Why has Pride caused an uproar in the United States?

Wednesday, 28 June 2023 14:55 GMT

Police divide parents and counter protesters as they clash outside of an elementary school over an LGBT Pride Day assembly in Los Angeles, California, U.S., June 2, 2023. REUTERS/David Swanson

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A Pride backlash has disrupted plans to commemorate LGBTQ+ rights with special merchandise, drag shows and other events
  • LGBTQ+ Pride month kicks off around the world
  • In US, criticism hits corporate and sports events
  • Row reflects fierce debate over gay, trans rights

Lucy Middleton

LONDON, June 28 (Thomson Reuters Foundation)

As Pride Month draws to a close, friction over LGBTQ+ rights has marred many of this year's US celebrations, with disputes erupting over everything from merchandise to men in drag.

In what was supposed to be a month of fun and inclusivity, vicious US culture wars over gay rights, religion and freedom of expression have overshadowed this month's festivities and tripped up some of its sponsors, stores, schools and the state.

Here's everything you need to know:

What has been happening?

Dozens of brands have been heavily criticised by conservative Americans for supporting the LGBTQ+ community this Pride Month, including The North Face, Build-A-BearSouthwest AirlinesKohl's, Walmart, Barstool Sports and Adidas.

In May, retailer Target removed some of its Pride Collection of more than 2,000 products from all U.S. stores. It said the company had received threats over the issue. 

All of the products taken off sale were from the LGBTQ+ brand Abprallen, which has come under scrutiny for its association with British designer Eric Carnell.

Carnell was criticised on social media for designing merchandise with images of pentagrams, horned skulls and other Satanic themes.

Following pressure from Roman Catholic organisations, baseball team the Los Angeles Dodgers cancelled an invitation for drag protest group the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence to perform at the team's annual Pride Night event. 

However, it later reinstated the invitation to the group - which performs in drag inspired by Catholic imagery - despite heavy criticism from players Trevor Williams and Blake Treinen, who said the act was offensive to Catholics.

Demonstrators then turned up to protest the event.

Both the Major League Baseball (MLB) and National Hockey League (NHL) advised teams to stop wearing Pride-theme jerseys during warm up, after several players refused to join in, citing religious beliefs. 

Starbucks was accused of banning Pride-themed decor in some locations, prompting strike action by dozens of staff.

The company has denied that staff were banned from decorating dozens of its stores to mark Pride Month, which ends on Friday, and said it will issue "clearer" guidelines for in-store visual displays going forward. 

The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) was also caught up in Pride controversy.

The Pentagon stopped a Pride Month drag show from taking place on an Air Force base in Nevada on June 1, while the U.S. Navy was accused of adding a rainbow Pride banner to its social media, only to then remove it in the following days.

Sabrina Singh, deputy press secretary at the DoD, told Openly the department would not host drag events at U.S. military installations or facilities.

"Hosting these types of events in federally funded facilities is inconsistent with regulations regarding the use of DoD resources," Singh said.

The U.S. Navy did not respond to a request for comment.

Texas Republican lawmaker Chip Roy also urged his party to remove support for military funding over the Air Force's planned Pride Month itinerary. 

Why is there controversy over Pride?

The pushback against Pride comes amid growing opposition to LGBTQ+ rights and visibility in many parts of the United States.

More than 550 bills curbing transgender rights have been introduced this year alone, with recent laws passed including bans on gender-affirming care, inclusion in sports and access to single-gender spaces such as bathrooms and changing rooms. 

The recent growth in inclusive movements such as Drag Queen Story Hour - which runs children's storytime events - have seen an increase in fears of children being exposed to inappropriate behaviour, despite the shows being tailored for a young audience.

There were 200 anti-drag incidents reported between June 1, 2022 and May 20 this year, according to think-tank the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, with most happening this year.

This month, anti-Pride protesters were recorded at events in Oregon, Ohio, Washington, Missouri, California and Alabama, many of them staged by far-right groups.

Police were also called to a protest outside a school in Los Angeles, after parents demonstrated against a planned Pride month assembly.

Both frontrunners for the Republican presidential nomination, former U.S. President Donald Trump and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, have spoken out against LGBTQ+ rights, ostensibly as a way to protect children.

What do LGBTQ+ activists say?

More than 100 LGBTQ+ organisations, led by the Human Rights Campaign and GLAAD, jointly issued a statement calling for Target and other businesses to speak out against "anti-LGBTQ+ extremism" ahead of Pride Month. 

"We've seen this extremist playbook of attacks before. Their goal is clear: to prevent LGBTQ+ inclusion and representation, silence our allies and make our community invisible," the coalition of LGBTQ+ groups said on May 31.

"These attacks fuel hate against LGBTQ+ people."

Carnell, the designer behind the scrapped merchandise from Target's Pride Collection, said the decision to take some of the range off shelves following the furore marked "a very dangerous precedent".

"If you're going to take a stance and say that you care about the LGBT community, you need to stand by that regardless," Carnell, a transgender gay man, told Reuters. 

Local LGBTQ+ groups have also accused those cancelling events of pandering to pressure from the religious right.

"In a year where over 400 pieces of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation are on the books ... the fight for LGBTQ+ rights is as critical as ever," the Los Angeles LGBT Center said when the Los Angeles Dodgers cancelled the show by the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence.

This story was updated on Wednesday June 28, 2023 at 14:55 GMT to add additional details.

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(Reporting by Lucy Middleton; Editing by Helen Popper. The Thomson Reuters Foundation is the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters. Visit https://www.openlynews.com/)

Openly is an initiative of the Thomson Reuters Foundation dedicated to impartial coverage of LGBT+ issues from around the world.

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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