By Ben Jealous
June is Pride month in the United States. In big cities and small communities, LGBTQ+ people and their friends, families, and allies will celebrate freedom and progress toward full equality. All fair-minded Americans can celebrate that progress. But there is a growing shadow over this year’s celebrations. The far-right political movement is aggressively trying to turn back the clock to a time when LGBTQ+ people were not treated equally under the law. Anti-equality legal groups and anti-equality politicians are pushing legal and political attacks on our most vulnerable young people. MAGA movement political operatives are trying to win elections by stirring up fear and hatred against LGBTQ+ people.
They are proposing and passing laws that are stunning in their cruelty. Some make it a crime for librarians to let students read books with gay themes and characters—or for teachers to provide supportive information to LGBTQ+ students. Some make it a crime for doctors to provide appropriate health care to transgender youth. In Texas, parents who are simply trying to love and support their trans kids can now be charged with child abuse.
That is beyond unacceptable. It is sadistic. Driving the passage of those laws is a false and inflammatory campaign to portray support for LGBTQ+ people as the equivalent of pedophilia. Right-wing elected activists and pundits smear gay people as threats to children, and equality advocates as “groomers.”
That kind of smear is dangerous. False and demonizing stereotypes have a long history that Black people know well. Lies about Black men were used by violent bigots to justify lynching as necessary to “protect” White women—and continue to drive police violence against Black people today. The more elected officials and far right-wing activists spread the “groomer” lie, the more likely it is that some bigots will try to justify discrimination and violence against LGBTQ+ people as necessary to “protect” children and youth. And then there’s the Supreme Court. Historically, it was in June that the Supreme Court overturned state laws that made gay people criminals.
A dozen years later, in another June decision, the court ruled that states cannot refuse to marry same-sex couples. June has given us many reasons to celebrate the march toward full equality. But that could all change. Thanks to hard-right justices named by former President Donald Trump, the same majority that considers states’ rights more important than voting rights is preparing to overturn Roe v. Wade—stripping Americans of a constitutional right that the court has recognized for half a century. The far-right court majority’s eagerness to eliminate a long-recognized right to privacy and abortion is deeply troubling to those of us who support legal equality. Anti-LGBTQ+ legal and political groups that urged the Court to overturn Roe v Wade are hoping the same justices will reverse more recent rulings that recognized the equality of LGBTQ+ people and same-sex couples.
They don’t just want to overturn the court’s marriage equality ruling. They also want the court to let states criminalize homosexuality, making it possible again for gay people to be fired, or have their children taken away from them, because of their sexual orientation. They want to make America discriminate again. It is time for all Americans who support equality and civil rights to reject anti-LGBTQ+ smears and the harm and the discrimination they cause. And it is time to remember that the earliest equality marches were not focused on pride, but on freedom and liberation—from police harassment, oppressive laws and culture, and institutional discrimination. Let’s celebrate pride this month.
We could all use a good dance party right about now. But let’s also make sure that people understand how much progress is at risk. And let’s organize. We’re just six months away from local, state, and national elections. Those elections will either give more power to the raging anti-freedom forces that want to take the country back—and move us all backwards—or they will help us move toward the goal of freedom and justice for all.
Ben Jealous serves as president of People For the American Way and Professor of the Practice at the University of Pennsylvania. A New York Times best-selling author, his next book “Never Forget Our People Were Always Free” will be published by Harper Collins in December 2022.