Pride has been under attack in the U.S. Not just the marches and festivals in June, but the very idea of pride in LGBTQ+ identity.
Physically attacked by Proud Boys at community events.
Menaced by Moms for Liberty at school board meetings and local libraries.
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Assaulted in the locker room and doctors’ offices by far-right red state legislators.
Our nominees for Spaces for Pride Hero are all fighting to create space for LGBTQ+ identity, from the classrooms at a new LGBTQ+-centered school in New Haven to the rec room at an affirming new senior residence in Palm Springs.
Indiana native Alex Keen founded a small-town Pride organization in the face of haters.
Activist Jessica Laney brought the “Power of Pride” to Colorado Springs’ following the Club Q shooting.
Educator Patty Nicolari founded the PROUD Academy to let kids be their “true selves 100% of the time.”
And gay real estate developer Loren Ostrow designed a new senior community in Palm Springs filled with like-minded neighbors.
“I spent most of my life in the closet. I didn’t come out until I was 36. And so living in this community, surrounded by right-wing Christian conservatives, it’s hard to be gay.”
That’s how Alex Keen, lifelong resident of Connersville, Indiana, described life in his small town after a months-long battle with extremist neighbors determined to erase his LGBTQ+ identity.
In December, Keen formed Whitewater Pride in Connersville, pop. 13,310, and organized three events for Pride Month. Soon after, a Christian husband and wife started a Facebook group in response called “Whitewater Groomer Removers.”
One member posted of Keen’s Pride plans: “Sick… Let’s make him famous for trying to groom children.”
Members harassed Keen’s event sponsors. He was followed in public. The Christian couple confronted him at a game night at the local library.
Keen, they told him, had to stop trying to “indoctrinate” and “encourage” children into a gay lifestyle.
“God doesn’t think it’s right, either,” the couple said.
Despite the intimidation, Keen added one extra event to his Pride Month plans: a June 28 march through Connersville on the 54th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots.
“I just want a combined show of strength that the LGBTQ community in the area has come together and is going to stand up to the people who want to bully us back into the closet,” Keen said.
His commitment to Pride continues; he has a petition on Change.org to make June 28 a national holiday in recognition of the Stonewall Riots.
In 2022, Pike’s Peak Pride in Colorado Springs was back and bigger than ever after a pandemic-long hiatus, and executive director Jessica Laney was excited to build on that success for 2023.
Then the Club Q shooting happened, devastating the LGBTQ+ community in the tight-knit town and everyone present at the club that fateful night in November.
Five died in the massacre and another 19 were wounded.
Pride for 2023 in Colorado Springs would be unlike any other: a celebration but also a memorial to those who died.
Laney and her fellow organizers made “Power of Pride” the theme for the event.
“Having pride in yourself, having pride to be your authentic self, and being able to show the world that we are here and that we’re not going away — there’s amazing power in that,” Laney said.
Pike’s Peak Pride 2023 shattered attendance records, with over 15,000 people showing up to share their love and honor those lost in the shooting.
Laney credits a Pride event six years ago with giving her the confidence to be herself as a trans woman and instilling the trust that a larger community would accept and support her.
“That’s why we volunteer the amount of hours that we do,” she said, “because it may help someone else to have the same experience.”
Before she came out in 1997, PROUD Academy’s Founding Head of School, Patty Nicolari, says the stress of being guarded diminished her full potential as an educator.
After she came out, she says she faced serial harassment from students.
She found notes on her desk asking if she was a lesbian. Students whispered “dyke” under their breaths. A group of kids carved “Lez” into her car.
“At the time, I remember thinking, ‘I’m going through so much anxiety as a teacher. I can’t imagine what our students go through questioning themselves and how unsafe it is for them to come out,’” Nicolari told NBC News.
Now Nicolari is building a space designed to let kids be themselves.
PROUD Academy, an acronym for Proudly Respecting Our Unique Differences, is set to open in New Haven, near Yale University. Nicolari and her board of directors are building “a school focused on creating the safest, most affirming learning environment for students – a space where youth can be their true selves 100% of the time.”
“The political climate absolutely accelerated the need for a PROUD Academy and a need for PROUD Academies across the United States,” Nicolari said. “Our kids matter. Their lives matter. Their education matters. Their mental health matters. And we can’t have our students and families be bullied into being less than they’re capable of being.”
“You often hear LGBTQ people saying that when we get older, we’ll live in a communal home and take care of each other,” says Loren Ostrow, a real estate attorney turned developer.
“In a sense, what I’m doing is just a larger-scale, more professional version.”
Think Golden Girls in a mid-century modern apartment complex times a hundred and you’re getting close.
Ostrow, 70 and gay, is the brains behind Living Out Palm Springs, an independent living community under construction in the desert oasis and designed to provide an affirming space for LGBTQ+ retirees.
The nine-acre complex will feature 122 apartments, a pool, jacuzzi areas, lots of recreation opportunities, and a restaurant, open to the public, from LA celebrity chef Susan Feniger.
Ostrow sees the development as one part of a necessary strategy to address a coming demographic explosion: the number of retirees in the U.S. is expected to double in the next ten years, with more than two million LGBTQ+ seniors joining their ranks by 2060.
“There are virtually no places where LGBTQ people can retire in complete comfort, safety, and a sense of community,” Ostrow told Spectrum News 1. “I want to change that so there are other opportunities for LGBTQ people to retire in a community of like-minded people.”