Moments before New York City’s 53rd annual Pride March began on Sunday, Governor Kathy Hochul signed legislation that supports transgender youth by protecting their access to gender-affirming healthcare.
“Today we celebrate the values that define us as New Yorkers: we embrace love and equality, progress and acceptance, unity and celebration,” Ms Hochul said.
Part of the legislation is a new law that will make New York a “safe haven” for trans youth, their families and doctors by preventing the state from enacting laws that punish people for seeking gender-affirming healthcare.
It comes at a time when at least 19 other states have enacted laws or policies banning affirming healthcare for young trans people and nearly 500 bills have been introduced impacting the LGBT+ community.
“We leave here recommitted in our quest for justice and equality for all, and we’ll always be that beacon to the rest of the nation on how to do it right. Because from Seneca Falls to Stonewall, we have stood up for people from the very beginning and let’s continue it,” Ms Hochul said.
As Ms Hochul signed the legislation, the Pride March kicked off with rainbow confetti and thousands of cheers from people lined up on Fifth Avenue in celebration of the LGBT+ community.
Every year, the nonprofit organisation Heritage of Pride produces the world-famous march to commemorate the Stonewall Riots of 1969 – which they define as the “beginning of the modern Gay Rights movement.”
Actor and LGBT+ activist Billy Porter told The Independent that the Pride March means “everything” to him.
“It’s a protest, it’s a march,” Mr Porter said.
The Grammy- and Tony-award-winning actor served as a grand marshall in this year’s parade and stood alongside Ms Hochul as she signed the legislation.
Mr Porter added: “We got work to do.”
The nation’s largest Pride event follows a volatile, record-breaking year of legislative threats to LGBT+ people and a wave of reports of harassment and violent threats targeting LGBT+ communities.
Protests and acts of violence against drag performers and drag events incited by homophobic and transphobic abuse have surged over the last year, with a marked increase in online rhetoric against LGBT+ people fuelling offline threats, according to a report published this week by the extremism watchdogs at Institute for Strategic Dialogue
A separate report this week from the Anti-Defamation League and GLAAD documented more than 350 acts of harassment, vandalism and violence against LGBT+ people and events from June 2022 through April 2023. More than half of such threats have explicitly referred to gay and trans people as pedophiles and “groomers”, invoking the long-running homophobic and transphobic smear.
In New York, a gay bar’s windows were smashed with bricks several times within a month last year.
The home and office of New York City Council member Erik Bottcher, who is gay, were vandalised after his support for a drag queen story hour at a local library.
The Stonewall Inn, which sits in Mr Bottcher’s district, was repeatedly vandalised in recent weeks. Pride flags outside the bar were also broken in half.
The threats and violence follow legislative sessions in state capitols across the country, where hundreds of bills aimed at LGBT+ people – particularly young trans people – have been filed within the last few years, as Republican lawmakers wield anti-trans rhetoric that dominates GOP platforms heading into 2024 elections.
In addition to the “safe haven” law Ms Hochul signed on Sunday, one piece of legislation will give individuals the right to receive tailored addiction treatment based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Another law updated language in legislation to include gender-neutral pronouns.
Multiple New York lawmakers and officials made an appearance at this year’s Pride March, standing in solidarity with the community.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer marched while periodically yelling out, “I passed the marriage equality act as majority leader and now my daughter and her wife can live in peace” and “I was the first senator to march in this parade but I am not the last.”
Other notable marchers included Senator Kristen Gillibrand, Attorney General Letitia James, Mayor Eric Adams, Manhattan Borough president Mark D Levine and Queens borough president Donovan Richards Jr.
For many, the Pride March is an opportunity to celebrate their identity and be free while paying homage to the activists who fought for equal rights.
Ana Del Campo, a musician in the Queer Big Apple Corps marching band for 19 years, told The Independent that Pride is a chance to be visible.
“To be out to show visibility to show that we are like everybody else,” Ms Del Campo said.
In more recent years the Pride March has become commercialised with some major corporations like Disney, Chase, Coca-Cola and others contributing floats and merchandise.
Some advocates have confronted the role of corporations in Pride events in an increasingly hostile environment for LGBT+ people that companies appear to be reluctant to stand up against.
On Sunday, Starbucks workers in New York joined nationwide strikes among the coffee giant’s unionised stores after the union alleged Pride decorations were removed and prohibited from stores in at least 21 states.
Striking workers marched along the corporate-sponsored Pride float in New York’s parade and picketed the heavily trafficked Astor Place location in the West Village.
“It is important for Starbucks to remember that the LGBTQ+ community makes up a large part of their workforce and happens to a majority of those leading union efforts nationwide,” Astor Place Starbucks worker Jackie Zhou said in a statement shared with The Independent.
“On top of this, we are striking for a contract which encompasses protections not only for the LGBTQ+ community but for everyone.”
Alex Woodward contributed to this report.
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