The US Right Is Stoking Anti-LGBT Hate. This Shooting Was No Surprise

Moira Donegan / Guardian UK
The US Right Is Stoking Anti-LGBT Hate. This Shooting Was No Surprise Hundreds of people attended a candlelight vigil at Temple Beit Torah in Colorado Springs for those who were affected by the shooting at Club Q and the Interfaith Transgender Day of Remembrance. (photo: Shanna Lewis/KRCC News)

ALSO SEE: The Colorado Massacre Cannot Be Blamed on Mental Illness. It's Rooted in Hate.

What happened in Colorado Springs this weekend was part of a trend of escalating violence targeting gay spaces

As far as mass shootings, go, it was over quickly. Just before midnight on Saturday, a man carrying multiple magazines of ammunition entered the Club Q, a gay bar in Colorado Springs, Colorado, spraying gunfire. As bullets flew, two patrons at the club subdued the attacker by grabbing a gun from him, and hitting him with it. They held him down until police arrived. The first 911 call was made at 11.56pm; the killer was taken into custody at 12.02am. But in those six minutes, five people were killed, including Daniel Aston and Derrick Rump, two men who were tending bar, and Kerry Loving, a partygoer. Eighteen were wounded. As the clock struck midnight, it became a holiday for the bar’s community: Transgender Day of Remembrance, which honors trans people killed in hate attacks, was observed on Sunday.

There’s a grim routine, these days, to the mass shootings in America. Some elements remain constant from shooting to shooting. Usually, the gunman is a young white man, and usually, he has a history of violence against women. There will have been mental health episodes, or previous run-ins with police. But none of this history will have stopped him from getting a gun. American mass shooters tend to use automatic or semi-automatic long guns, the kind that aren’t available to civilians in other countries. Almost always, they purchased them legally.

In the aftermath, the public makes a grim calculus. How many dead? How many wounded? The initial numbers that trickle out through the media tend to tick upward in the following hours and days, as more of the injured arrive in local hospitals and some of the wounded pass away. Americans compare the latest massacre to the others, rationalizing to keep the panic and despair at bay. “That one wasn’t so bad,” we tell ourselves. “Only three were killed.” This has become the price of being in public in America, a psychic tax that we all pay when we leave the house: that the next time, when the next gunman opens fire in a school, or a church, or a grocery store, that one of the anonymous numbers printed in the newspaper will be someone we love.

In the hours after a gunman stormed into Club Q, a morbid kind of box checking began. Yes, it was a young white man who committed the rampage – this time a 22-year-old. Yes, the shooter had a history of violence against women: the attacker was arrested last year after an hours-long standoff with police after making a bomb threat against his mother. He was charged with multiple felonies, but, yes, he still had access to guns. Yes, the killer used an AR-style long gun to murder his victims. And yes, the killer appears to have rightwing ties: he’s the grandson of a far-right California state assemblyman who supported the January 6 insurrection. On Monday, the shooter was charged with five counts of murder and several hate crimes.

There’s a morbid randomness to American gun violence – that fatal combination of scarce mental health treatment and superabundant firearms that makes America, and only America, a place where mass public massacres are common even when the nation is ostensibly at peace. But if the Colorado attack was enabled by America’s pervasive gun violence problem, it seems to have been prompted by the tenor of rightwing media, both broadcast and online, which over the past years has turned a virulent, conspiratorial and obsessively hateful eye towards the LGBT community.

In the coming days, the massacre at Club Q will be cast as an isolated tragedy, and those who point out the right’s complicity in the violence will be accused, with predictable cynicism, of politicizing the tragedy. But what happened in Colorado Springs this past weekend was the foreseeable continuation of a trend of escalating violence targeting gay spaces, and drag shows in particular.

Egged on by conservative politicians, like Lauren Boebert, social media figures, like Libs of TikTok, and traditional media scions, like Tucker Carlson, conservatives have spent the past months consuming the lie that gay and trans people are “groomers” – that is, perverts and pedophiles who want to molest children, or sterilize them, or confuse them into leading different, wrong and lesser lives. In the face of this supposed harm to the innocent, any vengeance can be justified.

The lie that gay people are “grooming” children has provided cover for violent and bigoted displays at LGBT community spaces across the country. Over the past year, drag performances and other LGBT events have been targeted with protests and violent threats in California, Idaho, Georgia, Texas, Florida, Indiana, Oregon, North Carolina and New York. Violent rightwing militia groups, like the Proud Boys and a group calling itself Patriot Front – who wear masks, because they are ashamed to show their faces – have appeared at these events, menacing gay people with threats. Just last month, in Eugene, Oregon, violence erupted outside a drag show when rightwing goons appeared and began throwing rocks and smoke bombs. At that hate rally, as at others, the anti-gay protesters carried semi-automatic rifles. It was only a matter of time before they started using them.

Like most bigots, homophobes know little about the groups they target, and their hatred doesn’t hew to logic. But when pressed, they will say that gay and trans people lack the virtues that they associate with traditional masculinity – virtues like honesty and integrity; courage, discipline and willingness to protect the innocent. But it was patrons, several of them gay themselves, who subdued the attacker at Club Q. According to the New York Times, a drag queen at the club helped by stomping on the man with her high heels

Meanwhile, in Uvalde, police officers armed to the teeth – the paragons of hegemonic masculinity that the right is always insisting we worship – stood by, cowardly and immobile, while a gunman slaughtered little children. If the right sees “manliness” as a virtue, a willingness to risk yourself to help the vulnerable, then you’d think it would be clear to them who the real “men” were.

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