways to celebrate queer and trans Florida, especially as a counter to the narrative that Florida sucks.” – Emil Rudicell
Also in Florida, an “obscenity law,” SB1438, targets drag and pride parades, which has already gone into effect. This has already led to the cancellation of pride events. The bill “makes it a crime to admit young people to any performance, exhibit, play, or show that the state deems inappropriate, even if the child’s parents think it is appropriate for their family,” and may be construed to criminalize trans people existing in public spaces around children.
Arkansas, Montana, and Tennessee also currently have laws restricting drag performances, with many other states attempting to pass similar legislation.
The vague language of these bills, which may directly or indirectly target trans and nonbinary people, is confusing and frustrating to navigate. Familiarizing yourself with the legislation in place in your state can be helpful for knowing what kinds of activities and venues might currently be more risky to attend, and what might be restricted in the future.
Know your rights
Knowing that some of the anti-LGBTQ legislation being passed may put drag performers and trans and nonbinary people at risk of arrest for being in public spaces or using the bathroom, it’s important to understand your legal rights, and what to do if you end up interacting with law enforcement.
When talking about strategies for staying safe with other FORGE staff, I was reminded that many of the strategies we might use are similar or the same as strategies being shared among protestors during protests against police brutality in 2020. While some folks may choose to attend protests and other forms of direct action in response to anti-trans legislation, many of these same harm reduction strategies can be applied to safety planning when attending a pride event.
This article is helpful for understanding your rights if you are arrested at a protest, but the information provided is useful for anyone interacting with law enforcement. It covers essential topics like:
- What are some things I can do in advance to prepare for the possibility of getting arrested at a protest? (These strategies also apply to preparing for the possibility of being arrested at a pride event, or anywhere else)
- How do I know whether I’m being detained or if I’m free to go?
- What will happen if I am arrested?
- What do I do if I suspect a friend/loved one has been arrested?
Although it’s several years old at this point, this guide from the National Center for Transgender Equality and the Sylvia Rivera Law Project addresses some trans-specific concerns about participating in direct action and interacting with law enforcement as a trans or nonbinary person. Some topics of interest include:
- Risks to be aware of if you are an immigrant, have been arrested in the past, if you are living in a shelter, or if you have disabilities
- What to bring with you to direct action
- How to respond if you are stopped or questioned by the police
Here is additional information from the Transgender Law Center on interacting with law enforcement as a transgender person.
This handout provides more specific advice for LGBTQ+ youth attending protests.
If there is a possibility of being arrested, write the number for your local chapter of the National Lawyers Guild on your arm, or another place on your body where it won’t be rubbed off, in case you don’t have access to your phone.
Additional legal resources:
- For legal advice for immigrants convicted of crimes: https://www.immigrantdefenseproject.org/
- For guidance on reporting police abuse or misconduct: https://www.nlg-npap.org/
- Lambda Legal Regional Help Desks
- Atlanta, GA: 404-897-1880
- Chicago, IL: 312-663-4413
- Dallas, TX: 214-219-8585
- Los Angeles, CA: 213-382-7600
- Trans Legal Services Network Directory: https://transequality.org/issues/resources/trans-legal-services-network-directory
Talk about ways to feel safer at pride that don’t involve guns:
Everyone is coping with anxieties around anti-trans legislation and state-sanctioned hate in different ways. Some trans and nonbinary people feel that owning and carrying a gun with them (including, or especially to pride events) may make them safer. Many of us may be hearing from others in our communities about different feelings and approaches to gun ownership and safety. While we can’t make decisions for someone else about what would make them safer, we can all have conversations about the facts of gun violence, and how we can reduce it.
Here are some statistics you may want to share:
Every day in the U.S. there are, on average, 45 gun homicides and 65 gun suicides. 40% of trans and non-binary people have attempted suicide. Suicide is far more likely to be completed if a gun is used.
Including officer-involved shootings, there are four unintentional shootings, seven criminal assaults or homicides, and 11 attempted or completed suicides for every one self-defense shooting in the United States.
Women* who have abusive current or partners are five times as likely to be killed if their abuser owns a gun.
*Statistics on male abuse survivors and those whose abusers are female are not currently available; nor are stats on trans people in abusive relationships.
The presence of firearms (coupled with implicit and explicit bias) makes law enforcement officers more likely to kill civilians, particularly Black Americans. Trans people of color are also 6x more likely to experience police violence than white cisgender people. (Trans people of all races are nearly 4 times more likely to experience police violence than non-trans peers.)
Here are some things you can do to reduce gun violence:
Get guns out of your house. This article gives seven ways you can safely dispose of guns.
The threats to trans and nonbinary people’s safety are very real, and feeling the need to take action to prevent violence is well-founded. When it comes to reducing violence, the statistics are clear: having a gun in the home does not make trans and nonbinary people safer. When coupled with the high rates of suicides in trans and nonbinary communities, and the increased risk of police violence and intimate partner violence, this means that owning a gun can make us more likely to experience harm instead of being safer from it.
We are living in a time of a lot of uncertainty about the future for trans and nonbinary people and survivors of violence. Some people may not feel like celebrating this year, and that’s okay. Others may be wanting to get out and connect with community, but also struggling with concerns about safety. This may be especially true for folks living in states with active anti-trans legislation, but those across the country may be feeling the distress of our communities in other states.
Despite these challenges, lots of trans and nonbinary people are showing up and coming together at pride events, or celebrating in small ways. Connecting with community is an opportunity to share joy and resistance, and continue to exist loudly and boldly in the face of anti-LGBTQ rhetoric.
Reflecting on pride celebrations this year, Erin Reed shares a historical perspective on these outpourings of joy:
“We carry forward a potent legacy, one of not merely surviving but flourishing even in the margins where we’ve been relegated. We return, time and time again, stronger than ever before.” – Erin Reed