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Scared but ‘not surprised’: CU LGBTQ community on HRC declaration

A group of people gathers at a table labeled "PFLAG" under a tent with the LGBTQ Pride flag.
Concert attendees visit the Bloomington-Normal PFLAG and Prairie Prairie Pride Coalition tent at the LOVE FOR ALLerton concert. Both PFLAG and Prairie Pride Coalition are an LGBTQ advocacy organizations.

CHAMPAIGN — The LGBTQ rights organization Human Rights Campaign has declared a national state of emergency for all queer people in the United States, citing the surge of anti-LGBTQ legislation in statehouses around the country.

Members of the Champaign-Urbana queer community say they feel scared but not shocked by the announcement. 

“I wish I could say I was surprised,” Nicole Frydman, director of operations for Uniting Pride of Champaign County, said. “It’s no surprise to anyone who does the kind of work that I do or who is in the LGBTQ+ community or loves someone in the LGBTQ+ community that this is the current state of affairs.

“It’s heartbreaking. It’s exhausting. It’s terrifying.”

The organization is already seeing the effects of the anti-LGBTQ legislation being passed outside of Illinois.

“For the first time ever, in the last few months, our organization is getting outreach from families fleeing other states,” Frydman said. “They are reaching out to ask us if this is a safe place to move to and what kind of support exists should they finally feel it is absolutely necessary to uproot their entire lives and come someplace new.” 

Jess Schlipf, who performs around the country as the drag king Spank Knightly, said they’ve felt the effects of anti-LGBTQ legislation and fear-mongering that’s swept the US.

When they perform in states like Missouri, they said they’ve noticed that clubs now hire security guards for drag performances.

“What we’re doing is dangerous, and it shouldn’t be,” Schlipf said. “You know, I don’t want armed security. We need it, but it’s one of those things where it’s like, ‘I wish it wasn’t like this, and it shouldn’t be like this.’”

Even queer residents of states that protect LGBTQ rights, like Illinois, can be affected by legislation elsewhere, Frydman said.

“It does not have to be a law being passed in your city, your county, or your state to have the kind of negative impact and outcome,” she said, referring to a recent study by The Trevor Project, which found that these policies negatively affect the mental health of LGBTQ youth across state lines.

Arden Hatch, a transgender resident of Champaign-Urbana, said she’s grateful to live in a state that has protective policies in place for the queer community.

“I feel very lucky to be in Illinois that for now, at least, we’re not being hit as hard,” Hatch said.

She said she hopes this declaration will help people outside the LGBTQ community realize how serious the situation is, especially for trans and gender non-conforming people. 

“I think I cried at my desk a few times, reading these headlines and feeling like no one is doing anything about it,” Hatch said. 

Schlipf also spoke to the idea that this declaration might be a wake-up call for some, saying, “What I want out of this is that people who claim to be allies and want to be allies take this to heart.”

“Everyone is watching,” Frydman said. “We’re looking. Who are you? What is your organization? What is your group? And where do you stand?”

The LGBTQ community won’t wait for outside allies to fight their battles, said Frydman. Hatch also said she “feels very called to action” to do more for queer people living in states that are actively passing anti-LGBTQ legislation.

She isn’t alone in her determination to do something. Schlipf said they’re determined to make sure Illinois continues to be a safe place for queer people.

“It’s easy to just be like ‘It’s a blue state, we don’t need to worry about it’,” Schlipf said. “I’ve see the surrounding areas, and it’s still really scary at times to be who you are.” 

Schlipf said they hope that this declaration helps the LGBTQ community come together and find ways to still enjoy their lives. 

>“We need to fight, but we also need to live and have joy because joy is also radical,” they said. “Joy is also something that the far right does not want us to have.”

Frydman said that if there’s one thing the queer community is known for, it’s keeping up the fight.

“We don’t take no for an answer,” Frydman said. “We keep going, we keep fighting, and we keep pushing.

“Anybody who thinks we’re going to back down hasn’t been paying attention.”

Owen Henderson

Owen Henderson

Owen Henderson covers arts and culture, as well as LGBTQ issues for Illinois Public Media News. He studied journalism, Spanish and theater at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and has worked with Illinois Public Media in various capacities since 2021.

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