Safety and security top of mind for Pride Houston organizers amid attacks against LGBTQ+ community

Rosie Nguyen Image
Wednesday, June 15, 2022
Pride Houston's security looms large in wake of attempted riot
Pride Houston organizers say they've been able to review updated security measures since the last event before the pandemic. They recognize, though, that it will be a big part of the festivities in light of an attempted riot at an Idaho event.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- With a number of Pride events scheduled in the next few weeks, security is top of mind for Houston's LGBTQ+ community after multiple attacks across the country.

On Sunday, police in a small Idaho city thwarted a potential riot planned for a Pride event by the extremist group, Patriot Front. Just yesterday, the Proud Boys allegedly stormed and disrupted "Drag Queen Story Hour" at a San Francisco Library.

Advocates say these types of attacks against the LGBTQ+ community are nothing new. Just two days ago, they remembered the 49 lives lost six years ago in the Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida.

With the Houston Pride LGBTQ+ celebration just 11 days away, organizers with Pride Houston 365 say security will be ramped up. However, it's not a result of recent attacks, but more so because it's their first time resuming in-person festivities since the COVID-19 pandemic began in 2020.

"All that did for us was make us want to review all those plans and make sure every contingency was actually implemented," said Kendra Walker, co-president of Pride Houston 365.

She explained they will have watch towers above the festival area and undercover police officers from 10 different agencies patrolling throughout the event. Large bags bigger than a fanny pack will not be allowed inside and there will be a radio system for security teams to communicate at every entry and exit point. Walker says with the LGBTQ+ community being so vulnerable and at-risk, they were never going to take their chances.

"Anytime a marginalized community gets together, there are always bad actors looking to make a point," she said.

Pride Month is meant to be a time to celebrate and uplift the voices of LGBTQ+ individuals. But some say it's hard to feel seen and accepted as we continue to hear about attack after attack against this community. Advocates feel that the words and actions of our elected officials play a big role in this.

"The hate that's happening now to the trans and gender expansive community and the LGBTQ community as well, is a direct result of this emboldened hate that was put into the hands of people and told that it was OK to discriminate against us for simply existing," said Eden Rose Torres, the founder and president of Pride Portraits.

Pride Portraits is the largest LGBTQ+ visibility campaign to date. Torres has traveled the nation to photograph and collect personal stories from more than 4,000 people including Nobel Prize winners, the nation's top political leaders, celebrities, and social media influencers.

Recently, she opened online booking for private shoots to the public. But after receiving death threats, she had to reverse course out of safety concerns.

"I knew that when I came out as a trans woman, particularly a trans woman of color, that my life would drastically change. Part of that is the reality that I cannot navigate this world as freely as I used to. So time and time again, I am reminded that my safety and the safety of other trans and gender-expansive humans needs to come first," said Torres.

"Anytime a marginalized community gets together, there are always bad actors looking to make a point," said Kendra Walker, co-president of Pride Houston 365.

Austin Davis Ruiz, the communications and marketing manager at the Montrose Center, says he believes the approximate 117 anti-LGBTQ+ bills introduced across the country last year and the hateful rhetoric coming from lawmakers and politicians like Gov. Greg Abbott are not only contributing, but emboldening some of these attacks.

"That really kind of sets the stage for this type of larger discrimination that we see within the community. These everyday people see their leaders spewing this hateful rhetoric that translates into real-world consequences. We saw that with the COVID-19 pandemic and rise of anti-Asian hate," said Ruiz. "I really do believe that elected officials at all levels need to realize that, now more than ever. With things like social media, their words really are impactful and they really do matter."

He also stressed the importance of love, support, and acceptance for the LGBTQ+ people right now, with Houston being the only metropolitan in the country's top 10 cities without an equal rights ordinance to protect people on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation. Ruiz says transgender people are four times more likely than their cisgender peers to experience violence or a hate crime, including rape and assault. Last year, they recorded 50 transgender people who were murdered, two of which were in Houston.

Advocates say these Pride celebrations can be life-saving for some, and they're going to do whatever it takes to make people feel safe attending.

"We all play a role in building community. We have to have all of our voices at the table. You have to make it safe and easy for us to gather. That's how we build buzz and where the greatest ideas are born. Especially among those of trans experience or non-binary experience, their community is a life-saver for them and we are, in essence, giving them life," said Walker.

Ruiz says he understands the fear some are experiencing with the ongoing attacks and hateful rhetoric. But he wants to reassure those in the LGBTQ+ community that they are taking the necessary precautions to allow everyone to take part in the celebrations this month.

"We are going to do the best that we can to ensure the safety of all community members, not just the LGBTQ+ community. But everybody -- allies that are attending pride, children that are attending pride, etc," he said.

We reached out to Abbott's office, but have not heard back. This is the third time in the last two months ABC13's Rosie Nguyen has reached out regarding an LGBTQ+ story, and did not receive a response.

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