In Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Pride Month came to an end on the last day with glitter, rage, and rainbow-colored hair.
Numerous people had gathered in front of a hotel in the heart of the city to protest what they saw as unwelcome guests, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and later, former President Donald Trump.
Moms for Liberty, a conservative organization that has supported legislation across the nation that seeks to limit how gender identity and sexual orientation are taught in schools, had invited the two potential candidates for president in 2024.
A man with a Trump hat, a young daughter in tow, and a baby strapped to his chest argued with protesters on the street corner in the haze of Canadian wildfire smoke.
He said to an elderly man wearing a Bernie Sanders T-shirt, "We're against pornography, we're not against banning books.".
The man's daughter was holding his hand when a woman with rage in her eyes interrupted and held out a picture book.
She scowled, "You want to read this?". "No, as your father won't permit it; he wants you to harbor hatred. " .
However, inside the hotel, the supporters cheered and gathered around Mr. DeSantis, who is seeking the Republican presidential nomination on a platform that vows to combat "woke ideology.".
"This woke agenda is not merely a theoretical concept. This nation will fail if it takes control of every institution in our society, he warned the crowd.
As Americans engage in a philosophical and political tug-of-war between proponents of gay rights and a growing conservative movement that opposes what they call "liberal indoctrination," such as teaching LGBT topics in schools and providing care for minors who are transitioning into different genders, this conflict of ideologies has grown more common.
More than 75 bills deemed anti-LGBT by civil rights organizations were passed in the US this year alone, which is more than double the number in 2022. Republicans claim that many of these bills aim to protect children, but LGBT people claim they feel demonized as a result.
Philadelphia has a long history of being a haven for liberals, and there has been a vibrant gay community there since the 1930s. The oldest LGBT bookstore still in business in the country is Giovanni's Room, located in the city's "Gayborhood.". Employees there, however, claimed that during this Pride they had to be more vigilant. According to a recent FBI report, the number of hate crimes based on sexual orientation increased by 54% in 2021 compared to the previous year.
The shop's manager, 39-year-old Katharine Smith, claimed that harassment had been increasing. "This year, things really started to pick up. " .
The bookstore's interior design combines elements of a library and a wild disco. Numerous bookcases, grey walls with pink window trim, Pride flags, a disco ball, and a nude painting are also present.
Giovanni's Room, which was established in 1973, the year the American Psychological Association declassified homosexuality as a mental illness, has served as a pillar for the neighborhood. One of the co-founders, Tom Wilson-Weinberg, claimed that despite advancements in gay rights since then, the environment feels more and more like it did when he first opened the store 50 years ago.
He claimed that when it first started, individuals would beat customers as they left the store at night and throw bricks through its windows. Today, hate primarily manifests itself verbally, according to Ms. Smith, who also noted an overall rise in hate mail. One recent email that read "we hate you" and accused staff of "grooming kids" also contained a homophobic slur.
The LGBT community in Philadelphia and those who support them decided to demonstrate against the summit of Moms for Liberty because of this tense and unsettling atmosphere. Nearly 30,000 people signed a petition to stop the event nationwide.
A woman stood on the bed of an old, rusted, white truck parked nearby on Thursday as charter buses started dropping off Moms for Liberty members at the Museum of the American Revolution for a welcome reception and yelled into a microphone, "Philly is a trans city.".
Along with her, the crowd erupted. The occasionally explicit outbursts of the protesters were hidden from some Moms for Liberty members' children's eyes and ears.
Jazmyn Henderson, a 47-year-old transgender woman who was there to protest, told the BBC, "All we want is to have a normal damn life.". "I never feel safe because of the rhetoric that is out there and the things that are happening. ".
Tina Descovich, a co-founder of Moms for Liberty, did not appear to be shaken by the opposition, however; she appeared composed as she got ready for the weekend.
"The narrative that we are in any way opposed to the LGBTQ community is false," she declared. ".
They have been labeled as an extremist group by the progressive civil rights watchdog Southern Poverty Law Centre because they employ violent tactics and propagate "anti-government and conspiracy theories.".
However, she claims that the group's sole purpose is to support parental rights, which she defines as a parent's right to participate in their children's education, particularly at the level of policymaking. .
With only two chapters in Florida when it first started, a grass-roots movement against mask regulations during the pandemic has since expanded to become a significant voice in the nation's increasingly contentious discussion about how LGBT and racial issues are taught in schools.
According to Ms. Descovich, the organization currently has 120,000 members and nearly 300 chapters spread across 45 states.
Parents were frustrated when we looked across the nation in 2020, Ms. Descovich said. "They could now clearly see what their children were learning in school. ".
The best way to teach LGBT issues in schools is largely disagreed upon among Americans. Seven in ten adults believe it is acceptable for middle school teachers to have classroom discussions about lesbian, gay, and bisexual people, according to a recent survey by APM Research Lab. However, only 3 out of 10 respondents believe that assigning the same age group a book with a lesbian, gay, or bisexual character is appropriate.
According to the survey, only 39% of Americans believe that teachers should always use a teen student's preferred gender pronouns. In the opinion of about 38%, using preferred gender pronouns is never appropriate.
However, political affiliation has a significant impact on support; only 18% of Republicans and 61% of Democrats agree that teachers should use preferred pronouns.
John Crossan, a gay Republican who served as a former city councilman in a Philadelphia-area district, supports many of the same ideas as Moms for Liberty and believes that discussions about sexuality should take place at home, not in schools.
He asserted that books ought to be "age-restricted just like cigarettes.".
He argued, "Just like porn is restricted, books that might be inappropriate for some ages are restricted for those ages.
As the keynote speaker on Friday night, former president Donald Trump praised Moms for Liberty, referring to them as "joyous warriors and fierce patriots.".
To thunderous applause, he declared, "You're not the threat to America; you're the best thing that's ever happened to America.".
However, Mr. Trump's rallying cry was a terrifying reminder of the threats they are facing for Jose DeMarco, a member of the Philadelphia AIDS non-profit Act Up Philly, and a call to arms to fight back.
"I'm afraid, I'm a queer person of color. Mr. DeMarco expressed his extreme fear. "I worry that some people might actually lose their civil rights. This recently occurred with abortion. ".
People's right to live their lives as they see fit is being made more difficult, he claimed.
The LGBT community, according to Mr. DeMarco, 50, is accustomed to encountering resistance in the fight for equality and won't back down.
According to him, "I think what's happening and what's going on now is going to galvanize the queer community to fight back.".
"I believe it will really bring us together this time.