Celebrating Pride in a Red State

June 30, 2023

By Neon Liebson

Pride month exists as a duality: it is both a month of celebration, joy, and pride and also a month of anger and grief. Pride commemorates the Stonewall riots, one of the foundations for the LGBTQ+ rights movement, and is a time for us to reflect on our history of resistance, justice, and fight for liberation. On the other hand, commodification of Pride Month by corporations, paired with the increase of violence and anti-LGBTQIA+ legislation, makes this month particularly difficult to LGBTQ+ peoples. 

One thing that frustrates me during Pride Month is rainbow capitalism, the practice and ideology of profiting off of LGBTQ+ symbols and representation to demonstrate that a corporation “values” LGBTQ+ equality. This can be seen through businesses and corporations changing their logos to rainbows during Pride, putting up flags on their doors, and issuing statements of their support for LGBTQ+ lives with the absence of implementing any of their so-called values. This not only commodifies Pride as a product, but it is also often used to hide companies’ true practices and actions.

For example, AT&T, Johnson & Johnson, Microsoft, Toyota, and Target have donated hundreds to thousands of dollars to support anti-LGBTQ+ politicians and legislative initiatives. This includes numerous pieces of legislation including “Don’t Say Gay” bills, anti-trans health care bills, and anti-drag bills. Ron DeSantis, the Governor of Florida who signed a record number of discriminatory, anti-LGBTQ+ bills into law, received over $270,000 from corporations including AT&T, Walt Disney, and Amazon – all of whom all display rainbow logos during Pride. Politicians like Governor De Santis don’t stop with anti-LGBTQ+ legislation: they push for legislation disproportionally targeting people of color, as well as disabled and working class people. In addition to the anti-LGBTQ+ legislation he signed, he has also severely restricted AP African American studies from being taught in public schools, Chinese Americans from obtaining property ownership, and strived to ban diversity equity and inclusion initiatives. Companies often displaying performative allyship while actively funding government officials that take away peoples rights.

As a trans, Jewish youth living in St.Louis, Missouri, legislation like this has been especially harmful to my community and many other LGBTQ+ people living in red states like me. St. Louis is my home; I know almost every cafe downtown, the Arch, Busch Stadium, and the fluorescent Botanical Gardens, to name just a few. I love my city and my state. However, Missouri is also known for introducing the most anti-trans legislation this year, including healthcare bans, athletic bans, and classroom censorship education. Two of these bills were passed, SB39 and SB49, which ban trans youth from receiving gender affirming healthcare and from participating in sports. In response, we Jewish and queer people have flooded our capital during hearings, marching on the streets, and protesting on our very steps. Personally, I have missed multiple days of classes, exams, and time with my friends to go to the capital to protest, lobby, and testify. My nights have been spent calling and emailing politicians, meeting with human rights activists, and marching on the streets. Nonetheless, I do not regret my advocacy because I have formed deep connections with my community and found a grounded love for humanity.

The harm exists not only in the legislation that is introduced and passed, but also the message that it sends: that LGBTQ+ people must be silenced and erased in our classrooms, streets, and offices. The politicians responsible for these laws are trying to morally wipe out our nonconforming neshamot (spirits) until  we lose hope. However, they don’t know our resilience: when our hearts and minds are committed to liberation, we will never give up.

I am often asked as to why I don’t just move to another state and ignore what is going on here. The answer is that this is my home. Many of us don’t want to move or have the resources and networks to do so. Relocating to a different state works for some people, but in my perspective, it’s putting a bandage on the problem.nNo one should have to leave their state and homes to live freely. I have often felt more welcomed and comfortable in red states than anywhere else. I love creole and cajun food in Louisiana, the civil rights history and activists in Alabama and Mississippi, and the soft beaches of Florida. I love the warm southern hospitality,accountability, and community care found within these places. While red states might have the most bigoted laws passed, we are also home to strong community support and some of the most strong and fierce activists fighting within them.

Trans people need your help, especially those of us residing in red states. Every person’s advocacy looks different. One can: contact government officials, give mutual aid, rally and protest on the streets, and, most importantly, practice community care.. Prioritize marginalized voices within the LGBTQ+ community and our role in the fight for queer liberation. Study our history from the Stonewall riots and the AIDs epidemic to the Pulse shooting. Never forget who we are and our ancestors before us. Reach out to your elected officials to demand they vote against laws that harm us and that they support laws that honor us. Let your Jewish values guide you from tikkun olam (repairing the world), to tzedek (justice). Learn about the history of people outside your identities and join in solidarity with others. In Pride month and all year long educate, elevate, and celebrate LGBTQ+ voices. This year, embrace the true spirit of Pride in community, lean on our traditions, and spread awareness and fight against rainbow capitalism. Together, we will fight for an olam chesed yibaneh, a world built from lovingkindness.

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