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With anti-LGBTQ laws proliferating, older activists say history is repeating itself


(NEW YORK) — Despite major progress in recent years in the fight for LGBTQ equality, older LGBTQ activists say the country is seeing increased political pushback against the LGBTQ communities, reminiscent of past anti-LGBTQ movements they lived through during the 20th century.

History repeating itself, is something of which they say everyone should be aware.

When Ellen Ensig-Brodsky, 89, first began embracing her identity as a lesbian, she said meeting other women was done in secret.

“It was secretive, you were considered sick and nasty and terrible — you were a sick criminal to be gay,” said Ensig-Brodsky.

She said the landscape for the LGBTQ community has changed completely.

“During this period that I’m talking about, after the ’80s, the ’90s, there was an enormous amount of openness in the LGBT field that we never had before,” she said. “I feel confident that the LGBT world is now very solidified and strong,”

Alston Green, 71, says he’s tired of fighting efforts to turn back the clock on progress after so many decades of steps toward equality for queer people.

“It’s fearmongering, which I think is really very dangerous,” said Green. “They want to take us back … I have to say — confidently — I don’t think people are gonna go for it.”

Pushback against LGBTQ identities

Anti-LGBTQ attacks have grown across the country.

Last weekend, a LGBTQ community center in Gainesville, Florida, claimed on social media that it was vandalized when a perpetrator allegedly threw a rock through the front door and window, accompanied by a hateful note.

Anti-LGBTQ history repeating, activists say

Such violence follows the introduction of legislation in recent years restricting LGBTQ rights, including LGBTQ-related content bans in some schools, gender-affirming care bans for trans youth and more.

“We’re definitely seeing history repeating itself in frustrating ways because we’ve been through it before so many times,” said Andrew Shaffer, the director of development and communications at the GLBT Historical Society.

He continued, “The rhetoric that people are using now is almost copy and pasted from 20 or 40 years ago. You’ve seen attempts to erase from existence or to erase from the visible landscape [the LGBTQ community] going on for well over a century.”

For instance, in the 1970s, then-popular singer Anita Bryant created the “Save Our Children” movement in opposition of a local ordinance in Florida that protected LGBTQ people from discrimination.

“In the 70s, that’s really when I would say the LGBT community was really getting its foothold in society,” said Green. “It was clear that people like Anita Bryant, they got very upset because gay rights are being passed, less job discrimination and all these things [were changing] for gay people.”

In the 1990s, some who have studied LGBTQ history who spoke with ABC News, said so-called “no promo homo” laws barred educators from discussing LGBTQ topics in schools.

Presently, legislators in support of anti-LGBTQ legislation often claim their efforts are to protect children and ensure parents’ rights.

“We will make sure that parents can send their kids to school to get an education, not an indoctrination,” Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said before signing the Parental Rights in Education bill in March that bans LGBTQ content in some classrooms.

In Virginia, where Gov. Glenn Youngkin reversed protections for transgender students, the governor’s spokesperson told NBC News that the updated policy “delivers on the governor’s commitment to preserving parental rights and upholding the dignity and respect of all public school students.”

In a statement to ABC News, Deputy Communications Director for Gov. Youngkin, Rob Damschen, said critiques of the policy changes are “disingenuous” and that schools will ensure that trans students are treated with “respect, compassion and dignity.”

DeSantis’ office did not respond to ABC News’ request for comment.

Shaffer, a historian, said this kind of rhetoric has been used to mask anti-LGBTQ efforts.

“They’ve always couched in the language of protection or, you know, ‘we’re trying to preserve some things,’ some intangible heritage,” said Shaffer.

‘The kids are alright:’ hope for the future

Students have been active in the fight against anti-LGBTQ efforts nationwide.

Green says it’s a sign that the LGBTQ community isn’t going to live in fear, and has the support it needs to continue on toward progress.

On Tuesday, students in Virginia walked out of school in protest of Youngkin’s proposed changes to the state’s guidance that would roll back protections for transgender people against discrimination.

This effort follows other student-led movements across the country, which include other protests in support of the LGBTQ community, including efforts to supply banned books to students where LGBTQ or racially diverse narratives have been removed from shelves.

“I am hopeful not only for the present, but for the future,” said Shaffer. “The kids are alright, as they say.”

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