HARTFORD, Conn. – Kara Murphy, a transgender woman helping to organize the Union County Pride in a suburb of Charlotte, North Carolina, is heartened to see Pride celebrations across the country, big and small, shining a spotlight on transgender rights this year.
“When we look and see who’s standing up for us, it kind of signals the strength of the movement,” she said.
Whether it's transgender grand marshals at the massive New York City Pride parade or a photo display of transgender victims of violence at the much smaller festival in Hastings, Nebraska, many celebrations this June are taking a public stand against state legislation targeting transgender people.
Some Prides are putting transgender people front and center at events where they've often been sidelined because of a historical emphasis on gay and lesbian rights, along with the same sorts of prejudice and misinformation held by many straight, cisgender people about trans lives.
The growing number of new laws and policies, including restrictions on gender-affirming care, public bathroom use and participation in sports, has prompted Pride organizers to more fully embrace a segment of the LGBTQ+ populace that hasn’t always felt included.
While trans activists have always been integral to steps toward greater LGBTQ+ rights, “too often, the larger LGBTQ movement ignored or even actively erased the voices of trans and nonbinary folks,” Kierra Johnson, executive director of the National LGBTQ Task Force, said in an email.
“Uplifting trans voices and fighting for trans liberation must be at the forefront of our movement” when the rights of transgender and nonbinary people are “under a coordinated attack,” Johnson said.
“We are specifically standing by and being supportive of those who are transgender, because we understand that they’re under assault, that their rights are under assault," said Jonathan Swindle, organizer of Pride in Corpus Christi, Texas. Republican Gov. Greg Abbott recently signed legislation that would make Texas the most populous state to ban gender-affirming treatments for minors. At least 20 others have similar bans.
This year, Swindle said, steps to show solidarity include displaying the blue, pink and white transgender flag, offering Pride T-shirts in just pink and blue, involving trans advocacy groups at events, and offering resources for trans people, including legal help with changing gender designations.
Smaller events are also planned that bring people together, but Swindle said those won't be widely advertised because of security concerns and potential threats. This year, he said, “the static in the air and the temperament is so much different” from 2022, when Pride seemed more celebratory.
One transgender board member, he noted, abruptly resigned last month and deactivated their social media accounts because they didn't want to be in the public eye.
“This year, it's like no, we have to fight through our messaging, as well as reach the young generation to help them understand that it's going to be OK,” Swindle said. “Yes, they're doing this, but we will be there. There are resources for you.”
Prides across the U.S. are using the annual event, often held in June to commemorate the 1969 Stonewall rebellion in New York City — an uprising partly led by trans women of color — to highlight their support for transgender people.
Many are also supporting the drag community, which has also been the target of protests and legislation.
In Reading, Pennsylvania, Pride organizer Enrique Castro Jr. said that instead of a parade, a march dedicated to both the trans and drag-performer communities is planned. In addition to displays of flags honoring those communities, there will be a rally afterward at which Dr. Ashley Grant, a specialist in gender-affirming care, will speak and march with the group to her clinic.
The recent Pride in Hastings, a central Nebraska city of 25,000, was “edgier” than past years, acknowledged organizer Randal Kottwitz. With the theme “Rise Up" and dedicated to victims of trans violence, it included a speech by state Sen. Michela Cavanaugh, who told the crowd, “You are loved and you matter.” She led the unsuccessful fight against legislation signed into law by Republican Gov. Jim Pillen that bans abortion at 12 weeks of pregnancy and restricts gender-affirming medical care for people younger than 19.
In New York City, where this year's Pride theme is “Strength in Solidarity,” organizers selected representatives of the trans community to be among the grand marshals of the June 25 parade. There are also plans to have a float carrying transgender people of color.
AC Dumlao, chief of staff for Athlete Ally, a group that advocates on behalf of LGBTQ and intersex athletes, and a transgender, nonbinary Filipino American, is one of the grand marshals. They welcome the attention at Pride this year.
“It’s really important for me to take this opportunity and attention to spotlight kind of what is happening across the country,” said Dumlao, noting how nearly half of U.S. states have banned trans athletes from playing in school sports. With a draw of about 2 million spectators on hand, they said the often-televised parade is a great opportunity to spread the message that trans athletes have "always been here.”
Murphy said the number of expected spectators at her Pride in North Carolina, planned for September, will be tiny in comparison with New York and won't include a parade — but that the message will be no less meaningful.
“You can do so much just person to person, just walking around, meeting people at Pride," she said, noting how the festival becomes an opportunity for people to tap into an informal network of people who might know a therapist or doctor or have a trans child who is trying to make friends.
“At this kind of a rural area, you don’t get the big demonstrations. You get the little assistance, person to person to person to person, that kind of starts to add up," she said. “And yeah, if I could, we would have just a trans pride parade on Main Street if I could, but I can’t do that.”
In Connecticut, where restrictions on transgender people are not being proposed, organizers of the Middletown Pride still placed a major focus on trans rights in this year's events, which Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont attended.
“Just seeing everything that’s happening in the legislation (elsewhere), we definitely wanted to make it a priority,” said Haley Stafford, event coordinator for the Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce which helps to organize Middletown Pride. “Just because it’s not happening to us right now doesn’t mean that it can’t end up happening further down the line.”