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Pride and Prejudice: Returning to Our Roots in Wake of Anti-LGBTQ Ruling

As a far right Supreme Court attempts to steal the joy of Pride, we are inspired by the history of LGBTQ+ organizing.

Organizers of Pride Without Prejudice lead crowds in Boystown on June 28, 2020, in Chicago, Illinois.

This past Pride month started off like any other for me, with celebrations, advocacy events and parades. However, on the last day of Pride month, the Supreme Court delivered a devastating blow to LGBTQ+ rights, with its ruling on 303 Creative v. Elenis. To me, it felt like this ruling was stealing the joy and resistance LGBTQ+ folks harnessed and celebrated all month long. I was overwhelmed with grief, fear and anger. My right to receive services from businesses has been compromised, and I brace myself for even more discrimination due to the ruling.

In 303 Creative v. Elenis, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of a Christian web designer who sued on the basis of the First Amendment. Her lawyers argued that she shouldn’t be faced with violations of Colorado’s anti-discrimination laws if she refused to create a website for an LGBTQ+ wedding. The court agreed that web design service is a form of creative expression and she couldn’t be compelled to create messaging that she disagreed with.

I was perplexed to learn that there wasn’t a real gay couple that approached her for the services. The plaintiff’s claims were all hypothetical. As I read through news articles on the case, my jaw dropped when I realized that there were no actual Queer people even involved in the case. Just the fear and hatred of LGBTQ+ people were enough to justify her claim. As the Court supports this hypothetical right for free speech, millions of LGBTQ+ people in conservative states have their freedom of expression stripped by anti-LGBT+ laws.

This case is technically a First Amendment case and should only cover services that are tied to personal expression, but in reality, it is a Trojan horse. The conservative court failed to specify what services would be covered under creative expression, opening the door to a broad interpretation. The court through this ruling has legitimized discrimination against LGBTQ+ customers. This also has wider implications for other protected classes because this ruling chips away at the 14th Amendment. Equal protection under the law is enshrined in the Constitution, but the Supreme Court undermines this protection through allowing refusal of services deemed as “creative expression.” This rationale for “creative expression” could allow some public accommodations to deny services due to one’s race, religion or gender in the future.

Even if a service isn’t covered under “creative expression,” I doubt the millions of LGBTQ+ people in the U.S. will have the time, money and energy to sue after every single infraction. For bigots who hear this ruling, it is carte blanche to violate LGBTQ+ civil rights. The technicalities of this court case don’t matter in the face of everyday discrimination, with many situations going unchallenged.

The weight of this ruling was deeply disappointing, as I considered the implications to my everyday life. After witnessing conservative states produce draconian laws that limit LGBTQ+ freedoms, I had some small solace in knowing that I lived in a progressive city. Even this small veil of protection feels violated, as any business can use this ruling as a pretext to deny me services.

In the wake of the legalization and strong public approval of same-sex marriage, many of us hoped our future would be more parties and parades rather than protest and demonstrations.

Yet, even as the Supreme Court attempts to steal the joy of Pride, LGBTQ+ communities are finding ways to celebrate and protect their rights as we always have throughout history. I honor the brave Queer activists that have come before me, as I call upon their spirit to propel my community forward.

While confronting the changing legal landscape, LGBTQ+ people are devastated but not defeated. Pride month had its fair share of parties and parades, but no shortage of protest and marches. One of my favorite pride events is the Dyke March, which positions itself as a place for joy and resistance. In many ways, that is the legacy of the LGBTQ+ rights movement: celebration and joy mixed with tenacity and political advocacy. It is that spirit that many LGBTQ+ advocates are tapping into as we fight for our rights.

The Pride parades we cherish and love all began as a protest. When I remember that LGBTQ+ people simply convening in a place was once outlawed, the connection between our celebration and protest becomes clear. The now iconic Stonewall Riots started at a gay club where patrons tried to find joy and community. After harsh police oppression, a riot broke out, which we commemorate with the Pride parade. In the wake of the legalization and strong public approval of same-sex marriage, many of us hoped our future would be more parties and parades rather than protest and demonstrations.

However, this critical time of struggling to maintain our rights is a stark reminder of how deeply connected our parades and protest are. Across conservative states where attempts to ban drag and LGBTQ+ creative expression are being debated, annual Pride parades and parties become protests. Even in more progressive states, the Supreme Court decision reminds us that geography isn’t enough to protect us. In these moments, we recall our history. LGBTQ+ people won rights through tenacious organizing, persistent protest and advocacy. Organizations that emerged in the 1970s and 1980s like S.T.A.R (Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries) and ACT UP took various paths to defend the rights of LGBTQ+ across the country. S.T.A.R. worked with the most marginalized communities, providing resources to queer and trans homeless youth and sex workers. During the AIDS crisis, ACT UP shocked the country on many occasions, like when the group besieged the FDA or when they wrapped a conservative politician’s home with a condom.

As a beneficiary of those rights that were gained through struggle, I owe it to my predecessors to continue the fight to maintain them. This year’s Pride ended with the bitter note of the Supreme Court decision, but I find solace in the sweetness of building solidarity and action. I’m excited to witness the ways my community continues to harness love, joy and determination in the defense of our rights in this country. The party and protest are far from over.

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