Signs promoting the Tri-State Alliance’s Pride Prom have been taken down in Southern Illinois towns, with video showing teenagers kicking down the signs in Harrisburg.
The Tri-State Alliance (TSA) is an LGBTQ civil rights group that works in the tri-state area of Southeastern Illinois, Southwestern Indiana and Northwestern Kentucky. The organization’s offices are in Evansville, Ind., but they are active in all three states. Pride Prom is their annual celebration for LGBTQ youth in the tri-state area. This year’s event is this coming weekend.
Members and volunteers have been putting up signs all over the area to promote the Prom. But that has gotten pushback.
A Snapchat video of Harrisburg teenagers kicking down Pride Prom signs has been the biggest lightning rod.
The yard the signs were in belongs to Elizabeth Cook. She said the expected something like this.
“I expected it,” she said. “The kids are talking all over snapchat about how much we are ‘rubbing their faces in our choices’ and posted about the ‘anti gay bonfire’ they will be having.”
She wired the signs down but they were pulled up and taken. She got home Wednesday night to see the four signs gone. When she walked around the neighborhood to see if other signs were missing, she saw a kid on a bike riding away with the signs.
Cook said she has reported it to the Harrisburg Police Department. “I emphasized to the officer that was going to talk to the kid that though I wasn’t going to push the issue, trespassing, destruction of property, and oh yeah, HATE CRIMES were all on the list of offenses,” she said.
She knows that a lot of LGBTQ youth see what happens and wanted to make sure they were supported.
“If it had been ANY other sign I would have laughed it off as teens being shits but this was targeted because it was a Pride sign,” Cook said. “All of the LGBTQ teens that my teen are connected with are talking about it and have noticed and I would be a terrible ally if I just let the would be bullies win…. gotta use that cishet privilege for something.”
She’s putting the signs back up where they were and adding new locations.
“Also, I’ve ordered a 28×40 Love Always Wins rainbow flag for the front window of my house and garden flags,” Cook said.
“I don’t win or lose anything by keeping this sign in my yard… but I know a sweet little 9-year-old enby who sees my BLM and Pride signs and I don’t want to let them down.”
Wally Paynter, president of the Tri-State Alliance, lives in Carmi where signs have also been taken down. The group put up Pride Prom signs across Southeastern Illinois. The firestorm, Paynter said, seems to be in Harrisburg. The local high school principal allowed the flyers for the Prom to be put up, but a group of students have been tearing them down.
Paynter does think that there has been in increase of anti-LGBTQ incidents in the area.
“I think things are more polarized now,” he said. “But I do think students are standing up. Illinois is a progressive state, but there is still a lot of pushback.”
That doesn’t mean the community in the area is stopping.
“We’re not gonna be deterred,” Paynter said. “We’re gonna push. We’re gonna make it safe for LGBTQ youth in our area. Southern Illinois is a real desert where there’s not enough support.”