Trigger Warning: This article discusses death, gun violence, and anti-LGBTQ+ hate crimes
On Transgender Day of Remembrance, we woke up to see news that a gunman had entered a gay club in Colorado Springs and killed at least five people, injuring 18 more. It was a stark reminder of why days of remembrance exist in the first place;there would not be nearly as much mourning if people stopped killing us.
It’s not yet clear, from a legal standpoint, whether or not the shooter will be prosecuted for a hate crime along with first-degree murder, but when someone takes a gun into a building that serves as a gathering space for any marginalized group of people, it’s not hard to guess why.
There was a drag show happening when the gunman opened fire. Drag is an art form, it joyfully plays with gender and gender performance. Drag queens have always been pillars of their communities and going to a drag show has become almost a rite of passage for queer people. Drag shows have also become the target of horrific anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric and protest.
For months, narratives have been allowed to spread that queer people are groomers who need to be kept away from children. Drag events seem to be one of the primary targets, with hateful protests popping up outside of events like storytimes, brunch and all-ages shows. It’s been horrific to witness these messages spread largely unchecked and to watch the real world consequences unfold. When I first saw the word “groomer” begin to spread as an attack on the community, there was a part of me that wondered how long it was going to be before it got someone killed.
Accusing the LGBTQ+ community of pedophillia has been the modus operandi of social conservatives for years. In 1977, Anita Bryant said “homosexuals cannot reproduce, so they must recruit. And to freshen their ranks, they must recruit the youth of America.” Bryant popularized the idea to mainstream audiences that homosexuality was a threat to regular every day people, and most heinously, to their children. She laid the blueprint for the rhetoric that we’re seeing today.
Protecting children is a human instinct. People will behave in ways that they otherwise wouldn’t for the benefit of a child’s safety, especially for their own child. If the rhetoric that all queers want to hurt children is believed by the people who hear it, it doesn’t feel crazy to camp outside a library, trying to get a drag queen’s storytime cancelled. It begins to feel normal to pass legislation preventing the acknowledgement of sexuality in school. It begins to feel sensible to ask the gay little league coach not to come back next season. Violence seems reasonable, dutiful even. Most people wouldn’t go so far as to commit mass murder, but by the “save the children logic,” one less queer person in the world is one less who can hurt a child.
The “groomer” narrative spread online, and soon began to influence real life politics. There are countless examples of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation being justified as something that protects children from sexual abuse. It’s not even subtle anymore. It’s not even saying the quiet part out loud anymore, it’s just loud and implicitly accepted. Allegations of grooming aren’t really concerned with being logical, or making sense, it’s about getting people afraid and hysterical.
Sometimes it’s easy to go about life, forgetting that there are people who hate you for existing, for loving who you love, how you want to, for loving yourself enough to live authentically. There have always been bad people who yell at gay couples holding hands on the sidewalk from the safety of their lifted pickup trucks, who scream obscenities at trans women who just want to use the bathroom. Coming out is difficult for any number of reasons, but one of the hardest things to come to terms with is the knowledge that just by existing, the threat of violence is always going to be there, simmering in the background. LGBTQ+ people are often the victims of hate crimes, but at least in that statement they are assigned victimhood. When you call someone a victim, you acknowledge that they were wronged, that they didn’t deserve what happened to them. At least they can be remembered as a person who didn’t have it coming.
It was heartbreaking to wake up and see that five people were dead and more were hurt for the simple act of going to a gay club. It was devastating to know that they will not be seen as victims by many, that they will be remembered as anything short of regular people, enjoying life before someone decided to take that from them. That to some, they will have had it coming, just by existing.
Anti-LGBTQ+ Violence is nothing new, but for a while it seemed like people were starting to care about it, wanting to prevent it, even just acknowledging that it’s wrong. Now though, it seems like we’ve taken a step backwards, and if people aren’t actively encouraging it, they’re sure not doing anything to stop it.