Was that music? The pop, pop, pop. Perplexed, partiers at Club Q turned and saw 22-year-old Anderson Lee Aldrich firing an AR-15-style rifle into the dancefloor. Panicked, they stampeded. Five were hit and killed. Twenty-five were injured.
Iraq War veteran Richard Ferrio and two others including a trans woman tackled Aldrich, grabbed the gun and beat the killer raw. They saved lives. Yet the truth is Aldrich is not the first, nor the last hetero-terrorist, in this case a straight man who claims to be nonbinary, using violence to terrorize LGBTQ people.
Increasingly, right-wing media portray them as a threat to kids. Using homophobic tropes of gays “grooming” youth in order to molest them, reactionaries channel populist anxiety over cultural change or economic inequality into sexual and gender fundamentalism. They have framed homosexuality as perversion and promote patriarchy, mostly Christian nationalism, as the cure. The result is the normalization of violence that spills over into a wider swath of American life. Here is the bloodbath of hetero-terrorism.
Life on the Edge
Every. Single. Day. Queer people are killed, beaten, fired, insulted, raped and threatened. Many victims don’t feel safe reporting crimes to the police. Will they be believed? Will they be laughed at or dismissed? A few do and those numbers, scanty and sporadic, paint a horrifying picture.
Death by machine gun under a strobe light is a dramatic display of homophobia. It is also the tip of an iceberg of violence. Jo Yurcaba reported in NBC News that, “… hate crime incidents based on anti-LGBTQ bias were down overall, from 1,393 in 2019 to 1,287 in 2020,” but that attacks on trans and non-conforming people “jumped by nearly 20% for the second year in a row.” The Human Rights Campaign took the grim toll of 57 trans men and women, killed in 2021. Before that, the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs tallied roughly 2,000 hate crimes a year against LGTBQ people in the United States alone from 2011 to 2013. It’s about five attacks a day. The hardest hit were people of color, transgender women and, tragically, the point where targets of hate overlap, transgender women of color, who were killed most and often brutally.
Add to that many gay, transgender and gender nonbinary people don’t report violence. Experience taught them they will not be helped or believed. Or if they “come out” to report a crime, it can cost them their job and housing, due to a lack of legal protection against anti-LGBTQ discrimination in many states. The statistical portrait of homophobic violence is incomplete, with as many as twice the number of victims, if not more, staying silent. So while the FBI reports roughly 7,500 hate crimes annually, the U.S. Census conducts a National Crime Victimization Survey and pegs that number at roughly 200,000 hate crimes in the U.S. annually.
Added to the physical violence the LGTBQ community faces are new laws pushed by Republicans to re-closet them. Since 2018, conservative state legislators across the country have filed at least 670 anti-LGBTQ bills, 238 just in 2022. In an NBC News report, Matt Lavietes and Elliot Ramos wrote the measures, “would restrict LGBTQ issues in school curriculums, permit religious exemptions to discriminate against LGBTQ people and limit trans people’s ability to play sports, use bathrooms that correspond with their gender identity and receive gender-affirming health care.” Knowing laws are turned against them like knives causes higher rates of depression and suicide among trans youth.
Pull the lens back and one sees not just in Red-State America but whole swaths of the world in which LGBTQ are in danger. In Saudi Arabia, homosexuality is punishable by death. In Iran, homosexuality is punishable by death. In Jamaica, mobs, whipped into a frenzy by fanatical Christians, chase and kill LGBTQ youth. In Sudan, homosexuality is punishable by death. In Zimbabwe, the president has publicly threatened to behead gays. In Russia, anti-LGBTQ laws are written and violence stoked by politicians.
How is this justified? How is the immense violence poured upon a sexual minority excused in the eyes of their murderers? When they look in the mirror, they don’t see killers but heroes who are defending the even more helpless — children.
The most damaging homophobic stereotype is that LGBTQ people “groom” children in order to turn them gay or fuck them. It serves a specific role in the conservative worldview. It inverts their position as members of the dominant racial group, the dominant gender, the dominant class whose privileged position was built on centuries of violence. In short, history’s villain is transformed into its hero because now they rescue babies. The psychological need to be innocent killers is so great that QAnon followers hallucinate that the Democratic Party is a Satan-worshipping cabal, selling children for sex. It led one man to storm a pizzeria in Washington, D.C., to free kids being trafficked there. He found nothing but four years in prison.
The right-wing accusation that Democrats and LGBTQ people are pedophiles has gone from the fringe to mainstream. At first it was QAnon followers. Next, Republican senators used it to question Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson during her Supreme Court nomination hearings on why she was “lenient” on pedophiles. Jonathan Chait wrote in New York Magazine that Republican obsession with alleged Democratic pedophilia “says nothing about the parties’ comparative permissiveness about sexual assault. It reveals the existence within one of them of an openness to conspiracy theories and a network of operatives unprincipled enough to exploit it.” It also reveals the fragile insecurity at the heart of modern conservatism that instead of facing reality, they retreat into a paranoid fantasy in which they are the “good guys with guns.”
After Aldrich stormed Club Q and fired an assault rifle into the crowd, killing, injuring and terrifying the people in it, conservatives again justified it as a retaliation for grooming kids. Three examples come to mind. Tucker Carlson at first condemned the shooting but then showed a graphic that said, “STOP SEXUALIZING KIDS.” On a subsequent show, his guest threatened more mass killings, “until we end this evil agenda that is attacking children.” Far-right pundit Tim Poole tweeted, “Club Q had a grooming event. How do we prevent the violence and stop the grooming?” Matt Walsh, a YouTuber with almost two million followers said, “Is it that hard to not cross-front of kids? Is the compulsion that overwhelming?” he asked in the video. “If it’s causing this much chaos and violence, why do you insist on continuing to do it?”
Take a wild guess what happened. In December, 50 far-right protesters, some armed with guns; showed up at a Holi-Drag Storytime in Ohio, which was then canceled. Armed rightwing bullies have intimidated drag queens wanting to read to children, in Oregon, Texas and Tennessee. They are going to kill a drag queen or inspire a lone wolf to do it, “for the children” and some of those kids will be caught in the spray of bullets.
First They Came for The Drag Queens
The same far-right forces that terrorize LGBTQ Americans, bully local school boards and librarians and show up with guns outside early voting drop boxes and at neo-Nazi rallies. The demonization of gays, to the point of hallucinating that they are threatening children, is a feature of far-right ideology; it allows them to mainstream violence while casting themselves as vigilante defenders of “Real America”.
But the absurdity of the conservative obsession with pedophiles and groomers is it ignores the real danger children face. Especially gay children. And it comes from them – straight right wingers.
In a report “Missed Opportunities: LGTBQ Youth Homelessness”, from the University of Chicago, we see a nightmare America, where among the 4.2 million youth that go in and out of homelessness in a year, roughly 400,000 are LGTBQ. They run from home because of school bullying whether online or in real life. They run from homophobic parents, especially if they are Black, especially if they are Latino and poor. They climb into the back seats of cars and trade sex for food. They sleep in abandoned buildings. They use drugs to numb pain and wake up trying to wash off the handprints. They make families in the street to replace the ones they fled, and it sometimes works, briefly, like a miracle.
The real threat to American children is Conservative straight people. They are chasing after the destroyers of children. If they look in the mirror, they’ll find them.
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