I hesitated to come out. It was 2020 when I finally, finally started to see my queerness through the clouds. The world was burning (still is), suffering through a global pandemic (still is), reeling from a societal upheaval (still is), and American fascism was gaining strength at a terrifying speed (I repeat myself). The fact that I was suddenly going to start dating girls seemed like the least important news of the day.
I already had the most pressing issue of our time taking up most of my perspective: climate change. Two years ago, I was in the process of moving full-time from nonprofit climate advocacy to climate journalism. Every story brought home how increasingly fucked our planet is. Nothing, it seemed at the time, could reorient my sense of existence the way that understanding the scope of the climate crisis did. I had never struggled to see myself as a person fighting for the earth, for climate justice. That path was cloudless. That identity was clear, unequivocal, unmistakeable.
My reluctance to come out wasn’t because I was scared or unsafe. Frankly, I was mostly embarrassed that it had taken me so long to figure out I was queer after I’d been raised in a stereotypical liberal gay-rights bubble. I’d celebrated Pride parades, watched The Birdcage with my parents, and sang along to Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” in my college dorm. My friends often joked about my obliviousness to my own haircuts and flannel collections—I rolled my eyes and laughed with them, finally acknowledging that yeah, they’d been right all along.
In the light of cascading societal and ecological catastrophes, as I grappled with how to think daily about the untold scale of the damage being done to our planet, I tried to make my coming out as small as possible. I texted some friends messages like “it’s really no big deal but I might be gay, but seriously it’s not a huge thing,” while casually dropping to others that I now had a girlfriend, wanting no further praise or recognition from this piece of news. Did it really matter the identity of those I loved when the whole world was dying? My life was comfortable and privileged, and I’m surrounded by a queer community that supports me even as I watch the world warm.
What was Pride at the end of the world?
I used to be charmed by the progress gay rights had made. I’m old enough to remember when being gay in high school was a huge deal but young enough to have seen a slew of friends, acquaintances, and celebrities start to come out. The Friday in 2015 that the Supreme Court announced its decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, legalizing gay marriage, I took the train back from New York’s Pride weekend to my home in D.C. and walked past rows and rows of rainbow flags. There were victory signs in windows near the Supreme Court. I was filled with a thrilling happiness, but only as a closeted person who calls themself an “ally.” It was a feeling of triumph and of finality. Progress had won, this time for good.
Before I really understood the history of queer struggle, gay rights looked like a blockbuster success. Its wins within my lifetime seemed rapid, the graph of its trajectory always bullish. Climate action, by contrast, had always seemed so tragic and dire, always suffering a new setback. In my Obama-era liberal mind, I thought that now that we’d “won” the fight for equal rights, we should focus on the other stuff that mattered.
But victories have to be guarded, and there are always new fights to win. As I was attempting to make as little noise as possible about my own queerness, I saw through fresh eyes how renewed attacks on LGBTQ people and the legislative inaction enabling climate disaster were tactically similar. Right-wing misinformation and its perversion of scientific reality is like a cockroach: alarmingly adept at surviving attempts to kill it, scuttling away from sunlight only to re-emerge months later, stronger and somehow more evolved than before. It’s absurd, looking back, that I didn’t understand that the same forces that were stuffing climate deniers’ pockets would fund those same legislators’ attacks on queer people, among whom I would eventually count myself.
Dark money enables this entire web to thrive. These political donations can be difficult to trace, but enough of them have been connected to Charles and David Koch to paint them as perhaps the most prolific corporate funders of climate denial. Alliance Defending Freedom, one of the core Christian right groups behind decades of attacks on queer people, including today’s anti-trans bills, has taken money from the Koch brothers-funded Donors Trust, a key player in American climate denial. Fossil-fuel-funded groups like the Heritage Foundation and the Texas Public Policy Foundation, which have long been involved in fighting climate legislation, are ramping up anti-trans rhetoric now. Members of the American Legislative Council, a Koch-funded conservative group that spreads conservative model legislation, including anti-pipeline protest bills, have boasted to their peers about the success of anti-trans bills in their states.
The hypocrisy is thick like spilled oil. David Koch expressed support for gay marriage before he died in 2019—but he funneled hundreds of thousands of dollars over the course of his lifetime to homophobic politicians like former Vice President Mike Pence and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. Both of these men fought gay marriage and carried water for the fossil fuel industry. Koch’s deathbed compunction is useless to me.
Over the past two years, as I’ve been falling in and out of gay love, untangling the rats’ nest of issues that kept me in the closet for so long, and testing out the boundaries of my own gender identity, I’ve watched the right’s escalating campaign to make gender and sexuality a renewed cultural battleground. A historic number of anti-LGBTQ bills, most of them targeting trans people, have cropped up in the first few months of this year alone in statehouses around the country, continuing a yearslong trend of escalating legislative attacks. Rather than the liberal final “win” I’d though it was, the turning point for a lot of this new hate was Obergefell: anti-trans laws increased dramatically afterwards. As the judicial landscape changes, the targets shift, from marriage refusals to bathroom bills to healthcare bans; but the attacks have been consistently on the rise.
You could say this about climate, or queer identity, or voting access, or reproductive health, or any number of life-or-death issues right now: Conservative forces have been conducting a lengthy assault on our rights, activating the allies they have installed on the Supreme Court and across the judiciary while continuing to stall any meaningful legislative progress. Some of the biggest financial allies of climate-crisis-creating politicians are the same big businesses that pretend to be allies during Pride. It’s no surprise that oil companies like Chevron cash in on rainbow-hued goodwill each June while funding anti-LGBTQ politicians to do their dirty work in DC.
On the Friday before New York’s Pride weekend this year, in what felt like a gruesome, twisted inverse of Obergefell, the Court struck down Roe v. Wade. In his opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas made clear how this attack on reproductive care was tied to the right’s larger political ambitions for gender and sexuality, plainly stating that he’d like to see Obergefell and Lawrence v. Texas (which invalidated anti-sodomy laws) reconsidered next. The Supreme Court opened the door for state lawmakers to legislate reproductive care and access, the same state lawmakers who are ruthlessly attacking trans youth’s access to their healthcare. In both cases, the ultimate objective is enforcing gender roles, taking away people’s freedom to live the life they want and deserve in their true bodies.
Days after Pride, that same court handed down its ruling in favor of polluters in West Virginia vs. EPA. It was another obvious blow to the world we could have, the one where people are free to be happy and healthy. Anti-climate corporate interests, joined in a longstanding pact with family-values white supremacy Republicans, got what they paid for this term, and then some.
It’s impossible for me now to see the climate fight and my queer identity as separable from one another, just as it would look silly to take the green stripe out of the rainbow. My individual existence as a queer person and our collective survival are connected by the same dark forces that seek to destroy both. My freedom and the liberation of those I love depend on our collective emancipation from those forces.
The embarrassment I felt coming out was just an extension of the closet itself—a closet built by the same moneyed interests repressing climate action. And if there’s anything that this past difficult Pride month has taught me, it’s that owning this identity—and understanding the forces working against it—is one of the only ways to fight back.
It feels uniquely bad to be alive right now, and I’m not sure how it gets better. But what I have learned is that showing up as you are with the full reality of the challenges we face is the best weapon we have. Some of my happiest moments of queerness have been about simply being together, like quietly dozing with a partner in the early morning, or dancing in a club filled with solely with other gay people. With the climate crisis, I’ve felt the most hopeful not watching politicians make promises or businesses issue endless greenwashed pledges, but standing with groups of people who are taking action even though—and especially because—they understand just how dire our predicament is.
The continued existence of queer people is a miracle, as is true for people who wake up each day with the deep knowledge that we’re killing our planet, yet choose to fight for the world that is going to survive. The continued battle of people who fight against the racist and fascist carceral state, for migrant justice, for voting access, for reproductive rights—it’s all a miracle in the face of the moneyed forces in opposition. I don’t know how we all keep doing it, but we do, and we should celebrate it every day.
I hope you, reading this, found some joy in Pride this year, but I also hope you found our collective spirit to keep fighting because, at the start of it all, the first Pride was a riot. And I hope you find people who make living in a climate crisis more bearable despite the unbearable reality. I hope you are becoming proud of who you are in the way that lets you harness your full power. I hope you find identity and community. They’re all we have.