Within the last year, the LGBTQ+ community has seen multiple attacks against their civil rights across the country, like attempted drag show bans and influential Supreme Court cases. With Pride Month in full swing, Gen Zers have been finding different ways to celebrate this year despite their growing fears.
In six months, there have been more than 520 anti-LGBTQ+ bills introduced in state legislatures, and more than 220 bills that target transgender and nonbinary people; both of these statistics are records, according to the Human Rights Campaign.
I spoke with Gen Zers from Kansas, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Flordia to learn more about how the rollbacks of LGBTQ+ rights are affecting their perception of Pride Month, and how they’ve changed their celebrations.
In Floria, LGBTQ+ Gen Zers are facing barriers to accessing gender-affirming care.
Recently, Florida has been one of the leaders in abolishing LGBTQ+ rights, helping influence this year’s theme of rage and resilience. While legislatures may say they’re promoting these bills to protect children, they are still putting LGBTQ+ people in a negative spotlight, and therefore putting them in danger, says Ness Cruz, a junior at Florida International University.
It’s always been a protest.Ness Cruz, junior at Florida International University
“That spews decades and generations of bigotry and it’s focusing all of that negative energy on to one marginalized group,” Cruz says. “It’s always been a protest.”
Gen Z is being directly affected by some of the legislation targeting the LGBTQ+ community in Florida. For example, SB 254 prohibits Medicare from covering gender-affirming care for transgender youth or adults. It also forbids public funds, like that of a public university or Medicare, from being used to provide benefits that include gender-affirming care for people of all ages.
Cruz was directly affected by SB 254 and their personal hormone treatment was put on pause. “I couldn’t get the materials I needed to access to be able to adequately distribute it to myself,” Cruz says. “I’m taking [hormones] because they’re making me come into me in a way that improves my mental health, and improves my physical health.”
While the tone of Pride in South Florida has typically been a form of celebration there are still tangible ways for people to help make changes and to show up for the community year-round, Cruz added. To get involved, look to organizations like Save LGBTQ or PRISM.
In Kansas, LGBTQ+ Gen Zers have a new sense of fear surrounding Pride celebrations.
Throughout the year, Kansas has implemented some of the most restrictive bans, like SB 180, banning people who were born without the ability to produce eggs for reproduction from using women’s restrooms, locker rooms, and other gender-specific areas, the Kansas Reflector reported.
In all honesty, this is the first time I’ve actually been a little worried this Pride Month.Lane Rozin, junior at the University of Kansas
Despite the ongoing rollback of LGBTQ+ rights in Kansas, Lane Rozin is also marking this year as the first time he’s celebrating Pride while also feeling comfortable in his own body after getting top surgery in August 2022, he says.
“This year is just an emotional time for me because it’s the first time that I can be in my body and be perceived the way that I am,” says Rozin. “In all honesty, this is the first time I’ve actually been a little worried this Pride Month.”
Although Rozin feels comfortable expressing himself in Lawrence, where Kansas University is located, there is still a strong sense of unease for other Gen Zers celebrating Pride in Kansas.
“While a lot of it’s still continuing as normal, there’s just kind of this sense of fear, at least for me, about the future and what could happen,” says Klaudia Manis, a sophomore at the Univeristy of Kansas.
It’s just as a queer person, you kind of have to do that sometimes — to understand, like, ‘Am I safe right now?’Klaudia Manis, sophomore at the Univeristy of Kansas
Manis’ fear isn’t overexaggerated as transgender adults have reported experiencing widespread discrimination and harassment, with 25% reporting they’ve been physically attacked, according to a March 2023 survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation.
“It’s just as a queer person, you kind of have to do that sometimes — to understand, like, ‘Am I safe right now?’” Manis says.
In Virginia, college organizations and student leaders are all that the LGBTQ+ community has.
Virginia’s General Assembly saw 12 anti-transgender bills last session, the Washingtonian reported. Although none of them passed, it marked the continuance of anti-LGBTQ+ laws across the country.
Despite none of these bills passing, Virginia Tech students have felt the effects of them being introduced.
“We’ve been called slurs on campus, we’ve had problems in the past,” says Ary Zullo, a graduate student at Virginia Tech. “I’m more cautious than I think I was before, I used to be way more comfortable.”
I feel as though I am in a state where the state legislation is actively tumbling away from my best interests, and there’s basically nothing I can do about it.Sylvia Bennett, senior at Virginia Tech
Although Virginia voted for Biden in the 2020 election, it’s a swing state with Glenn Youngkin, a Republican, as its governor, according to Wisevoter. With the state currently leaning toward the right, students in the area are grappling with the fact that they may have to be the ones providing an LGBTQ+ community.
“I feel as though I am in a state where the state legislation is actively tumbling away from my best interests, and there’s basically nothing I can do about it,” says Sylvia Bennett, senior at Virginia Tech. “There’s sort of the realization that the queer communities at Virginia Tech service, the local area, is a big burden that we have to deal with as student organizations — it’s more than we should have to deal with.”
What I’m hopeful for is being able to be the voice for people who are either shy or in a position where they can’t raise their voice.Mia Jimenez, student at Virginia Tech
Although student leaders at Virginia Tech are weary of this responsibility to be one of the only safe spaces, some like Mia Jimenez are looking forward to being a leader for incoming queer freshmen.
“What I’m hopeful for is being able to be the voice for people who are either shy or in a position where they can’t raise their voice,” Jimenez says. “And I would like to be able to hear them out and advocate for them, and just give them support when they need it.”
In Pennsylvania, LGBTQ+ Gen Zers feel the fears of their friends in more conservative states.
Unlike many other states, Pennsylvania has actually taken strides in protecting the rights of the LGBTQ+ community. For example, a bill that would make it illegal to discriminate against LGBTQ+ people in housing, workplaces, and public services passed in the Pennsylvania state House of Representatives in May, AP News reported.
I’ve been out now since I’ve been 15 years old, and I don’t think there’s ever been a year like this, where I’ve really feared for my rights in the way that I have in the past.Vivian Charlap, 2023 Temple University alum
Although the community’s rights are being protected in Pennsylvania, it’s still hard for Vivian Charlap to see the rights of their friends being taken away in states with a more conservative majority.
“I’ve been out now since I’ve been 15 years old, and I don’t think there’s ever been a year like this, where I’ve really feared for my rights in the way that I have in the past,” says Vivian Charlap, 2023 Temple University alum. “It doesn’t disclude the fact that I’m really hurting for the people that I love, and while I can go get validation, they aren’t getting that same care.”
Despite Pride taking on a more solemn tone this year, organizations in cities like Philadelphia still have multiple organizations that bring together the LGBTQ+ community and prevent isolation.
“I think it’s so great that there are services such as Bebashi, where there are people to listen and be able to support, have support groups, have gender-affirming care, even food security for people with our food pantry,” Charlap says. “I just think that’s a really wonderful thing because when you don’t have family and you don’t have legislation that’s supporting you, you can still have community.”
It would be nearly impossible to celebrate Pride Month the same ways we have in years past given the recent and ongoing anti-LGBTQ+ legislation. However, the month has consistently represented the fight for freedom of self-expression and identity, and Gen Zers certainly aren’t going to give up that fight.