The Far Right has a long history of demonizing the LGBTQ community. The recent shooting in Colorado Springs shows that it still poses a dangerous threat.
On November 19th, someone walked into a gay nightclub in Colorado Springs, and left with five people’s lives. Anderson Lee Aldrich opened fire on Club Q, murdering five and injuring dozens more. Despite the location being a gathering place for the city’s queer community, authorities insisted for days that “no motive,” could be determined. The reality is obvious: Aldrich, motivated by an unimaginable hatred for the LGBTQ community, took to the street that night intent on murdering its members and succeeded in doing so.
Tragedies like this one only reinforce the fear felt in the hearts of queer people throughout the country: that fundamentally, they live behind enemy lines. Corporations may change their logos for Pride Month, and entertainers like Lil Nas X and Trixie Mattel might influence pop culture. This doesn’t change what will always be true: there are people who despise the LGBTQ community and wish to eradicate them.
What happened in Colorado Springs was the monstrous expression of a disturbed mind. But it wouldn’t have been possible without a political and media ecosystem that amplifies conspiracies and legitimizes delusions. For years, conservative politicians, pundits, and influencers have made a cottage industry out of condemning the LGBTQ community. Tune in to any right-wing media platform, and a horrifying world immediately begins to take shape.
Far right Twitter account Libs of TikTok popularized the “groomer,” slur against LGBTQ teachers, drag performers, and medical staff, causing the use of the phrase by right-wingers on social media to increase 400%. Tucker Carlson – America’s most watched cable news host – suggested that teachers should be “beaten up,” for discussing gender identity and sexual orientation with students. Online conservative grifters like Steven Crowder and Matt Walsh constantly portrayed drag queens as pedophiles and rapists, mirroring Alex Jones and other more fringe peers, crafting an alternate reality where the LGBTQ community was an existential threat.
Though such paranoia can appear comical, it also stuck into the brains of millions. As a result, viewers began doing what was always implied in the monologues of their favorite pundits: taking action against the LGBTQ menace. Examples of this behavior are countless: Patriot Front members planning to ambush a pride parade in Idaho; Proud boys disrupting LGBTQ venues throughout Pride Month; An assailant throwing a molotov cocktail through the window of a doughnut shop for hosting a drag event, to name a few.
While shocking, demonization of the LGBTQ community isn’t a modern phenomenon. Gay rights icons like Marsha Johnson and Harvey Milk were killed because of bigotry. Others – like Frank Kameny – lost their jobs. These crucial LGBTQ leaders were victims of the lavender scare of the mid-20th century, which ruined thousands of lives. Our current anti-LGBTQ backlash is merely the latest iteration of attitudes and talking points circulated within the right for decades. Using allegations of pedophilia and sexual deviancy against LGBTQ people can be traced back to the Satanic Panic, and long before. Ominously, Carlson name-dropped Harvey Milk’s killer in his college yearbook.
Many have tried to weaponize Aldrich’s usage of they/them pronouns, to dismiss critiques against the far-right media apparatus as being misplaced. Even if the claim is true, Aldrich also used anti-gay slurs frequently during fits of rage. Despite insistence from the Right, arguments from the Left haven’t been disproved by this realization. The legacies of figures like Roy Cohn and J. Edgar Hoover – homosexuals who persecuted LGBTQ people – live on in Milo Yiannopoulos, Christian Walker, and possibly, Anderson Lee Aldrich. Anti-LGBTQ sentiments, when institutionalized, and deemed acceptable, permeate even the cultures they seek to annihilate. Being queer and having reactionary attitudes toward queer people are not mutually exclusive concepts.
Massacres like Colorado Springs and the grotesque rhetoric mentioned above are the most objectionable examples of homophobia and transphobia. Except such rhetoric inspires legislation, and shapes policy that continues to harm LGBGTQ people. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis – architect of the infamous “Don’t Say Gay” law – collaborates frequently with Libs of TikTok creator Chaya Raichik.
Since the original Florida bill was introduced, a dozen states have proposed copycat bills, sometimes utilizing the same language and justifications. Last month, lawmakers in Idaho introduced a bill that would ban drag performances in public venues. House Bill 454 in Ohio’s statehouse restricts the ability of transgender teens to access medical care. Over 1,600 books related to race and gender were banned in 130 school districts between 2021 and 2022. Altogether, 162 bills targeting LGBTQ people were introduced from January to July of this year.
Which takes us back to where we began: institutionalized discrimination allows street-level violence to thrive. If a community’s rights are removed, they become vulnerable to attacks and aggression from those who view their existence as a threat. Consequently, malefactors become emboldened, openly victimizing the disenfranchised, with the knowledge they’ll have no recourse. DeSantis, Carlson, and Walsh are isolated from the horrors they wrought upon the world. None will ever meet the families of victims slaughtered in Colorado Springs. Or speak to the trans teens, who hide their true selves for fear of bullying. Or interview the teachers fired for being LGBTQ in the presence of students.
The world these men inhabit is one of green rooms, dinner parties in Georgetown, and soirees in the Hamptons. The bile spewed daily from their respective programs, podcasts, and podiums is just another facet of their “brand.” Something to remind network executives of when hashing out contract negotiations, or use to pander come election season. Yet the culture that created Anderson Lee Aldrich was molded by these men. Each one used different mediums to build upon this political project. The airwaves, social media, the law. And no matter how thick the veneer of respectability, the outcome remains unchanged. Legal violence and rhetorical violence are violence all the same. As their power base declines, the right will resort to all three as an attempt to remain in power.
Yet were you to read the musings of liberal writers, one would imagine the danger is finally receding. “The fever is breaking,” proclaimed David Brooks in his New York Times opinion column just after the 2020 presidential election. “Democracy defenders have many reasons to be grateful this Thanksgiving,” wrote Jennifer Rubin of The Washington Post this past month. After a successful midterm, and the ascension to power of people like Rishi Sunak in the United Kingdom and Lula da Silva in Brazil, many liberals believe “sanity has been restored,” and the country is beginning to “return to normal.”
Complacency created the crisis we’re currently in. It would be naive to imagine that such feckless optimism will save us. Fascism doesn’t come in and out like a tide. It morphs, shifts, and evolves to fit the climate. Trump’s raving authoritarianism may fade into irrelevance, but a new generation of tyrants are waiting in the wings to take his place. They justify the lurch towards illiberalism using legal texts and quotes from Washington, not militias and claims of fraud. The wave of anti-LGBTQ legislation, voter suppression bills, and anti-protesting laws are all representations of this more subtle, and therefore more dangerous, threat.
Democrats promising to change nothing about their platform or policy proposals – imagining the opponent has been defeated – shows they don’t comprehend the situation’s gravity. Christopher Hitchens once described fascism as the stench of disinfectant sprayed on rubble. Our country is suffocating in that stench, and it is the liberal class who hold the canister. Survival is not begotten by false illusions. We must recognize the authoritarian threat, and confront it, united by the shared empathy and humanity its adherents could never understand.