The Colorado Springs shooting was preventable. Will we stop the next attacks on the LGBTQ2S+ community?

OPINION: The right’s drumbeat of hate must be challenged

I wish I could say I felt differently Sunday morning when I woke to the news that a shooting at Club Q in Colorado Springs had killed five people and injured over a dozen more. I was, of course, horrified and sad for my queer family, but I was in no way surprised. “Of course,” I said to myself, “this was inevitable.”

The Pulse nightclub shooting in 2016 was different. Pulse felt so out of the blue with no real warning. Pulse felt random and unexplainable, a deep violation of our sacred LGBTQ2S+ spaces. I remember my first return to a gay bar the week after Pulse and noticed the increased security, wondering if my own local watering hole might be next.

But the senseless death this week? This kind of violence has been brewing by the day. It’s not just that it was predictable; it had, in fact, been predicted by many. Anti-LGBTQ2S+ activists have been sowing the seeds for this kind of violence for months, aided and abetted by the mainstream press, and there has been no notable counter effort from political leaders, LGBTQ2S+ organizations or anyone with a platform of influence to push back and put a stop to it.

Last week was a perfect example. It was Trans Awareness Week, an opportunity to learn more about who trans people are and what kind of lives they lead. But mainstream outlets in the U.S. instead once again trafficked in anti-trans talking points, helping to metastasize fears that trans inclusion is somehow a threat to kids.

The New York Times, no stranger to peddling such transphobia, dedicated yet another article last Monday to scare-mongering about the consequences of puberty blockers in trans youth. Though these drugs have been safely used for decades to help children with precocious puberty, opponents of trans equality fear that letting kids embrace their trans identity will lock them into being trans, as if it could be prevented. A study published just a month ago found that 98 percent of teens who go on puberty blockers continued on to gender-affirming treatment, showing just how right we’re getting it with puberty blockers. But the Times still has “questions.”

Reuters followed up Friday with an article dedicated to the myth of “rapid onset gender dysphoria,” a diagnosis completely invented by anti-trans parents to justify their own surprise when their kids came out as trans. The entire article propped up propaganda designed to delegitimize these kids’ experiences, the second such article Reuters has published in the last month.

 

“When there’s this much fear and demonization being pumped into the ecosystem, it is inevitable that people are going to see violence as a reasonable response and take action into their own hands.”

Then Friday night, Fox News host Tucker Carlson invited Jaimee Mitchell, founder of the “Gays Against Groomers” Twitter account on to his show to discuss how drag queens and gender-affirming care contributes to “the sexualization and castration of children.” In just one week, we saw three mainstream news outlets casting doubt and fear on the legitimacy of trans people and the resulting supposed consequences for children.

Don’t forget, too, that last week Elon Musk started welcoming back to Twitter many of the accounts that had been suspended for transphobia, including Jordan Peterson, The Babylon Bee and James Lindsay.

When there’s this much fear and demonization being pumped into the ecosystem, it is inevitable that people are going to see violence as a reasonable response and take action into their own hands. There’s a term for this kind of connection between rhetoric and violence: stochastic terrorism.The shooting Saturday night is exactly the kind of stochastic terrorism so many of us have been warning about. 

The more damning evidence for how these anti-LGBTQ2S+ forces are committed to fomenting violence can be seen in how they responded after the shooting. Chaya Raichik (aka @LibsofTikTok) wasted no time Sunday morning targeting a Colorado drag organization as a threat to children. Chloe Cole, an 18-year-old who detransitioned and whom the anti-trans movement has turned into a celebrity for their movement, blamed trans people for the rights they seek inviting violence against other members of the queer community. Right-wing columnist Matt Walsh doubled down on condemning the LGBTQ2S+ community as “evil,” “despicable scumbags” and “soulless demons.”

The Republican Party was just as eager to resume attacks on trans people. On Monday, Herschel Walker, who is running for the U.S. Senate in a runoff election in Georgia, released a new ad squarely targeted at trans athletes. This is despite the fact that a survey of Republican midterm voters found that attacking trans people was one of the least motivating factors for supporting the party. Republicans are doubling down anyway.

Conservative organizations, which one might think would be a bit more sensitive or at least less candid in the wake of such a tragedy, didn’t fare much better. Alliance Defending Freedom just plowed ahead with PR for its Supreme Court case (303 Creative v. Elenis) trying to overturn Colorado’s non-discrimination protections so that business owners can refuse service to same-sex couples. The Heritage Foundation was similarly insisting Sunday that Congress must amend the Respect for Marriage Act to ensure there are never any consequences for anyone discriminating against same-sex couples. Focus on the Family, which is based in Colorado Springs, at least acknowledged the shooting, but took no responsibility for fostering “evil and wickedness inside the human heart” with their anti-LGBTQ2s+ campaigns.

It’s important to note that it really doesn’t matter what actually motivated the shooting. Spaces like Club Q are our community’s sanctuaries, and when they are violated and our safety threatened, we feel it as terrorism no matter what else we learn about the motives. So often the LGBTQ2S+ community is told not to flaunt our identities, but it’s clear in the wake of this weekend’s shootings that we are no more respected or protected when we keep to our own spaces. The suspect in the shooting has since been charged with committing a “bias-motivated crime,” indicating we are correct to assume bigoted motives. 

Where are the political leaders to boldly and consistently condemn all of the violent rhetoric targeting our community? Where are our own organizations when it comes to countering all the fear and disinformation being peddled in the mainstream media? How many people must die or be injured before everybody wakes to the reality that this is not a fringe and dismissable concern? It’s open season on us. Nobody is safe, and it’s only going to get worse.

One thing feels just the same to me as it did after Pulse: I don’t want to hear any thoughts or prayers or offers of sympathy from people like Congresswoman Lauren Boebert, Focus on the Family or anyone else who has helped demonize our community. They have made it clear that they care more about their own prejudiced beliefs than our well-being, and they are not to be rewarded for temporarily changing their tune after a tragedy. As I wrote six years ago: “Sympathy without affirmation rings hollow; it is unworthy of our gratitude.”

I mourn with all my queer brethren this tragic shooting, but I’m frankly too angry to be sad right now. This was preventable. The sooner we recognize that and properly counter all of the fear fomenting on the right, the more lives we’ll save. We don’t have time to waste.

Zack Ford is a queer writer and activist based in Washington, D.C. He served as LGBTQ Editor at ThinkProgress.org from 2011–2019 and his work has also appeared at Slate, Queerty and his personal newsletter Fording the River Styx. When pandemics aren't a factor, he likes to play show tunes at the piano for his friends to sing along.

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