Queer people across the United States are under political and violent attack by right-wing and fascist forces. On June 11, 31 members of the white-supremacist organization Patriot Front was arrested on their way to start a riot at a Pride event in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. Significantly, in 2020, Idaho was among the first states to “turn anti-transgender attacks into law” by banning trans women and girls from school sports. Pride events are under increasing threats of violence, according to the Washington Post. On the same weekend as the attempted Patriot Front Riot, a group of ten self-identified Proud Boys (an armed and violent U.S. far-right, neo-fascist organization) targeted a Drag Queen Story Hour at a library in San Lorenzo, California. Panda Dulce, a drag performer and one of the founders of Drag Queen Story Hour, stated that the men attempted to record her and the children with their phones, saying, “They got right in our faces. They attempted to escalate to violence [and] totally freaked out all of the kids.”
The backdrop for these and other direct violent confrontations by fascist groups against queer people is part of the larger right-wing push to roll back the gains of the queer community in acceptance, visibility, employment, housing protections, and access to gender-affirming healthcare, and, of course, marriage equality. Last year, in their annual survey, Gallup found marriage equality is now supported by more than 70 percent of United States residents, including 55 percent of Republicans. Support for ending discrimination against queer people in employment, housing, and public accommodations is even higher.
Even the populist appeal of someone like Trump was not enough to reverse such gains in acceptance, particularly for middle-class cis gay men and lesbians. Like most proto-fascists, Trump and his acolytes promote a politics of grievance that pits mostly white middle-class and petit-bourgeois men and women against those they perceive as “other.” Most people in the U.S. do not perceive gay men and lesbians to be “other.” Therefore, the right has had to launder its attack on our rights by reviving old-school accusations of pedophilia and “grooming.” This rhetoric engenders and justifies assaults on trans and gender-nonconforming queer people, including cis gay men who perform in drag.
In the past year, more than 300 anti-trans bills have come before state legislatures. So-called “bathroom bills” target trans people by denying trans people the ability to use the bathroom consonant with their gender. While some bills, for example in the Alabama legislature, focused on all public restrooms, many are aimed at school bathrooms or locker rooms. Proponents of this oppressive legislation falsely claim that allowing trans teens to use the locker or restroom concordant with their gender endangers girls and young women. In some cases, they claimed they had no issue with any particular trans student, but argued that “self-identification” could be used by young men to commit sexual assault. Other proponents were clear that they did not believe trans identity is valid, often misgendering and dead-naming students.
More recently, anti-trans activists have focused on the inclusion of trans women in high school and collegiate sports. There has been a spate of high-profile attempts to ban trans women (and some intersex and cis women) from participating in their sports. Lia Thomas, a collegiate swimmer, has enraged fascist and right-wing forces since returning to the sport following two years of transitioning. FINA, the women’s swimming world governing body, has barred Thomas and all trans women from participating at elite levels in the sport. While there is not yet a scientific consensus on whether going through male puberty confers an advantage to trans women athletes, the politicization of trans women in sports is just another front in the battle to reverse the growing acceptance of trans people in all walks of life. In recent years, legislation has been introduced in several states to ban trans athletes from participating in sports concordant with their gender.
While most assessments of the appropriateness of athletes to play are based on hormone levels, anti-trans forces have been pushing for more extreme and unscientific methods. In fact, a bill that passed the Ohio Assembly goes so far as to require an external and internal examination of a girl’s reproductive anatomy if her gender is “disputed.” Far from wanting to protect girls, these politicians want to force girls and young women to undergo unnecessary, invasive, and dehumanizing procedures. Such procedures can easily be weaponized by competitors and will mostly serve to push trans girls and women out of sports altogether.
Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill, promoted and signed by the state’s proto-fascist governor Ron DeSantis, is probably the most emboldening of all the recent right-wing attacks against queer people. DeSantis has indicated he plans to run for President in 2024, which seems to be the primary driver of his reactionary tenure as governor, during which he has opposed abortion, gun control, and affirming care for trans youth, among other right-wing programs. While DeSantis and other proponents of the “Don’t Say Gay” bill claim it will ensure developmentally appropriate education, the bill’s language is so broad that a queer teacher even casually discussing their spouse could be sued. Since the law’s passage, twelve other states have introduced similar legislation.
This anti-trans and anti-queer agenda has been both amplified by fascist media figures like Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham on cable television and on social media through accounts like “LibsofTikTok” run by Chaya Raichik. Carlson, Ingraham, and Raichik have all conflated speaking with children about gender and sexual orientation with “grooming” them to be queer or for sexual purposes.
This rhetoric revives Anita Bryant’s 1977 “Save The Children” playbook, updated for the digital age. Bryant, a former Miss America contestant, and singer, launched a campaign against Florida’s Dade County (now Miami-Dade County) law that prohibited discrimination based on sexual orientation. Similar to the current sex panic around “grooming,” Bryant claimed, “What these people really want, hidden behind obscure legal phrases, is the legal right to propose to our children that theirs is an acceptable alternate way of life.” Bryant was not only successful in having the ordinance repealed but went on to lead campaigns all across the country. It took nearly twenty years for Miami-Dade County to once again prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation. Earlier this month, the Texas GOP released its platform, which is filled with eliminationist rhetoric and policies aimed at LGBTQ people.
This increasing and coordinated campaign of hatred led by the right is increasingly leading to real-world violence. The recent attacks by Patriot Front and the Proud Boys are not isolated incidents. As reported by the Crime Report, “Anti-LGBTQ activity including demonstrations and attacks increased more than four times from 2020 to 2021, from 15 incidents to 61, according to the global nonprofit conflict-monitoring group known as ACLED. As of early June, ACLED counted 33 anti-LGBTQ incidents so far this year, indicating an even bleaker 2022.” This growth in violence directed at our community spaces is in addition to the day-to-day violence experienced by queer people, particularly those who are transgender or gender-nonconforming. Trans women of color are at extreme risk of violence, with 57 murdered in 2021 and 14 so far in 2022. In 2019 (the last year for which data is available), more than 1,500 queer people were victims of hate crimes.
So what is to be done? We know that, in the United States, the police and the system of mass incarceration are hostile to queer people. In fact, most of the early uprisings by queer people were instigated by police abuse and harassment. While the Stonewall Rebellion, commemorated this month, is the best known, uprisings occurred as early as the 1959 Cooper Donut Shop Riots in Los Angeles. Other uprisings against state violence happened in the decade between Cooper and Stonewall, including the Dewey’s Lunch Counter Sit-in in Philadelphia in 1965, the Julius’ Sip-in in New York City in 1966, and the Compton’s Cafeteria Riot in 1966. Further, while middle-class white gay men and lesbians may see the police as their allies, BIPOC queer people are regularly targeted, harassed, and even murdered by the police.
The police are an inherently reactive and reactionary force with little incentive to protect more marginalized queer people. The recent massacre of school children and teachers in Uvalde, Texas has shown that the police are unwilling to put themselves at risk even when heavily armed and trained. For these reasons, we cannot look to hate crimes legislation and enforcement, which increase the power of the carceral state, to defend queer (and particularly trans) lives.
Ultimately, queer people and our allies must engage in community self-defense. We have to protect ourselves and each other. Ignited by police murders of unarmed black people, many queer communities have begun to oppose police involvement in Pride events. In New York City, the Queer Liberation March disavows corporate pink-washing and refuses to include law enforcement or even collaborate with them. Instead, volunteer marshalls monitor the march, assist disabled comrades, and (during the COVID-19 pandemic) provide masks and other protective equipment. Similar organizations and collectives that oppose police participation include No Justice No Pride in Washington, D.C., and Gay Shame in San Francisco. Even more traditional pride parade organizing committees, such as Heritage of Pride in New York and San Francisco Pride, have recently refused to allow police officers to march in uniform.
In addition to creating alternatives to corporate Pride marches, we must develop networks of socialists and other allies who are willing to engage in community self-defense. This could take the form of teaching self-defense techniques to visibly queer people, tracking anti-queer social media like the previously mentioned LibsofTikTok that target our events, organizing Drag Queen Story Hour defense volunteers similar to clinic defense for reproductive justice, and, when necessary, arm ourselves.
At the same time, we must continue to build working-class solidarity, provide education to counter false accusations of “grooming,” and show solidarity with BIPOC queer folk on issues of police violence. The queer community has a long history of community self-defense. From the Compton’s Riot to ACT UP, Women’s Health Action Mobilization to the Lesbian Avengers, from The Trans Menace to FIERCE, the most vulnerable queer people have always stepped up to protect each other from state and social violence.
As we live through a seemingly unending pandemic, capitalism is making all of us feel more isolated, alienated, and precarious. The right wants to blame or eliminate us in pursuit of a white supremacist, patriarchal, capitalist state. We must respond with militancy and clarity. Socialists must take up the mantle of ensuring that queer people are protected. We must do our best to ameliorate the conditions that pit workers against each other, while protecting the vulnerable. And, when necessary, we must be prepared to bash back.
Featured Image Credit: Photo by Pax Ahisma Gethen. Image modified by Tempest.
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Christian is a working-class queer femme, who has been active in struggles around queer rights, HIV/AIDS, and economic justice since the Clinton Administration.