LGBTQ Agenda: Pride events, LGBTQ gatherings on alert after warning from feds

  • by John Ferrannini, Assistant Editor
  • Tuesday May 21, 2024
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San Francisco Pride officials plan to take necessary security precautions to ensure a safe parade and celebration next month. Photo: Jane Philomen Cleland
San Francisco Pride officials plan to take necessary security precautions to ensure a safe parade and celebration next month. Photo: Jane Philomen Cleland

People planning to attend Pride Month events in June are being asked to remain vigilant against possible terrorism, though no specific threats have been reported.

First came a warning from the FBI and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Then, the State Department released a travel advisory May 17, saying Americans abroad should stay alert in places that are popular with the LGBTQ community.

"The Department of State is aware of the increased potential for foreign terrorist organization-inspired violence against LGBTQI+ persons and events and advises U.S. citizens overseas to exercise increased caution," the advisory stated, adding travelers should register with the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program.

Officials at the San Francisco LGBT Pride Celebration Committee, which produces the parade and celebration, are responding after the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and FBI joint public service announcement May 10 warning that "foreign terrorist organizations or their supporters may seek to exploit gatherings associated with the upcoming June 2024 Pride Month."

The announcement did not mention any specific events, places, or people being targeted, nor did it try to explain why the threats are more likely.

A spokesperson for SF Pride stated May 15 that "security is of utmost importance to San Francisco Pride. The organization is partnering with appropriate law enforcement agencies to ensure a safe and secure Pride for all who attend."

San Francisco will hold its Pride weekend June 29-30. This year's theme is "Beacon of Love."

When asked if Pride could share more specific security plans, the spokesperson continued, "SF Pride leadership are not able to get into specifics at this time" but that they plan to later. The organization shared some security plans last May, as the Bay Area Reporter noted, including that it had hired a private security team.

The federal announcement noted, "[Foreign terrorist organization] efforts to commit or inspire violence against holiday celebrations, including Pride celebrations or LGBTQIA+-related venues, are compounded by the current heightened threat environment in the United States and other western countries."

Authorities mentioned three possibilities.

First, "In February 2023, English language ISIS messaging featured an article focused on anti-LGBTQIA+ rhetoric and rallied against the growth and promotion of the LGBTQIA+ community," the warning stated. "The same messaging called for followers to conduct attacks on unidentified soft targets, although the attacks and targets were not specific to LGBTQIA+ venues."

(ISIS refers to the Islamic State group, a militant organization that declared a caliphate in Iraq and Syria in 2014 and that lost its hold on territory in 2019. An American airstrike killed its leader, Abu Bakar al-Baghdadi in October of that same year.)

Second, the warning pointed out that June 12 is the eighth anniversary of the Pulse nightclub shooting. On June 12, 2016, Omar Mateen killed 49 people and wounded 53 others at the LGBTQ nightclub in Orlando, Florida, reportedly in retaliation for the killing of an Islamic State group leader by a United States-coalition airstrike in Syria, according to multiple media reports. Mateen was killed in a shootout with police. Many of those killed or injured were LGBTQs of color, as it was the club's Latin night.

Third, the announcement discusses a June 2023 incident when three Islamic State group sympathizers were arrested for attempting to attack a Pride parade in Vienna, Austria with knives and a vehicle.

Greg Carey, a gay man who is chair of Castro Community on Patrol, a volunteer safety group that was recently recognized by the FBI, sent a statement to partner organizations May 15 regarding the FBI/DHS warning.

"The FBI and DHS has sent us the attached notice of increased risk around Pride activities," he stated. "This is currently a general message sent nationwide. No specific threats have been identified in the Bay Area at this point."

Carey went on to state that "we are sharing this information as a reminder to include specific safety plans around any widely publicized LGBTQ+ gatherings in the event of a mass-casualty situation. This includes having first-aid supplies, adequate safety/security personnel, evacuation plans, and locations for triage and the arrival of emergency vehicles."

"Castro Patrol stands ready to work with you in developing these plans," he added.

Though the FBI/DHS statement was specific to foreign terrorist organizations and their sympathizers, Carey pointed out "this heightened awareness should be expected in any year that includes a presidential election, as the ultra-right has targeted the LGBTQ+ as something to be feared by the general public since the 1940s. This year has even more risk due to the number of international conflicts that provide additional heated rhetoric."

Carey also pointed out that his organization is conducting two self-defense events in the coming weeks, as the B.A.R. previously reported. The first is an active shooter training set for Saturday, June 8, from 1 to 3 p.m. Anyone 18 or older can register to attend and pre-registration is required at Tickets are $20.

The following week, a beginners self-defense class is set for Saturday, June 15, from 1 to 4:30 p.m. Anyone 18 or older can attend and pre-registration is required at the above website. Tickets are $30.

Latest warning

This isn't the first federal warning about the potential for violence at Pride events in recent years. A May 11, 2023 DHS document shared with law enforcement and government agencies advised people to prepare for emergency situations and alert local authorities to suspicious behavior. Likely offenders were not limited to foreign terrorist organizations, however.

"Lone offenders and small groups motivated by a range of ideological beliefs and personal grievances continue to pose a persistent and lethal threat to the homeland," DHS stated at that time. "Likely targets of potential violence include U.S. critical infrastructure, faith-based institutions, individuals or events associated with the LGBTQIA+ community, schools, racial and ethnic minorities, and government facilities and personnel, including law enforcement."

That warning came after a precipitous increase in anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and homophobic and transphobic threats of violence — from June 2022 to May 2023 over 160 LGBTQ community events were targeted by violence or by threats of violence, according to GLAAD.

This year's warning concluded with a list of possible indicators of potential threat activity. These included violent threats made online, in person or by mail; "unusual or prolonged testing or probing of security measures at events or venues;" photography of security equipment, personnel or access points; and "unusual surveillance or interest in buildings, gatherings or events."

Other potential indicators of a threat include "attempts to gain access to restricted areas, bypass security, or impersonate law enforcement officials;" questions or observation of "barriers, restricted areas, cameras, and intrusion detection systems without a reasonable alternative explanation;" attempts to enter restricted areas, bypass security or impersonate law enforcement; and "eliciting information ... regarding the nature of upcoming events, crowd sizes, busiest times of day, etc. without a reasonable alternative explanation."

People are advised to be aware of their surroundings at all times and report suspicious activity to the authorities. Threats should be reported to the local FBI field offices and emergencies to local law enforcement or 911.

The Nationwide Suspicious Activity Reporting Initiative website contains more information.

The San Francisco FBI field office did not return a request for comment for this report by press time.

LGBTQ Agenda is an online column that appears weekly. Got a tip on queer news? Contact John Ferrannini at [email protected]

Due to the Memorial Day holiday, and vacation, the LGBTQ Agenda column will return Tuesday, June 11.

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