This Pride season, leaning into compassion will drown out the noise

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From front porches and local shops to government buildings and national ad campaigns, everything (including this special Pride issue of the Phoenix) is emblazoned with big, gaudy rainbows to commemorate Pride month. People and businesses are flaunting their support for the LGBTQ community, proving that decades of social and political advocacy are finally taking hold. 

But even in this moment of great support, we must not rest on our laurels.  

Teddy Poulin Burrage

Unfortunately, all the loving messages of fairness and equality make bigots lash out. For example, the famously anti-intellectual Kid Rock recently mowed down a case of Bud Light with an assault-style rifle in his backyard and posted it on Twitter after the beer company announced a new can which featured the face of Dylan Mulvaney, a trans social media influencer. Just weeks ago, Target removed Pride items from their shelves because, according to them, they received violent threats. 

In recent months, political opponents of LGBTQ rights have attempted to retaliate against the widespread support by advancing draconian policy proposals in more than 20 states. Going after everything from gender-affirming medical care and the use of personal pronouns, these initiatives disproportionately target trans and nonbinary folks, often using drag performers as scapegoats. Fortunately, though, the LGBTQ community is a force to be reckoned with when it comes to fighting back against government oppression.

Many cisgender people (maliciously or otherwise) conflate theatrical drag performance with folks simply embracing their gender identity in daily life. To be clear: drag is a sparkling amalgamation of art, politics, and theater performed by folks of any gender, usually on stage, for money. Being transgender, on the other hand, is a normal, everyday, common experience where someone’s true gender is outside of the one assigned to them at birth. 

Unfortunately, because some people deliberately misunderstand the experience of others, laws that seek to regulate and ban drag performers will not only seek to quash LGBTQ spaces, but they will also become tools to further marginalize trans folks by making it lawful to try and match people’s clothes with their birth certificates.

What’s even more insidious is that the champions of these absurd policies cite the safety and innocence of children as their motivation, once again framing members of the LGBTQ community as predators. Even allies are now being called “groomers” for just acknowledging that we exist.   

Touting the protection of children is a convenient tool when it comes to drumming up political support for half-baked ideas. Sadly, these types of lies not only put LGBTQ people in harm’s way, but they also distort the true sources of harm to children. 

Ninety-three percent of sexual abuse against children happens in private places at the hands of people like coaches, parents, caretakers and other people known to them. A quick glance at your local sex offender registry will reveal the real face of child sexual abuse. Drag Story Hour at the local library is perhaps one of the safest places for children when it comes to this particular threat.

A few months ago, Alok Vaid-Menon, a well-known gender-nonconforming writer and performance artist recently discussed what they call a dissonance in society regarding sexual and gender identity. When it comes to gender identity and sexuality, they say, society is focused too much on comprehension rather than leaning into compassion. In other words, people get too caught up wondering why or how someone is trans or gay rather than trusting and supporting those who proclaim their identity. 

It should be enough to know that approximately 40 percent of homeless youth identify as LGBTQ or that LGBTQ hate crimes have tripled since 2021 or that trans people are at an exponentially higher risk of being murdered just because of who they are. It should be enough to know that LGBTQ people are humans who are subject to violence. There is no requirement to have the analytical skills of a Gender Studies professor to say that LGBTQ people have a right to exist.  

With the first recorded resistance to queer oppression occurring in 1888 after police raided a drag ball in Washington, D.C., the LGBTQ community has well over a century of experience of activist liberation work under its belt. From throwing bricks at the Stonewall Inn, to die-ins during the AIDS epidemic, to knocking on doors and lobbying government over marriage equality, LGBTQ people have always led with love and won many political victories.  

As we go into Pride month, and face these bizarre threats from hateful people, it’s important to remember to lean into compassion and know that we always win in the end. Happy Pride, everyone! 

Teddy Poulin Burrage is a local community organizer who has been active in Portland’s LGBTQ community for the last decade. He currently lives in the West End with his husband Jason. Teddy encourages you to always lean into compassion and get into good trouble!

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