Pride is back again and if you’re anything like me, you’re excited to celebrate and also a bit nervous about the current political climate. With attacks happening at concerts and other large events, cities all over the country and ramping up security and doing everything they can to ensure everyone’s safety.
Here in Columbus, we have already seen threats concerning this year’s Pride Festival which is set to kick off on June 16th and run through the weekend. The festivities include a parade on Saturday morning. The parade in Columbus has been ranked as one of the 20 largest LGBT events in the world and it has boasted crowds of 500,000 in the past. As a resident of this great city, I can confirm the entire city is absolutely overrun with LGBT people, couples and families. Going out at the weekend – even just to casual restaurants – you’re just as likely to see people from the LGBT community as you are straight couples and families. From a personal perspective, it’s pretty great.
But this year, things feel a little different. Several of my friends are more determined than ever to go to the Pride parade, even if they have sat it out in previous years. With the recent developments in Washington and a surge of Religious Right activity, the LGBT community here wants to be even more out than ever before. By all accounts, this year’s parade is set to be larger, brighter, louder and overall prouder than ever before.
At the same time, we have seen threats against the Pride parade being posted online already. On Friday – the first day of the official Pride Weekend – a comment was posted on the official Facebook page for the festival. In the post, the author says he hopes the Pride parade “turns out like the Boston Marathon” and goes on to say that members of the LGBT community should be “killed or at least relocated.”
The poster has not been officially named, though early screenshots of the post did include his name and his account is now not active on Facebook. He has not been officially named, but reports have confirmed he is an employee of the Columbus City School System. The Columbus Police report they are already investigating and while no arrests have been made public, it has prompted authorities to reassure the public that this year’s Pride Festival will be heavily policed by unformed guards as well as undercover agents.
Sadly, Columbus isn’t alone in this problem. Many other cities have already made announcements about enhanced security measures. At the same time, it’s important to be informed about the best ways for you to stay safe as well as the best course of action to take in case of an emergency.
Safety in Numbers – When walking around, bar hopping or taking in the sights during the festivities, travel with friends. Even joining up in a small group can give you an added layer of security, particularly when walking in a less populated area of after dark.
Keep Your Distance – Skip the battle for a place at the front of the crowd and scout out a spot that gives you a better view without being in the thick of things. Sure, being front and center can make you feel like you’re a real part of things, but it also puts you in the direct path of potential danger.
Charge Your Phone – There’s nothing worse than truly needing to make a call only to find out you’ve no battery left. No doubt you’ll be tweeting, checking-in, texting and maybe even swiping while you’re out so make sure your phone is fully charged. If you plan on being away from home all day and well into the night, pick up a portable phone charger. There are models going for around $10 and it gives you the security of being able to top up your phone anytime.
Buy Your Own Drinks – That stranger who offers you a drink might be absolutely lovely … or they might be a lunatic trying to drug you. Stick to drinks you buy yourself during Pride. If someone offers you a drink, let them pick up the check but make sure the glass remains in your hand.
Secure Your Stash – Keep your wallet, cash, keys and phone away from pickpockets. Back pockets and backpacks are easy pickins for pickpockets, so get creative. Stash your valuables in your bra, your binder, your codpiece or your retro fanny pack. Just keep it safe.
Know Where to Go – If you’re traveling to a new city for Pride, take some time to research LGBT friendly hotels, businesses and services before you go. Check out local LGBT organizations online or ask friends who live in the area. Knowing which hotels, bars and clubs cater to the LGBT community will help you navigate the city safely.
Know How You’re Getting There – Major cities hosting LGBT Pride festivities usually bump up their public transportation schedules to meet the demand. Research options for buses and trains but have plenty of backup choices ready to go. Limited car rental services, bike rentals, private and professional taxis will all be in high demand during Pride, so have the local contact details and directions for each of them in your phone and ready to go.
Look Out for Each Other – It can be easy to get swept up in your own experience during Pride. But it’s important to look out for each other at the same time. Whether it’s getting security involved in a situation at a bar or talking someone through a late night existential crisis, Pride is about coming together and supporting each other just as much as it’s about celebrating LGBT culture and history. If you need help or know someone else who does, get in touch with national organizations like the GLBT National Hotline, Trans Lifeline or the Trevor Project.
Be Aware of Your Surroundings – When you’re out and about, stay aware of what’s happening around you. Attacks are sudden and being able to recognize a potential threat and react quickly is the best way to stay safe.
Know How to Get Out – When you arrive at the venue or parade area, take note of the easiest ways to get out of the building or away from the area. Scout out a minimum of three options you can take to get away should something happen.
Find Help Fast – While you’re scouting out your exits, also take note of where any medical tents or offices are located and where security is stationed. If something happens or if you suspect something is about to happen, make your way to a medical or emergency services representative as quickly as possible.
If You Choose to Be Armed, Be Smart – Many members of the LGBT community choose to keep some sort of weapon on them during Pride. For some it’s a can of mace or a pocketknife while others opt for a concealed firearm in states or cities which allow CCW. Those who choose to be armed with a firearm should be aware they will need to stow it in their car’s lock box if they want to go into most bars or restaurants. No matter what your weapon of choice, consider its use extremely carefully. Keep it concealed and secure from pickpockets, but also easy to access if needed. When in possession of a weapon it’s highly recommended that you stay completely sober in order to avoid any legal issues should something happen.
Use Social Media – Facebook recently introduced the ability to check-in as ‘safe’ if you live in a city where any sort of attack takes place. Should you be near such an event, check in to reassure your family and friends and so that you can be notified when your friends or family check-in as well.
As a community that’s been marginalized and vilified by right-wing organizations, political parties and zealots, the LGBT community is no stranger to violence. That’s why it’s important for people to be vigilant and proactive when it comes to their safety and the safety of those around them. Some people claim taking extra precautions or modifying your behavior is seen as ‘letting terrorists win’ as it shows their actions affect us. But the truth is that these actions only show our strength.
Being safe isn’t a sign of defeat or even a concession to those who seek to terrorize us. It’s a clear message, one that is heard in our voices as we fill the streets, one that is seen as we walk with assurance. It’s an unmistakable proclamation of the army standing at the line in the sand – we’re not leaving, we’re not scared and what they hoped would drive us back into the closets one by one will only drive us into the streets en masse.