There have been numerous wins within the LGBTQ+ community, including marriage equality, legal precedences that have affirmed that sexual orientation and gender identity are protected classes under the Civil Rights Act, as well as greater visibility and representation in media, politics, and the business world. Additionally, many of the slurs that were once used against our community have been reclaimed and/or for the most part have become taboo, disappearing from most popular media. However, these wins have not eliminated nor overwritten systemic and systematic mistreatment of and discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community, nor have they resulted in a reduction in religious, social, and political marginalization.
Despite evidence of greater social acceptance of same-sex marriage, marriage equality has been a point of political contention since it was written into law, even being mentioned in the Dobbs opinion (overturning Roe v. Wade) as being a possible target for the Supreme Court to reconsider (along with interracial marriage and other amendments that protect the legal rights of marginalized folks).
This has led to the passing of the Respect for Marriage Act, a law that claims to protect our constitutional rights to same-sex marriage as well as interracial marriage. And while this law is a good measure to protect the rights we already have, the Act includes some extremely harmful clauses that allow for legal discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community by non-profit religious organizations, or nonprofits that are “religious in nature,” based on “religious freedom”—a term that has been thrown around by religious conservatives to deny equal access to goods, services, medical access, family planning/adoption, and marriage access.
A Slippery Slope
Legal discrimination of one kind against the LGBTQ+ community provides an opportunity for religious conservatives to further demonize, alienate, and criminalize the LGBTQ+ community, namely our most vulnerable, and specifically our transgender community, who are denied access to safety, medical care, education opportunities, and non-profit services that may only be available through religious organizations in some areas of the country.
Transgender folks, and particularly transgender youth, have been the target of much of the hate and misinformation campaigns from religious conservatives and conservative politicos, with literally hundreds of bills proposed that seek to create insurmountable barriers to access affirming and informed medical health care, as well as limiting access to safe social transition. This includes bills containing measures that could force current transgender people under the age of 25 who currently have access to hormone replacement therapy to effectively detransition by limiting access to transgender affirming medicine to adults over age 25, and thus creating additional age barriers for transgender folks to receive affirming medical care. Several studies have shown that affirming medical care and acceptance for transgender people is lifesaving.
Although many of these bills and anti-LGBTQ+ initiatives have not passed or gone into effect, the damage is done, and continues to impact the transgender community, especially transgender kids. We know these attacks result in increased violence in the form of bullying, harassment, and assault. We know that social violence and lack of access to affirming medical care leads to mental health struggles, an increase in suicidal ideation, suicide attempts, and death by suicide. These bills claim to be an attempt to “protect children,” but it is important that we name what they are actually trying to do, which is to create such hostile and impossible conditions for transgender kids and adults that we cease to exist.
These bills are not protecting children, they are weaponizing conservative religious values to justify violence against transgender children and adults for political gain. This is not hyperbole, as recent studies have shown an increase in suicidality among transgender, nonbinary, and gender expansive youth, especially transgender youth of color, and last year there were reports of at least 50 transgender people murdered in the U.S. (up from 37 murders in 2020), many of those murdered were also Black women.
Recently, our community experienced another mass shooting targeting an LGBTQ+ nightclub (Club Q in Colorado Springs), as well as several instances of armed militias showing up to intimidate and disrupt family friendly drag shows and drag queen story hours, as well as a targeted attack on substations in Moore County North Carolina that occurred during protests aimed at shutting down a local drag show in Southern Pines North Carolina.
These attacks are not new, but there has been an increase in gun violence targeting events held by the LGBTQ+ community since June 2022. Additionally, there has been an increase in threats made against healthcare providers who treat transgender kids, including death threats and bomb scares made against Boston Children’s Hospital and Pittsburgh Children’s Hospital (as well as other hospitals across the country). These hospitals were targeted by some of the same far-right social media sites that have targeted drag performers, gay bars, sports teams, and healthcare providers in Wisconsin with death threats and bomb scares.
Those who commit violence against our community repeat the same anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric that conservative politicos use to villainize the LGBTQ+ community—that the violence is justified because they are “protecting children.” They are justifying violence against children under the guise of protection while committing violence against children.
This is by design as politicos and religious conservatives have taken every opportunity to villainize the queer and transgender community, including reinvigorating the myth that our community is predatory towards children with accusations of the LGBTQ+ community being “groomers”—a myth that has no basis in reality according to several studies, including studies that date back to the early 1990’s when there was significantly less support and acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community.
In order to combat anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric, we need to recognize and name anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric (and all oppressive rhetoric) for what it is, politically motivated violence. We also need to acknowledge the similarities between the current anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric and the anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric embraced by fascism; that anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric justifies violence by convincing people that it is for their own good.
Hate Is Not Discerning
Much of the dialogue since the Club Q mass shooting has focused on safety, amplified by the announcement by the Department of Homeland Security that the LGBTQ+ community was added to the list of groups that are being targeted by violent domestic terrorists. This is not surprising given the steady increase in attacks, both personal and political, both ideological and physical, leveraged at all disenfranchised groups.
It has however been surprising to see and hear folks in the LGBTQ+ community comment on how they suddenly don’t feel safe even in queer spaces, as the Pulse nightclub massacre occurred merely six years ago, and studies since have shown that the LGBTQ+ community is four times more likely to be victims of violence crime by strangers and friends/family/acquaintances, and as many of us are still healing from the cruelty of being tormented or seeing others be tormented with anti-LGBTQ+ violence that we’ve survived.
While anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric may not explicitly impact everyone within the LGBTQ+ community, there is a dangerous and sometimes deadly impact that cannot be overlooked. We are all impacted by anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric and attacks because they rationalize discrimination and violence that is usually aimed at the most vulnerable in our community. It could be easy for some of our queer community whom have achieved success, stability, and financial privilege to forget that an aggressive and unkind world exists outside their bubbles of safety, but there are still so many of us who regularly experience violence, some of which comes from our loved ones and some of which comes from within our own community.
The transgender community regularly experiences violence in nearly every realm of existence, with some of the most harmful violence coming from the lesbian and gay community through social separation and exclusion, as well as those who proudly and loudly align with the far-right’s rhetoric. But hate leveraged against the LGBTQ+ community is not discerning, it impacts the entire LGBTQ+ community. We need to do better as a community in keeping each other safe. We must consider that those who are perpetuating criminalizing rhetoric about our community have political power, and that given the unpredictable nature of these attacks on our community, we cannot rely on institutions to protect us or keep us safe.
Many Boats Same Storm
We also need to do better to recognize that violence against the LGBTQ+ community is connected to violence against all oppressed peoples, as there are many overlaps and intersections of marginalization with the LGBTQ+ community. We need to build cross-community coalitions. We need to be naming the violence that is occurring for what it is, and we need to be consistently pushing back against the deadly rhetoric targeting our entire community. We need to prioritize intra-community safety despite political and ideological differences.
Creating stronger communities and deepening our intra-community relationships will help keep us all safe. But what does safety mean for our community? What does safety look like to others? This is important as we do not get to decide for others what is safe for them. What are practical ways to keep us safe? What does it mean to center the most vulnerable in our community? Where are opportunities to support queer resistance to political, ideological, and physical threats against our community? And how can you support the work of local/regional/national organizations, coalitions, and collectives that are doing the work of supporting the LGBTQ+ community every day? Can we find enough common ground to keep each other safe? Can we learn to acknowledge the diversity of experiences in our communities and prioritize those who are most vulnerable?
I have hope that we can, and I know that there are so many among us who are already building strong intra-community bonds to increase our collective safety. We owe it to the LGBTQ+ children in our community who deserve the safety and comfort that many of us did not have access to when we were growing up. We owe it to those who have lost their lives to anti-LGBTQ+ violence, including those who did not survive the HIV/AIDS epidemic, as well as those we’ve lost due to addiction and suicide. And we owe it to ourselves and the legacy of the LGBTQ+ community.
I hope you join me and many others in working toward creating the conditions that we need to feel safe and loved.
Jilip Nagler is serving their second term as President of the Board of Directors at OutReach where ze has brought a focus to issues of racial justice and representation in the LGBTQ+ community, including co-founding and facilitating Reading Antiracism: An OutReach Book Club.