June is Pride Month. In my family, we take folding chairs and drinks to the sidewalk to watch the parade, and we cheer the participants as they go by. The parade gets longer every year. Over the years, it has also gotten more and more mainstream, with local businesses, politicians, schools, churches and synagogues joining the clubs, gay bars and civil liberties organizations.

I began attending the parade in 2002, when there were exactly 8 entries, the parade took 15 minutes, and most gay folks were still reluctant to come out of the closet. The speed of social change on issues of sexual orientation has been one of the bright spots in America’s quest for civic equality.

I suppose we should have expected the current, fierce backlash, but–like the backlash  to women’s rights explored in my recent book–it seems so unaware, so awkwardly out of place in a society that has moved on. Polling continues to confirm that these angry Christian “warriors” are a distinct minority, but thanks to the GOP’s success in electing radical right-wingers to state legislatures, anti-gay laws continue to be passed.

This year, activist haters targeted businesses supportive of Pride . (No pun intended.)

As Charles Blow recently wrote in the New York Times,

As the L.G.B.T.Q. community celebrates Pride Month, we are besieged by a malicious, coordinated legislative attack.

There’s been a notable rise in the number of anti-L.G.B.T.Q. bills since 2018, and that number has recently accelerated, with the 2023 state legislative year being the worst on record.

According to the Human Rights Campaign, in 2023 there have been more than 525 such bills introduced in 41 states, with more than 75 bills signed into law as of June 5. In Florida — the state that became known for its “Don’t Say Gay” law — just last month, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed legislation that banned gender transition care for minors and prohibited public school employees from asking children their preferred pronouns.

As Kelley Robinson, the president of the Human Rights Campaign, recently told me, the number of signed bills is likely to move higher: “There’s 12 more that are sitting on governors’ desks, so you could be at nearly 100 new restrictions on the L.G.B.T.Q.+ community by the end of this cycle.”

Blow compares the current legislative onslaught to the burning of a cross on a Black citizen’s lawn: an effort to frighten and cow a minority population. It is, as he says,  “a malicious, coordinated legislative attack.”

The 2023 state legislative year has arguably been the worst on record. According to HRC, this year there have been more than 525 anti-gay bills introduced in 41 states. As of June 5th, more than 75 have been signed into law, and that number is likely to increase.

The focus on trans children has been particularly despicable, since those children are incredibly vulnerable and least likely to be able to defend themselves. The decision to come after them was–quite obviously– strategic, as Blow points out.

It seems pretty obvious that the trans community is an attractive target for culture war bullies because it’s a small subset of the queer community and an even smaller subset of society as a whole.

According to a study last year by the Williams Institute at U.C.L.A., about 1.6 million people 13 or older in the United States, or 0.6 percent, identify as transgender.

Furthermore, in a 2021 survey, nearly 70 percent of Americans said they know a gay or lesbian person. Only about one in five said they know someone who is trans. That number is up but still small. That’s about the same number who said in response to a 2021 YouGov poll that they’ve seen a ghost.

Recognizing the roots of this particular backlash is critical to understand ing where it’s coming from–and where it wants to go– knowledge we need if we are to counter it successfully.

The war against trans children and the gay community generally is part of a hysterical  reaction to social change–a rejection of the improved status of Blacks, women and other previously marginalized communities. Today’s culture warriors are those who are–in William F. Buckley’s often-quoted description of conservatives– standing athwart history and yelling “stop”!

The party that was “conservative” in Buckley’s day has morphed into the party of pure bigotry in ours. A number of Democratic politicians–including the Mayor– participated in yesterday’s parade. Maybe I missed it, but I didn’t see a single Republican.

I did see huge contingents seemingly from every large local employer, and endless floats–from the police and fire departments, local schools and universities, civic organizations and LGBTQ clubs…and a crowd of thousands cheering and waving Rainbow flags. 

The immensity of that celebration doesn’t bode well for what has accurately been called the “slate of hate.”


Pride…And Prejudice

It’s June. Pride Month.

I’ve followed–and supported–the movement for LGBTQ equality for more years than I can count. When Indianapolis had a newspaper that served the gay community, I was a regular columnist; when I was Executive Director of Indiana’s ACLU, I established a “Project for Equal Rights”–a project focused on gay rights (back then, ambiguity in the title was advisable.)

So I’ve been gratified by the enormous cultural and legal changes that have led to wide acceptance of gays and lesbians (transgender folks not so much…), reflected in positive newscasts about upcoming Pride events and the enormous growth of participation in those events.

I attended the first Pride Parade (proper name: Cadillac Barbie Pride Parade–don’t ask me how that name originated; I have no idea). It was a resolute effort, but as I recall (granted, at my age, memory is fallible) a fairly sad affair. There were six or eight floats, and at most a couple hundred spectators. My husband, kids and (later) grandkids have attended every year since, and at the last parade–held before COVID imposed a hiatus–there were something like 80-100 floats and over a 100,000 spectators.

It isn’t simply that the numbers have grown; the nature of the participants has expanded. Initially, both the parade floats and festival were sponsored by bars and other businesses and nonprofits that catered specifically to the gay community. These days, marchers and floats include a mix of churches and synagogues, healthcare organizations, car dealerships, universities, civil rights groups, government officials and political candidates–an array broadly representative of the entire Indianapolis community.

LGBTQ progress is undeniable. But the current backlash isn’t limited to the determined assault on women’s rights. As the Brookings Institution recently warned, this year’s Pride comes at a perilous time for the LGBTQ community.

The report began with recognition of widespread cultural change

The year 2015 marked a historic milestone in the struggle for LGBTQ+ rights: the Supreme Court’s recognition of marriage equality. The court’s ruling both reflected and promoted an incredible sea change in American life. In the two decades prior to the decision, public opinion on LGBTQ+ rights improved more rapidly than any other attitude in the history of American opinion polling.

The author followed that paragraph with a description of research reflecting those changes, especially focusing on their effects for students and young people.

He then described the less-rosy findings of that research:

For the first time ever, the CDC included a question about sexual identity in its national Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS). This survey provided the first population-based, nationally representative portrait of sexual minority high school students since the Add Health study two decades prior. The results were sobering. Among students who identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or “not sure” (LGBQ), about 40% reported being bullied, 39% reported having “seriously considered” suicide, and a full 56% reported clinically significant signs of depression. Although some of the CDC’s estimates were later shown to be inflated by “mischievous responders,” these bullying and mental health disparities remained remarkably stable across analyses.

Since 2015, the story told by America’s LGBQ high school students has not improved. (Because these data do not assess gender identity or sexual identities beyond L/G/B/Q, I refer here only to LGBQ students). In Figure 1, I present estimates from the 2015, 2017, and 2019 National YRBS. For LGBQ respondents, the results show no change in bullying, no change in suicidal ideation, and a slight upward trend in depression. On every measure, LGBQ students report substantially worse outcomes than their straight peers: LGBQ students are about 70% more likely to report bullying, twice as likely to report suicidal ideation, and three times more likely to report depression. Population-representative data on transgender students are more limited. However, the data that are available provide a picture of an especially vulnerable population, reporting outcomes similar to or worse than those reported by LGBQ students. Early indications suggest that the experiences of LGBTQ+ teens only worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic.

And then there is the “far-reaching and well-orchestrated backlash against LGBTQ+ rights.”  The Brookings report tells us that a record-breaking number of anti-LGBTQ+ measures have been proposed and passed across the country over the past three years. (In just the first three months of this year, 238 bills restricting LGBTQ+ rights have been introduced.)

 These legislative initiatives also appear to have emboldened a wave of LGBTQ+ book bans, efforts to dismantle gay-straight alliances, and the forced removal of LGBTQ+-affirming materials from school spaces.

Given the success of Mitch McConnell and his Senate Republicans in politicizing  the Supreme Court, rights like marriage equality “appear newly uncertain.”

On June 11th, my family will join the throng of supporters cheering for Pride –and hoping for the defeat of re-emerging prejudice.


Pride In Indiana

Today is Pride Day in Indianapolis. The parade –which I always attend– will have well over 100 entrants, representing a wide variety of government agencies, educational institutions, churches and area businesses–a far cry from the few forlorn entries in the first such effort 25 years ago.

Among other things, Pride now celebrates the legal and social progress of the LGBTQ community, which has made great strides nationally over the last couple of decades. In Indiana, it will not surprise you to discover that such progress has been considerably more spotty; cities and towns have passed inclusive Human Rights ordinances, but the state as a whole is an embarrassment on this issue (as well as on so many others.)

The very different politics of cities and rural areas with respect to LGBTQ rights has recently been highlighted by the effort of Jim Merritt–a longtime legislator now running for Mayor of Indianapolis–to “cozy up” to the gay community, and to distance himself from his “perfect” anti-gay record in Indiana’s Statehouse. Our legislature has been gerrymandered to create districts dominated by rural voters, and Merritt has pandered accordingly.

He is not alone. Indiana’s legislature has stubbornly refused to pass an inclusive bias crime bill. Efforts to add four little words–sexual orientation and gender identity– to the list of protected categories in the state’s civil rights law have gone nowhere.

Two years ago, on this blog, I posted some revelatory statistics about the legal disabilities of LGBTQ Hoosiers. The laws that facilitated those statistics haven’t changed. Here’s a smattering of what I wrote then:

Approximately 133,000 LGBT workers in Indiana are not explicitly protected from discrimination under state law….  If sexual orientation and gender identity were added to existing statewide non-discrimination laws, 61 additional complaints of discrimination would be filed with the Indiana Civil Rights Commission each year. Adding these characteristics to existing law would not be costly or burdensome for the state to enforce.

Recent polling discloses that 73% of Indiana residents support the inclusion of sexual orientation as a protected class under Indiana’s existing civil rights law. That’s 73% in Very Red Indiana.

Major employers in the state have worked with civil rights and civil liberties organizations in an effort to add “four little words” to the list of categories protected under the state’s civil rights statute:  sexual orientation and gender identity. So far, the legislature has exhibited zero interest in doing so.

The public outrage over Pence’s RFRA led to a subsequent “clarification” (cough cough) that the measure would not override provisions of local Human Rights Ordinances that do proscribe discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. A number of city councils around the state promptly added those protections to their Ordinances, which was gratifying.

The problem, as the research points out, is twofold: municipal ordinances in Indiana don’t have much in the way of “teeth.” They are more symbolic than legally effective. Worse, for LGBTQ folks who don’t live in one of those municipalities, there are no protections at all.

The result: Only 36% of Indiana’s workforce is covered by local non-discrimination laws or executive orders that prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. And that discrimination occurs with depressing regularity.

– In response to the National Transgender Discrimination Survey, 75 percent of respondents from Indiana reported experiencing harassment or mistreatment at work, 30 percent reported losing a job, 21 percent reported being denied a promotion, and 48% reported not being hired because of their gender identity or expression at some point in their lives.

– Several recent instances of employment discrimination against LGBT people in Indiana have been documented in court cases and administrative complaints, including reports from public and private sector workers.

– Census data show that in Indiana, the median income of men in same-sex couples is 34 percent lower than that of men married to different-sex partners.

– Aggregated data from two large public opinion polls found that 79 percent of Indiana residents think that LGBT people experience a moderate amount to a lot of discrimination in the state.

Four little words. Why is that so hard?

Today, at the parade and the event itself, the community and its allies will celebrate the progress that has been made.

Monday morning,  opponents of bigotry need to go back to work.


Better Gay Than Grumpy

This slogan from a Pride event sign reminded me of an old Andy Rooney commentary in which he really summed up the problem with the country’s culture warriors.  “I don’t know who’s right and who’s wrong,”Rooney said, “but I do know who I’d rather invite over to dinner.”

I thought about Rooney’s observation yesterday, when I attended Indianapolis’ Gay Rights Parade. It was a huge affair–a far cry from the very first one, which I also attended, and which consisted of perhaps six floats and an audience of a few hundred. Over the years, the parade and audience have grown dramatically, and yesterday there were thousands of people cheering what seemed like hundreds of floats.

What struck me about the crowd–both those marching, and those crowded onto the sidewalks lining the route–was its diversity and good humor. There were young people and old, black and white, gay and straight. There were parents pushing strollers and people sporting tattoos, buttoned-down preppies and female impersonators. I saw colleagues from the University and waiters from local watering holes. Everyone seemed to be having a great time.

In a pleasant departure from previous years, the grumpy culture warriors didn’t send representatives with signs warning of eternal damnation (at least I didn’t see any), but they had issued their usual dark warnings about moral depravity and the End of Western Civilization as We Know It, accompanied by sour descriptions of the “debauchery” sure to be on display in what they characterized as a celebration of “deviance” and sin.

As usual, they were wrong. What was actually being celebrated was love, inclusion and human equality.

From the elderly Veterans for Equal Rights, to the numerous churches participating (this year, I think the United Methodists and the Episcopalians outnumbered the Unitarians, and there were at least two United Church of Christ congregations represented), to the banks and businesses and neighborhood associations, the message was clear: we value all our fellow citizens.

All three political parties were represented. Indianapolis Mayor Ballard, a Republican, was Grand Marshall. Joe Hogsett, the Democratic candidate for Mayor, walked with a large group of supporters, and Chuck Brewer, his Republican opponent, had a contingent. Bill Levin, who recently established the “Church of Cannabis,” rode atop the Libertarian Party’s large float, and a number of other politicians–from City-County Council candidates to Congressman Andre Carson–were prominent.

The impressive list of parade participants aside, it was a grand party. Everywhere I looked, people were smiling, hugging, cheering…just having a great time on a sunny day with lots of other people who had come to support their neighbors and friends and to promote lovingkindness and civil equality.

Given a choice between the judgmental scolds thundering about (their constipated version of ) Godliness and Righteousness, and the people at the parade, I think I know who most of us would prefer to invite to dinner.