Photo: Hanna Sörensson [Flickr]

Pride Month takes place globally every June but preparations for this year’s celebrations in the United States have been overshadowed by a series of controversies at a time of fierce debate about LGBTQ+ rights in the country.

Here’s what you need to know:

What has been happening?

Dozens of brands have been criticised by conservative Americans for supporting LGBTQ+ Pride, including The North Face, Build-A-Bear, Southwest Airlines, Kohl’s and Adidas.

In May, retailer Target removed some of its Pride Collection of more than 2,000 products from all U.S. stores. It said the company had received threats over the issue.

All of the products taken off sale were from the LGBTQ+ brand Abprallen, which has come under scrutiny for its association with British designer Eric Carnell.

Carnell has been criticised on social media for designing merchandise with images of pentagrams, horned skulls and other Satanic themes.

Following pressure from Roman Catholic organisations, baseball team the Los Angeles Dodgers cancelled an invitation for drag protest group the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence to perform at the team’s annual Pride Night event.

However, it later reinstated the invitation to the group – which performs in drag inspired by Catholic imagery – despite heavy criticism from by players Trevor Williams and Blake Treinen, who said the act was offensive to Catholics.

Even the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) has been caught up in Pride controversy.

The Pentagon stopped a Pride Month drag show from taking place on an Air Force base in Nevada on June 1, while the U.S. Navy was accused of adding a rainbow Pride banner to its social media, only to then remove it in the following days.

Sabrina Singh, deputy press secretary at the DoD, told Openly the department would not host drag events at U.S. military installations or facilities.

“Hosting these types of events in federally funded facilities is inconsistent with regulations regarding the use of DoD resources,” Singh said.

The U.S. Navy did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Texas Republican lawmaker Chip Roy also urged his party to remove support for military funding over the Air Force’s planned Pride Month itinerary.

Why is there controversy over Pride?

The pushback against Pride events comes amid growing opposition to LGBTQ+ rights and visibility in many parts of the United States.

More than 550 bills curbing transgender rights have been introduced this year alone, with recent laws passed including bans on gender-affirming care, inclusion in sports and access to single-gender spaces such as bathrooms and changing rooms.

The recent growth in inclusive movements such as Drag Queen Story Hour – which runs children’s storytime events – have seen an increase in fears of children being exposed to inappropriate behaviour, despite the shows being tailored for a young audience.

Both frontrunners for the Republican presidential nomination, former U.S. President Donald Trump and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, have spoken out against LGBTQ+ rights, ostensibly as a way to protect children.

Georgian Republican representative Marjorie Taylor Greene described Pride events as a way to “groom children” in a June 4 tweet.

What do LGBTQ+ activists say?

More than 100 LGBTQ+ organisations, led by the Human Rights Campaign and GLAAD, jointly issued a statement calling for Target and other businesses to speak out against “anti-LGBTQ+ extremism” ahead of Pride Month.

“We’ve seen this extremist playbook of attacks before. Their goal is clear: to prevent LGBTQ+ inclusion and representation, silence our allies and make our community invisible,” the coalition of LGBTQ+ groups said on May 31.

“These attacks fuel hate against LGBTQ+ people.”

Carnell, the designer behind the scrapped merchandise from Target’s Pride Collection, said the decision to take some of the range off shelves following the furore marked “a very dangerous precedent”.

“If you’re going to take a stance and say that you care about the LGBT community, you need to stand by that regardless,” Carnell, a transgender gay man, told Reuters.

Local LGBTQ+ groups have also accused those cancelling events of pandering to pressure from the religious right.

“In a year where over 400 pieces of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation are on the books … the fight for LGBTQ+ rights is as critical as ever,” the Los Angeles LGBT Center said when the Los Angeles Dodgers cancelled the show by the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence.

Reporting by Lucy Middleton.

GAY TIMES and Openly/Thomson Reuters Foundation are working together to deliver leading LGBTQ+ news to a global audience.