When five people were killed and dozens more injured in a mass shooting at Club Q, an LGBTQ nightclub in Colorado Springs, on the eve of Transgender Remembrance Day, the nation was rightfully horrified. But no one should be surprised.
Daniel Aston, Kelly Loving, Ashley Paugh, Derrick Rump, and Raymond Green Vance were enjoying community with their friends, families of origin, and chosen families when they were heinously murdered by a gunman with a history of violence. Their deaths follow an unprecedented surge of anti-LGBTQ legislation, vile rhetoric from politicians and staff, and threats against LGBTQ people by white supremacists who are encouraged by extremists on social media and pundits within right wing media.
A GLAAD poll conducted just days before the shooting found 48% of all LGBTQ respondents and 72% of transgender respondents are fearful for their personal safety in the current political environment. There is a direct line from dangerous words and behavior to violence against LGBTQ people. GLAAD and other organizations have the receipts to connect the dots:
- More than 300 anti-LGBTQ bills were proposed this year, drafted and funded by longtime anti-LGBTQ groups.
- Politicians, their staff, and enablers smeared LGBTQ people and allies with false and repulsive slurs, with a 406% increase of the slurs online, as bills like “Don’t Say LGBTQ” passed in Florida. LGBTQ people were physically attacked by assailants using the slurs.
- GLAAD documented 124 attacks against drag events in 47 states, including armed white supremacists terrifying children at drag story hours and the firebombing of a donut shop.
- Media Matters counted 170 segments in a three-week span on Fox News with anti-transgender fearmongering and disinformation including the lie that transgender kids ‘have been led to where they are by adult predators.’
- More than 2,500 books were challenged or banned September 2021 to September 2022, the majority about LGBTQ characters and LGBTQ authors.
- Extremist politicians with zero engagement with transgender people proposed bills to restrict their healthcare, which is supported by every major medical association and public health authority.
- When extremist politicians couldn’t pass bans on trans healthcare, they weaponized state agencies to baselessly investigate parents of trans kids, and orchestrated sham tribunals stacked with anti-LGBTQ donors to stop doctors from providing care.
- Social media accounts and right wing media dared followers to act and they did: at least twenty children’s hospitals endured bomb threats.
- Extremist state politicians withheld funds from federal taxpayers for mental health care unless hospitals refused to treat trans youth.
Here’s how this unfolds in real life.
In August 2022, pro-gun and anti-LGBTQ Colorado Rep. Lauren Boebert warned that “all the drag queens out there” to “stay away from the children in Colorado’s Third District!,” as well as falsely and absurdly claimed that those affirming LGBTQ youth are “groomers.” This reflects Boebert’s unapologetic pattern of denigrating LGBTQ people, directing hate at trans people and drag performers. In fact, she regretted not using the slur more.
Eight bills have been proposed to restrict drag events: a federal bill, two bills in Texas, and one in Michigan, among others. Politicians like Gov. Ron DeSantis, his enablers, and others smeared LGBTQ people and allies with words like “groomer” and “predator” in their campaigns and to push laws censoring classroom conversation about sexual orientation and gender identity.
This rhetoric explicitly endangers LGBTQ people and all children. Experts in child abuse say using “groomer” rhetoric to attack political rivals dangerously undermines understanding of abuse that threatens every child. LGBTQ people were attacked by assailants using these very words in public, at drag events and online.
DeSantis insists without proof that “Don’t Say LGBTQ” is about students being “sexualized.” This language and inference is wrong, disgusting and irresponsible. Talking about LGBTQ people and families, like a kindergartener’s two moms or transgender neighbor, is recognition that LGBTQ people exist in our families and worlds. Nearly 21% of Gen Z are out as LGBTQ. Conflating recognition of people’s existence with sex or sex acts is shameful and creepy, even for DeSantis.
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene is leading the GOP effort in the House to criminalize gender affirming healthcare, despite every major medical association’s support of such care. Among her first acts in office, shortly before being removed from committees for spreading violent conspiracy theories, was to post a anti-transgender sign outside a lawmaker’s office who is the parent of a transgender child. This, too, should have been expected. Greene’s entire record is notable for racist, anti-Semitic, Islamaphobic, transphobic, and homophobic rants, including about a drag story hour at a local library.
This rhetoric and behavior reveals desperation against the growing acceptance of LGBTQ people and the broader awareness about gender diversity and expression. It’s fomented by extremists who seek control by rejecting expertise and lived experience, and social media companies that profit from fear, anger, and polarized politics.
Every media outlet and political reporter must challenge lawmakers and staff recklessly using “groomer” rhetoric. It’s also inaccurate journalism to treat evidence-based healthcare as a “both sides issue,” equating credentialed healthcare providers with craven politicians targeting LGBTQ people. Social media platforms must enforce their policies to protect users from accounts and disinformation threatening others.
Americans are catching on. Voters re-elected governors in four states who vetoed legislation against trans kids, rejecting a $50 million trash ad campaign. Republican governors vetoed anti-trans legislation, correctly acknowledging the losing and inhumane issue for their states and citizens. Shows about drag performers continue to rack up mainstream critical acclaim and adoring audiences sell out drag events. LGBTQ people and straight and cisgender people mingled joyously at Club Q before gunfire erupted.
In describing his heroic actions to save patrons at Club Q, Richard Fierro said, “I was trying to protect my family.” His daughter’s boyfriend, Raymond, was among those killed. We grieve with them and all in our LGBTQ and ally family. Richard’s words should motivate each of us, LGBTQ and not. Families protect each other. We can stop the lies and violence that threaten us. We all deserve to belong—and to be safe.