Illustration by team illustrator Sakura Siegel.

By the time I came to terms with my sexuality, I never felt unsafe with my identity.

I attributed this to a few factors, but primarily it’s because I’ve been in a very privileged position that others, if not most, in the queer community don’t enjoy.

My family isn’t hostile to my identity. All of my friends and peers are accepting. Being white and cisgender offers me incalculable privilege, and since I am not the most expressive with my sexuality, my mere presence doesn’t become an existential threat that some would meet with disdain or violence.

Even within the queer community, I have never known it to be anything other than a safe haven for me and especially others who weren’t lucky enough to have the initial support I had.

I knew the world was rough. I knew that many people in this country would rather see me, many of my friends and this community I love completely removed from their world. But seeing how strong my community is, and having the kind of support I do, never made me feel that there was a serious existential threat to me and others in my community.

After all, we made it so far because of the brave souls who paved the way for so many of us to feel safe.

So it can only get better from here, right?

I felt in recent years now, that a slow and gradual panic has started to settle in me.

The book bannings, the public flogging of teachers and pediatricians and each new law passed has progressively made me realize not only that my community is not as safe as I thought it was, but that our society has become deeply disturbed. And this mania that has gripped such a sizable chunk of the country is now being legitimized by the highest levels of the government.

In July, the Supreme Court decided that in the case of 303 Creative LLC. v. Elenis (2023), that people have a first amendment right to deny service to queer people if they feel their service would “compel” them to engage in speech they have a “sincerely held conviction” against.

303 Creative LLC. is a graphic design company.

Lorie Smith is the founder and owner of the company and wanted to expand her business into the creation of wedding websites. Smith, however, is a devout Christian and does not believe in gay marriage. Colorado has anti-discrimination laws that bar businesses from discriminating against people based on their sexuality.

In 2016, Smith decided to take this to the state’s supreme court, and argue that this law would prevent her from expanding her business since she would potentially be penalized by the state if she were commissioned by a gay couple to design a wedding website and deny them.

As you can tell by my not-so-subtle highlights of a few key words, Smith did not design a single website for any couple when she brought her case to Colorado’s supreme court and challenged the law before it was enforced against her. While pre-enforcement challenges are not unusual, there are other facts surrounding the case that make the Supreme Court’s ruling questionable in regards to her standing.

The most notable oddity of this case was the fact that Smith’s lawyers claimed, a day after her case was filed in 2016 in Colorado, that a gay man had commissioned her for a wedding website.

This man, named Stewart, not only states that he never sent her a request for a wedding website, but he was already married…and is straight.

Dr. Alain Sanders, a former attorney and political science professor at Saint Peter’s University, broke down some of the specifics of this questionable ruling and what it says about the Court.

While Sanders believes the reasoning behind the ruling to be consistent with the Court’s recent rulings related to free speech, he believes that the lack of any investigation into her alleged website commission and that she has never created a website to begin with signals something more sinister with the Court.

“This [was] a hypothetical case as it was presented to the court. And courts do not decide hypothetical cases,” said Sanders. “And so if you want to criticize the case, less on the constitutional issue, but on the fact that the court actually reached out to decide something it didn’t have to decide.”

Sanders went on to claim that this is a sign that the current Court is an “activist court,” and seems to be more concerned with making a political point rather than abiding by legal standards.

“Conservatives have criticized liberal decisions when they’ve disagreed with them saying those are activist decisions,” he said. “This is, however, one of many conservative activist decisions in which the majority of the Supreme Court reaches out to decide something it really doesn’t need to decide or even shouldn’t decide.”

In Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s dissent, she claims that this ruling paves the way for businesses to not only discriminate on the basis of sexuality, but on any protected class including race, using the fear of “compelled speech” as their excuse.

“This is heartbreaking. Sadly, it is also familiar. When the civil rights and women’s rights movements sought equality in public life, some public establishments refused. Some even claimed, based on sincere religious beliefs, constitutional rights to discriminate. The brave Justices who once sat on this Court decisively rejected those claims,” she said.

Already, there have been effects as a result of the ruling of this case.

Two weeks after the ruling, the owner of a hair salon in Michigan, Studio 8, decided to leap at the opportunity to openly declare their unwillingness to cater to transgender patrons. The owner, Christine Geiger, went as far to demand that “anything other than a man/woman” to “seek services at a local pet groomer.”

Natalie David is the owner and founder of The Hair Room in Jersey City, an inclusive salon that boasts itself as a welcoming environment for the queer community.

David and her team were especially troubled by the ruling and noted the situation with Studio 8 as an example of the consequences of this case.

“This whole thing just baffles me in so many ways because it’s like, I understand there’s a difference between opinion and rights. And no one’s forcing this woman to create. She has the ability to say yes or no to things,” said David.

David explained that businesses already have the right to refuse services for different reasons, but discriminating based on identity, especially when a business is open to the public, is especially egregious.

“There’s a fine line between opinions and rights. And when you’re giving a service to the public, there’s a line you shouldn’t cross.”

David then pointed to the reason that makes this whole situation with the Supreme Court so bizarre to begin with.

“What queer couple is going to go to a Christian based website developer and go, ‘Oh, this is the person that’s going to do our website,’ like, no, they’re going to look for people who are web developers who work with queer community. No one’s coming after her saying, ‘you have to do this for me.’”

Discrimination like this is wrong by all accounts.

But I have never known somebody to deliberately seek out services they know they won’t receive, especially when there are other options more easily available.

Smith could have gotten her point across by just stating simply that she specializes in Christian weddings. Queer people aren’t stupid, they’ll take the hint. But Smith just couldn’t let go of this bizarre fear of the hypothetical fear of what a gay couple might do to her and her business.

And the Supreme Court, the most powerful judicial body in the country, by taking this case and ruling in her favor, made a concerted effort to just add on to the dogpiling that has been affecting the queer community the past few years.

This panic, I referred to, has turned its ugly head in a few distinct ways.

Every time I see a new creative business open I have to ask myself if they would accept me or my friends. Would they turn us away and excuse it on their free speech rights?

Will that photography business that opened down the block be open to deny mixed-race people because of their “strongly” held and sincere belief that race-mixing is wrong? That taking their photo would “send the wrong message”?

Will that women-centered yoga studio accept trans women or would that go against their “brand”?

Will the new men’s health clinic accept transmen or would that contradict the “core beliefs” of the owner?

The rise of TERF (trans-exclusionary radical feminism) ideology now has me questioning even members of my own community and whether they would support my trans friends.

This isn’t to say that this vitriolic hate hasn’t existed or is new. Trans folk and other members of the queer community have long been accustomed to the backlash and hatred for a long time — long before I was born.

What is new that I can see, is this ever growing willingness in some people to deliberately move backwards. Even by those who otherwise aren’t politically engaged, people will nod their heads and approve the dehumanization of this community.

Already we have seen some of the worst mass shootings in American history being the result of this disturbing hatred, both in Colorado Springs and Orlando. And even in the midst of slaughter, depravity and violence, conservatives will still blame our own suffering on ourselves.

After the Colorado Springs shooting, a guest on Tucker Carlson’s evening talk show stated on live television that these shootings will continue, “until we end this evil agenda that is attacking children.”

That was an open threat and call to genocide. On live television. Broadcasted to millions of Americans all at once.

And we all moved on like nothing happened.

To this day I have never been to a pride parade, with my safety being the primary reason for not going. My mother is concerned whenever I go outside that if I dress too “gay” that somebody might hurt me.

I recall one night out that just a passing glance at another stranger made him threaten me for just looking at him as he walked by.

This world has already been unsafe for us. Naively, due to my privilege, things would get easier and easier. That for how far this community has come, that there wouldn’t be much longer to go.

But all of this has made me feel that the road ahead is not just longer than I expected, but it has made me see that more and more people, even those that would even describe themselves as decent, would rather just see my friends, and even queer children dead.

Even among those that claim to be “accepting” and very progressive, are people that just cannot be trusted. Given that my bisexuality isn’t obvious to many people, I’ve had the unfortunate luck of hearing what these people truly think of this community.

It has made me realize the difference between acceptance and toleration.

Acceptance is all encompassing. It is love and warmth. It is the assurance that not only do the people around you see you, but welcome you into their life with no reservation. They welcome you and, importantly, will come to your aid when you are in need.

Tolerance, however, is just that. You won’t be bothered. No one will openly object or contest your presence. But you are more akin to a guest. Allowed, but not at home. You’re allowed in the party, but you can’t sit at the big kids’ table.

Most people tolerate us.

Few people accept us.

And when the threat of genocide is at our doorstep, that makes all the difference between us thriving, and us being cast aside.

I don’t know how to change that reality. I don’t know how many rallies or marches or donation drives or election cycles will help us avoid this impending nightmare hanging over us.

What I do know is that there is one thing that makes people who do not agree with us furious: joy.

Same-sex marriage supporter Vin Testa waves a pride flag in front of the US Supreme Court Building on June 26, 2023 in Washington. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

Despite my growing pessimism, the only thing that has kept me from staring at the abyss too long is the radiant and intoxicating joy that comes from this community. The love that I have received from those who share this community with me is unlike any other. The partnership and bonds that I have found for myself are things that can’t be destroyed with legislation or a pitchfork.

Optimism and joy alone is not going to stop this threat. But those are the key aspects of this community that has and will cause it to persist and thrive.

“It’s been proven throughout history,” said David. “[We’ve] only grown to become stronger. Seeing the difference in the queer community that I had growing up as a teenager, you just see it becoming a more beautiful thing.”

Regardless of what the future holds, I can at least be certain whether people like it or not, we aren’t going away. We will still be here. We will still survive. We will still strive for joy.

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