NEW YORK (WABC) -- As thousands of people plan on celebrating the annual Pride march in New York City this weekend, they're heading into the celebration under a different climate than years past. Hundreds of anti-LGBTQ+ laws have been filed across the country, threatening to squash decades of progress for equal rights.
While none of the bills have been filed in New York, the city has seen a rise in visible signs of hate. From protests to pride flags getting burned, ripped down, and destroyed.
Activist Randy Wicker fought for more than 6 decades to help give people the right to display not just the pride flag proudly, but who they are as a person. He was the first to organize a gay rights demonstration in the country in the 1960s.
"We just wanted to be a part of society," said Wicker. "We wanted to able to live, to earn a living, to be safe in our apartment, to marry, and even to adoption children."
For everything he helped accomplish over the decades, he says many states are moving backward. More than 490 anti-LGBTQ+ laws have been filed in almost every state, except four. Many of the bills target the transgender community.
"They make it illegal for me to exist in some of these states," said activist Hannah Simpson.
Simpson says she recently helped someone move out of a state where new laws are getting passed.
"On the one hand it's terrible, on the other hand, it's so wonderful to be seen," said Simpson. "In a way, the trans identity and experience was invisible for so long," she said.
While a majority of the bills have been defeated, some have passed. In Texas, gender transition treatments for kids have been banned. In Tennessee, lawmakers passed a strict limit on drag performances which a judge later deemed unconstitutional, and in Florida a variety of laws have been passed including a ban on instructing students about gender identity or sexual orientation.
The Department of Homeland Security issued a rare memo - warning threats by violent extremists have intensified over the last year against the LGBTQ+ community and the Human Rights Campaign declared a state of emergency for the first time in its 40-year history.
Some of the backlash is being felt in the tri-state area. From a church welcome signed recently smashed in half in New Jersey just hours after pride flags were put up around it, to the pride display repeatedly vandalized at the Stonewall National Monument, to people protesting drag story hour in New York City.
"You have to fight the fight," said Wicker. "You can look at the negative or you can look at the positive," he said. "We thought we could change the world and guess what? Unbelievably we succeeded."
At the same time, more states every year are working to pass laws to protect the LGBTQ+ community and more out members of the community have been voted into public office than ever before.
DO YOU NEED A STORY INVESTIGATED? Dan Krauth, Kristin Thorne, and the 7 On Your Side Investigates team at Eyewitness News want to hear from you! Call our confidential tip line 1-877-TIP-NEWS (847-6397) or fill out the form BELOW.
Submit a tip or story idea to Eyewitness News