By Steven Monacelli

On June 24, 1972, a few hundred people marched through the streets of Dallas for the first gay Pride parade in the entire state of Texas. They carried signs that read things like “Someone You Love is Gay” and “Tired of Hiding, Want To Be Free.” This was a bold statement. At the time, it was common for newspapers to publish the names of people arrested during police raids on gay bars, effectively outing them in an era when that could result in job loss and other serious social consequences.

These days, the police are more likely to protect the LGBTQ community than side with hateful people who cast aspersions on those they don’t understand. The news is more likely to publish the names of bigots, too. Such was the case for members of Patriot Front, a neo-Nazi group with roots in Texas, whose identities were published after they were arrested in Idaho on their way to a LGBTQ Pride event — where they appeared poised to commit violence. Things certainly have changed since 1972.

Today, the LGBTQ community is considered a cornerstone of Dallas. Pride has grown into an entire slate of events that celebrates the LGBTQ community and the impact they’ve had on our culture. Inclusivity and tolerance has become the norm through the efforts of activists and allies.

But in recent years, a reactionary tide has been building, and has exploded into open antagonism against the LGBTQ community. According to the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project, “Anti-LGBT+ mobilization increased by over four times from 2020 to 2021…Incidents of political violence targeting the LGBT+ community this year have already exceeded the total number of attacks reported last year.”

There are some anti-LGBTQ extremists who would have you believe that the LGBTQ community and its allies are pedophiles trying to “groom” children. That anyone who participates in a Pride event should be “rounded up.” Some of them openly identify as Christian Fascists, much to the displeasure of more inclusive minded Christians. The rhetoric has reached a fever pitch that’s more than likely to incite violence and harassment. In some instances, it already has.

On June 5, a protest including a group of far right wing extremists were drawn to a family-friendly drag show in the Cedar Springs neighborhood of Dallas. Outside, they hurled slurs at attendees and harassed performers. One protester was caught on video fantasizing about taking away LGBTQ rights and suggesting police should raid gay bars and shoot LGBTQ people in the head. Police reports of terroristic threats against the event location were filed that day, per public records.

On June 12, another protest — including some of the same attendees from the Cedar Springs incident — gathered outside a Disney themed 21+ drag brunch in Arlington, Texas. Members of the fascistic Proud Boys street gang, extremist militia members, and white supremacist YouTubers were caught on camera surrounding and harassing people who had come to support the event. One of the protesters threatened violence amid a flurry of homophobic slurs.

These flashpoints are deeply unsettling and  represent a reactionary backlash to the gains the LGTBQ community has made in terms of basic civil rights, dignity, and recognition. They also represent an escalation from hateful but more mundane incidents, like the recent vandalizing of a Pride flag at Kessler Park United Methodist Church in Dallas. When flags are torn down by vandals, they can be replaced. That’s exactly what happened.

In an open letter to the vandal, Minister Eric Folkerth wrote the following.

“We believe, with Jesus, that we are called to love and welcome all our neighbors. That means the LGBTQ community…and it also means YOU. (Which is why our sign says “All Are Welcome.”) Especially among young people, that sign and pride flag is a symbol of our embodied welcome to all God’s children. So, please know that while the flag had now been vandalized 4-5 times (maybe by you? maybe by a series of vandals?) we have an endless supply ready to replace them.”

Human lives, on the other hand, are not so replaceable. In labeling LGTBQ people and their allies as “groomers,” hateful extremists are playing with fire. In Baltimore, an arsonist ignited Pride flags on the porch of a home and sent three people to the hospital. The victims have recovered, but an investigation into the likely hate crime continues.

In Dallas, it’s up to all of us to send a message of tolerance, lest the intolerant run roughshod over someone you love. And asking our LGTBQ community to compromise with people who would have them harmed is to ask them to hide who they are, instead of helping them be free.