On June 5, hundreds of community members celebrated at the Eastern Panhandle Pride celebration in Martinsburg, West Virginia. Many participants enjoyed the energetic drag performances on the stage, while local organizations tabled, including representatives of a women’s shelter and a local theater troupe.
While people enjoyed the early hours of the event, two reactionaries made their way to the center of the celebration. They were swiftly met with protest. Initially forming a line between the bigotry and the rest of the celebrants, the people quickly encircled the right-wing extremists, locking them into place and preventing their forward movement. They were ultimately shut completely out in an inspiring show of solidarity.
Despite the crowd’s visible anger, the hateful language of the bigots was silenced by the crowd shouting, “Love wins! Love wins!”
Not surprisingly, the police at the event allowed the bigots to continue yelling at people with virtually no protection for the people attending the event — the people for whom the event was intended. According to an attendee, Missy, one of the reactionaries spat on someone, at which point Missy stepped in and was nearly arrested for defending the person being attacked.
As the crowd’s circle of camaraderie grew stronger with more people, they were able to force the voices of reaction down the street and away from the center of activity, forcing them out, allowing the people to enjoy the remaining hours of the celebration.
The LGBTQ struggle in West Virginia
In April 2021, West Virginia Governor Jim Justice signed a bill aiming to prohibit transgender youth from playing on sports teams of their gender. It was almost immediately deemed illegal and was temporarily blocked by a federal court. In an interview, Justice said the bill “[wasn’t] a priority to [him]” and that West Virginia only had “12 kids maybe in our state that are transgender-type kids.”
He couldn’t be more wrong. Compared to the national average of around .07 percent, West Virginia has the highest percentage of trans youth, aged 13 to 17, per capita — roughly 1.05 percent of the state’s population in that age range.
There are over 1,000 young trans people in West Virginia. As data cannot account for those younger than 13 or not yet open about their identity, there are likely many more. Even if there were only 12 trans children, the bill Justice signed as well as the numerous other legal attacks by state legislators would be deeply harmful for those 12 children. Harm to one is too much.
Further, West Virginia has never codified non-discrimination laws on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation in employment, housing, banking, nor public accommodations. There are no non-discrimination laws protecting LGBTQ youth in schools. Forced conversion therapy is legal in West Virginia. What’s more, there are no laws establishing any specific consequences for hate crimes.
Voices from Eastern Panhandle Pride
Trey, a mother from Berkeley Springs, West Virginia, told Liberation News she is devastated by the attacks on reproductive health and LGBTQ rights, seeing a deep connection between both. She wept for her daughter who is growing up being dehumanized by these oppressive laws. “We’re going back 50 years. But did we ever really grow?” she asked.
Another attendee, Elizabeth, said she was there as an ally and a parent, speaking of her direct connection to the oppressions faced by the LGBTQ community. Elizabeth has three bisexual children and one trans son. “If you want to stop the hate, you have to start with your community,” she said.
Love wins where the people fight back. Love wins where the people win. At Eastern Panhandle Pride, the people fought back and the people won.