The fight in Franklin, a city of about 85,000 peopleechoes previous battles over LGBTQ acceptance from more than three decades ago and comes amid a national backlash among conservatives against transgender people’s rights to health care, artists dragged into performing in public and LGBTQ people to see themselves reflected in the school. library books, study plans and culture in general.

Republicans in state legislatures have introduced a series of bills targeting LGBTQ rights, an issue that some Republican strategists he sees as key to reclaiming the White House in 2024. Former President Donald Trump launched his re-election campaign vowing to punish doctors who provide gender-affirming care to minors, which he equated with «infant sexual mutilation.»

In Tennessee, where a federal judge temporarily blocked a new law restricting drag performances, these debates have brought harsh national attention to the efforts of Republican lawmakers in Nashville, particularly in the days since three children and three adults were shot to death in the Covenant. School. The state Republican Party drew additional scrutiny last week after Republican lawmakers ousted two black Democrats from the state House for their anti-gun violence protests.

In Franklin, the seat of a prosperous suburban county where nearly two-thirds of voters voted for Trump in 2020, the heated reaction to the pride festival surprised some older members of the local LGBTQ community. Even in a conservative, predominantly Christian city, many believed that the fights for LGBTQ equality and broad public acceptance had been won years ago.

Tom Rice, a 71-year-old retired art professor who has owned a Franklin home for decades, said he believes anti-LGBTQ rhetoric in the area has become more pronounced in recent years, reaching a fever pitch in the town meeting. the 28th of March.

“What worried me the most was how cruel some of these people were,” Rice said in an interview. “Basically, they think that homosexuals are sexual perverts and that we are trying to trap their children, and we are doomed to hell. They wish we didn’t exist.»

In opposing the Franklin pride festival, local LGBTQ community leaders see echoes of earlier chapters in the long fight for acceptance and inclusion.Stephanie Amador/The Tennessean via Imagn file

Robin Steenman, a mother who runs a local chapter of the conservative activist group Moms for Liberty, spoke at the public meeting, framing the debate not in terms of equal rights but as a battle between good and evil. She told Franklin city officials that her decision was about much more than a permit.

“It’s part of a social change agenda that wants to reach Franklin, and we’re seeing it across the country,” Steenman said. “That agenda is not pro-religion, pro-community, pro-Christianity, pro-family or pro-America. Rather, it seeks the destruction of all those elements.”

Steenman did not respond to messages requesting an interview.

More than 5,000 people attended the first Franklin Pride festival two years ago, including many families. Event organizers were equally pleased with last year’s celebration, but by then, the national mood had changed. Amid a growing conservative revolt against trans people and drag performances, Franklin city leaders were bombarded with complaints.

Beverly Burger, one of the council members opposed to giving Franklin Pride another permit to host the event on city property, said in an interview that she and many of her constituents were upset by videos showing a performer dressed in woman «spinning on stage» in the presence of children. Burger said Franklin Pride should be held accountable for «violating community standards of decency.»

«If we had a group of straight people organizing activities and they ended up doing pole dancing in the park, do you think it’s appropriate?» she said. «No, i do not do it.»

Another councilwoman planning to vote against the permit, Gabrielle Hanson, expressed support and sympathy for LGBTQ people who face discrimination, but said she believed last year’s celebration was not appropriate for children.

Franklin Mayor Ken Moore did not respond to interview requests.

Pride organizers insist the event was family-friendly and not overtly sexual. Still, they agreed not to include a drag show in this year’s festivities, in part to ward off threats of violence from far-right militant groups that have followed such performances across the country in recent months.

Despite that concession, many Franklin residents are still furious, and some of the most incendiary comments at the city board meeting vividly illustrate that the furor is not just about resistance, but more broadly about LGBTQ acceptance. . One speaker promoted a local Christian ministry that he said aims to help gay people abandon homosexuality and lead «healthy lifestyles,» a practice known as conversion therapy that is widely rejected by mental health professionals. .

“I feel like the concern is that they don’t want to see gay people in their community, and they’re looking for ways to suppress us and not have the same rights as everyone else,” said Klutts, a Tennessee native. who has lived in Franklin for over a decade.

He and other local leaders in the LGBTQ community see echoes of previous chapters in the long fight for acceptance and inclusion. Robert McNamara, a Franklin Pride board member who is married to Rice, the retired teacher, sees the fury over his group’s festival as a repeat of the infamous «Save Our Children» campaign of the 1970s and 1980s, when singer Anita Bryant and Fundamentalist Christian groups falsely portrayed gay people as child predators in their quest to squash ordinances banning anti-LGBTQ discrimination in employment and housing.

«The reaction feels like when I came out in the ’80s,» McNamara said in an interview. «It seems like we’ve gone backwards across the board in terms of equal rights.»

After hearing from residents, the Franklin board decided to defer approval of the permit until they could consider Burger’s proposed public decency policy. Burger said he still planned to vote against the permit, even if his decency proposal passes.

“There have to be consequences for bad behavior,” he said. “This has nothing to do with First Amendment rights, constitutional rights. It has everything to do with behavior.”

Klutts said he’s angry that others on the city board have linked the festival’s permit to decency politics. He believes that some of the council members, like conservative activists across the country, are conflating LGBTQ identities and people with sex and indecency.

“If I meet my boyfriend in public after work and we meet for happy hour at a local restaurant, what if we kiss for a second?” Klutts said. “People may not like that, but it’s not obscene or indecent. Under this policy, who decides what is acceptable and what is not?

Spencer Lyst, 17, a gay student and activist attending high school in Franklin, has felt a surge of animosity in recent years as local conservatives have struggled to limit classroom discussions and library books about LGBTQ people. While leading his school’s pride club in a homecoming parade last fall, Lyst said he and other students were booed by a group of parents.

Image: Spencer Lyst.
«It was important to me to take a stand and fight instead of running,» Spencer Lyst, 17, said of her decision to speak out in support of Franklin Pride.Courtesy of Spencer Lyst

Lyst, who normally wears dresses and makeup, wore more stereotypically masculine clothing when she arrived at City Hall to speak in support of the pride festival. At the lectern, the teen warned fellow speakers that her words and actions were contributing to a suicide epidemic among LGBTQ youth.

“I am here of my own free will,” Lyst told the crowd before walking away. «Satan is not attacking me.»

Later, Lyst said some of the anti-pride speakers approached him to say they were praying for him. One told Lyst that he «he loves the sinner, he hates the sin.» None of it made Lyst feel any more secure or welcome in his hometown.

Despite those fears, Lyst plans to be there again Tuesday night when the board makes its final decision.

“I don’t need your acceptance,” Lyst said. «I just want to be free to be myself.»