Celebrating Pride month in Houston is a tradition that Carlos Gallardo has held on to for over 30 years. After moving to the city from Chicago in 1990, he found a welcoming community in Montrose and in the annual parade that used to course the progressive neighborhood before being moved to downtown in 2015.


This weekend, we spoke with a few Houston Pride Parade attendees on how they feel about this year’s approach. Does pride feel different to you this year? Let us know below! Interested in more Pride coverage? Visit the link in our bio.

♬ fashion show(256764) – TimTaj

“We are gay, we are here, and we are enjoying it,’” Gallardo said. 

For him, a gay man now in his 60s, this has always been a memorable time, a time for joy and acceptance, and while the same theme continues, over the last few years he’s also found himself crafting an exit plan in case it is needed.

“I was worried last year, because, you know, there’s been a lot of hate against gay people,” Gallardo said as he waited for the 2023 parade to begin last week in downtown Houston. “But we decided to come — you know, let’s see — and if we see something weird, we can run to the parking lot.

“You never know, there’s crazy people that do things that you don’t expect,” Gallardo said.

Pride month is dedicated to celebrating and commemorating the liberation of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer plus individuals. But within the last 30 days in June, many Houstonians, like Gallardo, celebrated with more caution and awareness than previous years. 

This year’s apprehension comes on the heels of ongoing, unprecedented efforts to harm the physical, emotional and mental wellbeing of the LGBTQ+ community and their families in the form of legislation, hateful incidents, and questionable allyship.

“I think with the anti-LGBT legislation that’s been passed, with all the extremism attacks against our community, there was kind of this feeling of anxiety and, you know, a little fear,” said Joelle Espeut, the director of programming at Houston nonprofit, The Normal Anomaly Initiative. 

“I think (the) community and people still came out to celebrate, but it did feel a little different.” 

Amani Williams and Philip Fowler
Amani Williams (21) and Philip Fowler (26) stand in the street after the Pride Houston parade. (Darío De León for Houston Landing)

‘Hyper vigilant’

In her daily life as a Black trans woman, Espeut said she’s always aware and has to be “hyper vigilant” because of her identity. But this year she’s been thinking about safety more and even called allyship into question as the community continues to fight for equal rights.

Throughout Pride month, a number of companies appeared to support the LGBTQ+ community but retracted their support after succumbing to backlash, leaving many in the community feeling that their support was performative rather than sincere.

Earlier this year, Bud Light failed to defend transgender social media star Dylan Mulvaney, someone the beer brand had partnered with in an ad, when the influencer faced transphobic rhetoric from their angry customers. Instead, the company said it would focus its marketing campaign on sports and music, according to the New York Times. Target pulled its Pride-themed apparel from its stores in May just before Pride month after threats to their employees safety from angry customers, according to the Associated Press

“They think that putting up pride merchandise every June is support or giving dollars is support,” Espeut said. 

  • Pride Houston
  • Revelers enjoy the 2023 Houston Pride Parade

“And while we love the dollar, support is standing up to attacks against our community. Support is not backing down when you get push back. Support is clearly stating that you are an LGBTQ ally, and that you are an ally for equality and not just simply muting the response or backtracking the response. And I think that that’s what we saw a lot of, this kind of muted allyship.”

Bud Light and Target were still among the corporate sponsors of this year’s Pride parade in Houston, hosted by Pride Houston 365. 

The negative connotation of corporate sponsorships is not lost on Tiffany Scales, a spokesperson and volunteer with Pride Houston. While she understands some of these concerns, she also noted that: “it costs a lot to ensure the safety of the community.”

This year, organizers estimate the parade alone came with a ticket price between $280,000 and $300,000. There were 27 agencies securing the event, including the Houston Police Department, the Harris County Sheriff’s Office and Precinct One Constable’s Office, all services either paid by the organization or donated, Scales said.

“There were a lot of companies that I did not see at the parade, and I’m aware that it could be that they don’t have someone actively aware of how to get connected,” she said, adding she would like to encourage “any corporation, especially (those) who claim to be inclusive, to show up.”

Some Houston Pride attendees said Saturday they noticed a smaller crowd this year after an estimated 850,000 people attended last year. The total number of attendees for 2023 was not available by Thursday afternoon, but Scales said the crowd grew exponentially as the heat subsided later in the evening. 

Brian Chavez at the Houston Pride Parade
“I never thought I would make it here when I was younger. This was beautiful to experience and I’m looking forward to next year,” said Brian Chavez, 18, at the Pride Houston parade, Saturday, June 24, 2023. (Darío De León for Houston Landing)

Anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric on the rise

Aside from a record-breaking number of anti-LGBTQ+ bills introduced in the Texas legislature and across the nation, a recent report by the Anti-Defamation League and LGBTQ advocacy and cultural change group GLAAD confirms that anti-LBGTQ+ rhetoric and harassment has also increased within the last year, with more than 350 hate and extremist incidents recorded in the U.S. California topped the list with 43 reported incidents followed by New York with 35 and Texas had the third most with 30 incidents. 

“There’s no doubt that that number is significantly higher than what’s captured in this report,” said Mark Toubin, ADL’s southwest regional director. 

The incidents, broken down by assault, harassment and vandalism, were largely reported directly to ADL, Toubin said, with a few criminal incidents collected from the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

“These numbers that we’re seeing didn’t just develop yesterday,” he said. “It is an effort to reverse the progress that has been made in the LGBTQ+ community over decades.”

It starts with words and can potentially escalate, Toubin added. 

“You have elected officials who are saying these things and the results are tangible,” he said. “Words don’t stop with just words. They go until somebody gets hurt or killed.”

Texas led the U.S. this year introducing the most bills impacting the LGBTQ+ adults and youth in the legislative session, with more than 140, targeting healthcare, education, transgender sports, public places and services, and drag performances, according to the Equality Federation

Of those introduced, 11 bills were signed and enacted, including a bill that restricts the use of public money or assistance from being used to provide gender transitioning treatment or procedures to children; one that limits athletic participation across public colleges based on biological sex; and one that aims to block children under 18 from seeing drag shows in public or commercial spaces. 

“Our trans community for the fifth (legislative) session in a row has gotten beaten up and abused and it’s not getting nicer for some folks, it’s getting worse,” said Lou Weaver, the founder and president of Triple A Alliance, a trans advocacy group.

Crowd at the Houston Pride Parade
The community gathers and cheers at Pride Houston, June 24, 2023 in Houston. (Darío De León for Houston Landing)

‘Extra level of bravery’

The reverberating hateful rhetoric, coupled with these bills, have made for a worrisome environment for many Texans, including many parents who have to consider the dangers their families face.

“It’s scary. I mean the laws they are trying to pass, the way they treat kids when they started saying they would call CPS on you,” Melissa Hodges said. “I want to support my kid … but it’s also terrifying that they can come in and take my child.”

Hodges celebrated pride at the parade with her children, Silver and David, who are 12 and 14, respectively, who have identified as nonbinary since the age of 10. 

Mateo Sosa at the Houston Pride Parade
Mateo Sosa, 3, runs back to his mother after handing out items to the crowd at Pride Houston pride in downtown Houston, Saturday. (Darío De León for Houston Landing)

The road to embracing their identity has not been easy, Hodges said. Before doing so, one of her children attempted suicide, a huge red flag for the mother who was trying to figure out the underlying causes of their pain.  

“It wasn’t until they came out that we really understood that they were struggling with ‘Who am I?’” she said. “So yes, it was really important to let them know, ‘Hey, you are accepted. We love you!’” 

Support and counseling helped Silver and David take pride in their identity, Hodges said. But she also wanted to show them that there’s a larger community out there that is accepting and inclusive.

Although a small percentage of the bills introduced passed this legislative session, studies show that there is still harm having such bills discussed, including an increase in mental health distress among young people, according to the Trevor Project’s 2022 national survey on LGBTQ youth mental health

The report recorded the experiences of nearly 34,000 LGBTQ+ youth in the U.S. between ages 13 to 24, with 45 percent of respondents identifying as LGBTQ+ youth of color and 48 percent identifying as transgender or nonbinary. The survey found that 45 percent of LGBTQ+ youth seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year. It also showed that nearly one in five transgender and nonbinary youth attempted suicide and LGBTQ youth of color reported higher rates than their white peers.

Houston City Hall lights up in support of Pride Houston
Houston City Hall lights up in support of Pride Houston, June 24, 2023 in Houston. (Darío De León for Houston Landing)

For its report on harassment against LGBTQ+ communities, ADL and GLAAD began collecting data in June 2022 during Pride month, and concluded in April, just in time to release the data again during Pride month this year. This was not a coincidence,Toubin said, and seeing spikes in hateful attacks in June was also not a surprise. 

These occurrences, sparked from words that turned into action, are meant to intimidate progress, he said. Remaining visible, Toubin added, is even more important in this climate.

“I think (for) everyone who went to the parade, it required an extra level of bravery,” Toubin said. “Not only to show up but to celebrate in the face of these efforts to roll that progress.” 

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Danya Pérez is a diverse communities reporter for the Houston Landing. She returned to Houston after leaving two years ago to work for the San Antonio Express-News, where she reported on K-12 and higher...

Monique Welch covers diverse communities for the Houston Landing. She was previously an engagement reporter for the Houston Chronicle, where she reported on trending news within the greater Houston region...