Aiden Jay Kaplan, LGBTQ services manager of Pride for Youth.

Aiden Jay Kaplan, LGBTQ services manager of Pride for Youth. Credit: Reece T. Williams

Pride Month is typically a time for celebration, where the LGBTQ community can proclaim their individuality without fear of discrimination.

But new laws across the country are targeting gay and transgender youth, and there is growing uncertainty about the potential impact of the pending U.S. Supreme Court Roe v. Wade ruling, and what it could mean for same-sex marriage. Those issues, LGTBQ leaders say, make it important that Pride Month, which starts June 1, is also an opportunity to ensure the movement does not stall its momentum.

“It’s certainly a time for caution, if not alarm bells ringing in front of us,” said David Kilmnick, president and chairman of the LGBT Network in Hauppauge. “It’s time for us to wake up and get our stuff together and organize for the long haul. We have to do more than just go out and protest. We have to be smart and strategize, and make sure that those who support equality for all are the ones making the decisions.”

In recent months, Florida passed legislation — referred to by opponents as “Don’t Say Gay” — prohibiting teachers from discussing gender identity or sexual orientation with students. Several other states followed suit or are planning similar bills.

A bevy of other bills across the country would limit the ability of transgender individuals to play sports, use bathrooms corresponding with their gender identity and receive gender-affirming medical care.

Meanwhile, some LGBTQ advocates fear that if the Supreme Court strikes down abortion rights, as was indicated in a leaked opinion, other fundamental “privacy rights,” such as gay marriage and rights to contraception, could be struck down next.

Aiden Kaplan, LGBTQ services manager for Pride for Youth in Bellmore, said the potential reversal of Roe v. Wade could have cascading implications.

“It has the potential to take the progress that has been achieved for LGBTQ rights back decades,” Kaplan said. “In moments like this … we try to remind the community that organizations like PFI are still around and safe spaces are still around. That there is affirmation and support that exist on Long Island and throughout the country.”

Other advocates believe New York State, where Democrats control the governor’s mansion and both chambers of the State Legislature, is unlikely to see sweeping reversals of LGBTQ rights any time soon. 

“We’re insulated but I would always say that with a little asterisk and concern that things can change,” said Juli Grey-Owens, executive director of Gender Equality New York in Huntington Station, citing upcoming statewide elections. “ … While New York State has a healthy respect for the LGBT community, that’s not necessarily the case in other states. And if you go on a road trip or go to visit family, you run into other issues in different places.”

Even in New York, discrimination and bullying, particularly of gay and transgender youth, remains a concern, Kilmnick said.

Hate crimes, he said, are on the rise and several Long Island local school board candidates were critical of discussion of gender identity issues in the classroom, albeit largely in losing races.

“There's been a rise in reports to us of people with threats at their homes or of damage if they put out pride symbols,” Kilmnick said. “It’s the world that we’re living in today. It’s not something we should sit back and just accept.”

While the mood remains tense, advocates insist that Pride Month should also serve as a chance to joyfully mark the movement’s progress. The annual Long Island Pride celebration, for example, will be held for the first time in downtown Farmingdale on June 12 and features a parade, a concert and festival.

“We need to remember why Pride started. Pride was a riot. Pride was a protest. And Pride continues to be that,” Kaplan said. “But Pride also continues to be a celebration. And a space where LGBTQ folks, who don’t feel affirmed anywhere else in their life, or who just need an opportunity to not focus on the discrimination and hardships for one day, get an opportunity to go out and celebrate their identities and celebrate with people who are going to stand with them and support their rights.”

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