Reactionary Media are Fueling Anti-LGBTQ ViolenceRoundup
tags: violence, homophobia, transgender, LGBTQ history, Drag
Ben Miller is a writer and historian. He is a doctoral fellow in Global Intellectual History at the Freie Universität Berlin, has written for Literary Hub, The Los Angeles Review of Books, and elsewhere, and co-hosts the podcast Bad Gays about evil and complicated queers in history.
I have been expecting a mass shooting at a gay bar for at least a year. This is not because I’m clairvoyant, but because I am a gay person with eyes and ears. The mass-murder at Club Q in Colorado Springs on November 19 was the result of what is now all-too-familiar rhetoric—a campaign that is both a cynical attempt to gain political power and a conscious effort to inspire stochastic violence that murders gay and trans people on the theory that there should be fewer of us.
The United States has become one of the front lines of a broad global front of transphobic and homophobic reaction. At least two of the five people confirmed to have been murdered at Club Q were the kinds of trans activists regularly described by a wide range of media personalities from far-right to center-left as emblematic of a dangerous element threatening American children. No one with a functioning brain could fail to realize the kind of violence rhetoric like that was likely to inspire when fed to a rage-filled, violent nation where guns outnumber people.
The shooter’s court filings identifying as nonbinary could be serious or could be some sick own-the-libs joke being played on us all. No evidence has yet come forward that the shooter lived a non-binary life or existed in queer community. We do know the shooter’s father sighed with relief when he found out his child had merely shot up rather than patronizing a gay bar. A distracting and offensive media circus has focused on that father’s background in porn acting and documented struggles with addiction. In this year alone, we have seen multiple far-right activists call bomb threats into children’s hospitals. We have seen multiple armed fascist militias disrupting pride events around the country. I do not know whether any of their fathers have ever appeared in porn films or struggled with meth addiction. The constant has been not family trauma but murderous rhetoric, and the various actions—from legislative to terroristic—that rhetoric has inspired.
Hundreds of anti-gay and anti-trans bills have been introduced and passed this year in state legislatures: bills that mandate government genital inspections of child athletes, bills that outlaw teachers from discussing the existence of gay and trans people in schools, bills that outlaw gender-affirming care for kids, and bills that aim to make even the provision of that care a felony. Many of those bills have already become law. Far-right agitators like Christopher Rufo declare openly they plan to use anti-queer allegations of child abuse to win elections. The merits of that strategy are bloodlessly discussed by political reporters, as though they were talking about the weather. More polite centrist outlets, rather than reporting urgently on this violent turn, instead obsessively publish story after story wondering whether it isn’t too easy to get trans health care or whether trans kids are a social contagion. This year, in Oslo and Bratislava, we’ve seen far-right attacks on gay bars whose shooters left behind manifestos detailing the anti-trans propaganda from which they took inspiration. Another bomb threat called into a children’s hospital that provides health care to trans children, another op-ed from a national paper musing on the question of whether these trans kids aren’t just confused. Another armed fascist rally in front of a gay bar, another op-ed in a national publication describing innocent kids seduced into transgender identity by assault from older trans people. Trans critics’ urgent responses to this wave have been too often ignored. Trans people remain mostly absent from newsrooms. And now this.
Even after the mass murder at Club Q—and with the blood of the queer and trans people murdered there not yet dried on the floor—critics from far-right to center-left continue to pursue this agenda. In an elegy for the shooting victims, one prominent columnist, midway through a passionate attack on the far-right for having inspired this mass murder, took pains to set the hate-mongers she was critiquing apart from “legitimate debates over questions like when puberty blockers should be prescribed or gender-confirming surgeries performed on minors.” Those debates, published in magazines such as The Atlantic, are cited in the bills backed by the state legislators whose grandsons commit mass murder in our bars.
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