The mass shooting in Colorado Springs last November that killed five people inside an LGBTQ+ nightclub served as a tragic reminder that the hate directed at our community can have deadly consequences.
In the wake of the killings, anti-LGBTQ+ right-wing figures celebrated on social media and advocated for copycat attacks, prompting bar owners around the country to step up security.
Instead of inspiring lawmakers to pass pro-LGBTQ+ measures, the shooting turned out to be a precursor to an unprecedented slew of legislative attacks, with more than 450 bills introduced targeting trans healthcare, drag shows, and affirming library books in state houses around the country.
This legislative assault on our equality has consequences beyond restricting the rights of queer people in those states. I recently heard from a mother in progressive, blue Maryland who said her trans daughter wants to sleep with a gun under her pillow because she fears a physical attack despite living in a supportive home.
As state legislatures finally wind down for the year, the American Civil Liberties Union reports that 15 states introduced more than 10 bills each targeting the community.
For trans people, the prospect of having to flee their home states “doesn’t feel theoretical anymore,” Ari Drennen, LGBTQ+ program director for Media Matters for America, told the Blade last week. “And it’s hard not to be alarmed about the direction that this is all heading,” she said.
The Blade has also been on the receiving end of recent attacks and threats. A few weeks back, I wrote an op-ed criticizing Fox News for its homophobic smear of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. Immediately after it was published, I began receiving the usual hate mail filled with anti-gay slurs. But then things escalated. The Blade’s website was hacked and taken down for several hours. The next day, the Blade’s phone system was hacked. Later, we received an email that contained a threat against gay people, which we reported to the D.C. police. Hacker attacks on the Washington Blade and Los Angeles Blade websites have since exploded, resulting in downtime and resources spent to restore service and upgrade security.
All of these coordinated, well-funded attacks on LGBTQ+ equality are culminating just as our community prepares to celebrate Pride month in a few weeks. And it all comes amid the backdrop of a frightening rise in mass shootings, the latest claiming eight lives this weekend at a shopping mall in Texas. As of Monday, we have seen 202 mass shootings in 2023; more than 6,000 Americans have been killed so far this year in homicides, murders, or unintentional shootings, according to the Gun Violence Archive. Those numbers will be higher by week’s end.
As Pride season arrives, community leaders must work with local police and other law enforcement officials to take sensible steps to protect our celebrations. Activists have rightly questioned the presence of uniformed police at some events, but we must explore all avenues to protect ourselves from these growing threats.
In the meantime, elected officials–mostly Republicans–must reconsider their anti-LGBTQ+ invective. Their legislative attacks and transphobic propaganda endanger lives and frighten queer youth, exposing them to discrimination and violence.
And if you think these attacks on queer youth are only happening in far-flung places in the rural South, think again. I spent Saturday at the Howard County Rainbow Conference in suburban Maryland, where queer youth and their parents attended book readings, enjoyed outdoor activities, and explored an exhibition hall filled with supportive resources from area non-profits. Just beneath the festive atmosphere, many parents I spoke with expressed fear for their children’s futures. One teacher reminded me that in neighboring Carroll County, officials have banned the display of Pride flags on school property. Right-wing figures disguised as “concerned moms” are infiltrating local school boards in counties all over the country, pushing ever more restrictive policies targeting our youth.
So let’s use Pride month to celebrate our progress, but also to commit to another generational fight to preserve and expand on those wins and to counter all the dangerous attacks from our enemies.
Kevin Naff is editor of the Washington Blade. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.