Op-Ed: The real reason we’re being told to hate Pride

Op-Ed: The real reason we’re being told to hate Pride

Photo: Getty Images/ Paul Mansfield photography

By Gwen Frisbie-Fulton

June 12, 2024

From Sylva to Wilson, from Boone to Shelby, small towns across North Carolina are celebrating Pride – turning small parks and main streets into brightly colored, swirling places of laughter and energy. 

There is something distinctly charming about a small-town Pride festival, less commercialized than those in big cities. Like all parades and community events in our small towns, there’s something more organic and homegrown, with small local businesses, families, and church groups organizing to create wonderment together. 

I’ve eaten a rainbow-shaped sugar cookie from a bakery in Elkin so buttery that it melted in my mouth; I’ve helped a young child reattach their glittery fairy wings before prancing off after a parade around a barn in Pittsboro; I’ve listened to a sermon in Kinston where the pastor told us we are all designed to love one another, no exceptions.

To some, these rainbow-drenched barbecues, festivals, dance parties, and church services may feel new. That doesn’t mean gay and lesbian and trans folks haven’t been here all along.

An estimated three million or more LGBTQ+ call rural America home; they were born here, build their families here, and run businesses here. Growing up, my dentist in rural Virginia was gay, my middle school math teacher was lesbian, my great-aunt was trans. Queerness is as old as humankind— so why are some people acting so surprised it’s here? 

Pride has been celebrated in the United States and North Carolina for decades now, but it’s meeting new resistance. Nationally, anti-LGBTQ demonstrations and violence are dramatically rising. There were only 15 documented anti-LGBTQ demonstrations in 2020 rising to 61 in 2021, 169 in 2022, and 215 in 2023, according to the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project

In North Carolina, this has looked like extremist groups such as the Proud Boys showing up to disrupt a family storytime in Wilmington and neo-Nazis showing up to protest drag queens in Sanford. For a country that prides itself on freedom and progress, where does this backlash come from– and why now?

This emboldened and explicit hate goes hand in hand with the recent anti-LGBTQ legislation being pushed at the state level. In many states, lawmakers have introduced bills that would prevent transgender children from participating in sports and from seeking gender-affirming medical care.  As Pride month started this year, the ACLU was tracking over 500 anti-LGBTQ bills across the nation, including 6 in North Carolina.

Even when they don’t pass, introducing this legislation and adding them to public discourse alone is harmful. They feed false narratives about “groomers” and “indoctrination,” and imply that it is normal to legislate and control each others’ identities, choices and lives in both private and public spaces. 

All of this casts a dark cloud over otherwise sunny and festive Pride celebrations. There has been backlash against the queer community before, both with oppressive legislation and violence, but nothing at this level of political coordination and strategy. So, again, nearly 10 years after marriage equality became the law of our land and as more Americans than ever join in Pride celebrations, why is this happening now? 

The answer is as old as time: divide and conquer. Instead of appealing to our greater selves and bringing solutions to any of the real pressing issues of the day, some politicians are forever looking for ways to keep us apart, so we don’t vote together. With election margins razor thin in places like North Carolina, many have given up on trying to persuade voters to their side and have resorted to rallying voters against each other. 

Politicians rarely bully someone their own size. The queer community is an easy target, with only 7% of adults in the United States identifying as LGBTQ. The trans community is an even easier target, as while 70% of Americans say they know someone who is gay, only one in five say they know someone who is trans, and they make up an estimated 1.7% of the population

The truth is, these communities are being singled out as politically advantageous boogeymen. 

How these politics of division play out in November is yet to be seen, but right now I’m glad to see small towns all across North Carolina pull out their bubble machines and rainbow tutus and turn up the music to play a little joy. Pride celebrations represent and benefit all of us in North Carolina, the state where we want everyone to call home. 

Gwen Frisbie-Fulton is the communications director at Down Home North Carolina, which organizes with working-class people in rural communities across the state. This column is syndicated by Beacon Media,  please contact [email protected] with feedback or questions.


  • Gwen Frisbie-Fulton

    Gwen Frisbie-Fulton is the communications director at Down Home North Carolina, which organizes with working-class people in rural communities across the state. This column is syndicated by Beacon Media, please contact [email protected] with feedback or questions.

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