Amid one of Phoenix's largest queer celebrations, some attendees worried for their safety.

Despite Republicans' continued push of anti-LGBTQ+ bills specifically targeting trans kids, people showed their support...PLUS a new EYES ON THE STATE

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Phoenix Rainbows Festival is the city’s second largest pride festival next to the annual Pride Parade and Festival, which will be held in October this year. Some attendees told LOOKOUT they worried for their safety, but showed up in support anyways.

While this past weekend’s Rainbow Festival in downtown Phoenix was a success for queer representation, attendees told LOOKOUT they had feelings of anxiety and trepidation because of the state’s far-right legislature that continues to push anti-LGBTQ+ legislation, and using last week’s school shooting involving a trans perpetrator to continue pushing for the eradication of queer people from public sight.

Dubbed “Arizona’s Greatest Street Fair,” Rainbow Festival typically draws a crowd of over 25,000 people every year. This year the festival took on a greater significance, given the national and state tension over LGBTQ+ news in the media.

Police said there were no incidents of violence reported.

In February, Tempe’s Brick Road Coffee, an LGBTQ+-owned coffee shop, received a bomb threat before a drag story hour event they were hosting. The coffee shop closed down temporarily while the threat was investigated by Tempe police and the FBI.

Bookman’s, a local used book store with locations throughout Arizona, also had to halt a drag story hour at one of their Tucson locations because of threats.

In an online blog post, Sean Feeney, the President of Bookman’s Entertainment Exchange, wrote, “Combined with the recent FBI-involved bomb threat at another Drag Story Hour event in Tempe on February 19, 2023, this very real risk of violence could not be ignored.” As a result, the event was postponed until further notice.

Queer advocates in attendance at the Rainbow Festival voiced their concern for public safety, given the threats against the two drag story hours in Arizona, coupled with fear of further anti-trans backlash from right-wing media and protesters.

Kelly Square, 32, a drag queen who performs with The Drag Bus, expressed concerns over her safety. “I absolutely have safety concerns,” she said. “Anytime I go to a public event, like a Pride, an event that’s outdoors in the public. It’s obvious that there’s people out there who want to harm our community, especially because we’ve had events where people have been harmed recently. It’s always something that’s in the back of my head everytime I step out of the house in drag.”

Despite the fear, downtown Phoenix’s Heritage Square Park was packed with rainbow flags all weekend. House music brimmed throughout the plaza, coming from the main stage of Rainbow Festival, the largest LGBTQ+ event in Phoenix—second only to Phoenix Pride, which is scheduled for October this year.

Parents who evacuated their kids during drag story hour say lawmakers are the real danger
Hannah Moulton Belec just wanted to take her kids to a performance surrounded by other children. A local coffee shop near where she lived had scheduled a drag story hour, and with a professional performer doing the reading, it was an opportunity to unplug for a bit.

Among the 150 sponsors, vendors, and nonprofits in attendance at Rainbow Festival, Arizona Trans Youth and Parent Organization was one group that stood out. Their table was decorated with trans-friendly stickers, transgender flags, rainbow flags, and a flurry of visitors who stopped by simply to say, “Thank you!”

Tami Staas, a volunteer with AZ TYPO, is a third-grade public school teacher, and the mother of a trans child.

“I have myself received hate mail, and been doxxed in the right wing media,” Staas said. “I’ve had to report incidents of that. There’s that fear—what if somebody decided this was the day? I try and not let that loom too close to my mind because the work [we do] is so much more important.”

She continued that the work was too important: “The community needs us…Parents need us.”


“I had to walk [to Rainbows Festival] today because I’m so close, and I was walking down the street in drag. It’s a statement, but it’s also a risk.”
-Kelly Square, local drag queen


LOOKOUT's 'Eyes on the State' is brought to you by an exclusive partnership with Equality AZ. Check here every week to see what's being proposed by lawmakers, who are the state power brokers, and context for current and upcoming bills.

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