It’s been a banner year for anti-transgender hate in America, the result of a concerted right-wing effort to alienate and attack trans people.
In the wake of the mass shooting at a private Christian school in Nashville on Monday, conservatives have only heightened their anti-trans rhetoric, twisting the shooter’s purported gender identity into what they claim is a civilizational war by all trans people against Christianity — even as Republicans across the country have thrown their weight behind hundreds of bills that would strip trans people of basic rights.
Police have said the shooter identified as transgender ― a claim that trans activists and journalists have criticized because it is unverified ― but they also noted the shooter was a former student at the school. Authorities haven’t singled out a specific motive for the attack yet. The shooter was killed by police at the school.
Nonetheless, right-wing commentators have declared that the shooting, which left three children and three adults dead, was nothing less than the beginning of a bloody battle.
On Tuesday, Tucker Carlson, the most watched cable news commentator in the country, called “the trans movement” the “natural enemy” of Christianity. Christianity and “transgender orthodoxy,” he said, were incompatible and “on a collision course with each other.”
“One side is likely to draw blood before the other side,” Carlson said before referring to the shooting. “Yesterday morning, tragically, our fears were confirmed.”
Across the right, major players are characterizing trans people not just as “groomers” ― an attack that plays on centuries-old fears of LGBTQ+ people targeting children ― but as violent actors.
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), newly empowered due to her alliance with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), wondered aloud on Monday, “How much hormones like testosterone and medications for mental illness was the transgender Nashville school shooter taking?” (Police haven’t said anything about any medication the assailant may have been taking.) Patrick Byrne, the former Overstock.com CEO who has spent millions of dollars sowing doubt about Democrats’ election wins, asked his Twitter followers Wednesday, referring to trans people, “How many will they slaughter in schoolyards to get even? Because folks don’t want them rolling around in lingerie with kids?”
The data on mass shootings couldn’t be more clear: The vast majority are committed by cisgender men. And trans people are much more likely than cisgender people to be the victims of violent crimes.
And yet after the shooting, right-wing media personalities hyped the claim that there have been four trans or nonbinary people accused in mass shooters in recent months. Among them is the accused attacker who killed five, including two trans people, in a Colorado Springs, Colorado, gay nightclub last year. Though that alleged shooter’s attorney has claimed in legal filings that the defendant uses they/them pronouns, some are skeptical: Police say the suspect ran a neo-Nazi website, used a slur for a gay person and posted an image of a rifle scope trained on a gay pride parade. A former neighbor told NBC News, “I think it’s an insult to those people that are actually going through personal struggles with their own sexuality and their own personal identity.”
Nonetheless, Twitter CEO Elon Musk — who has allowed the platform to transform into a haven for far-right voices and has been in charge of the company while tweets mentioning the “groomer” narrative have increased by 119% — responded to a post about the four accused shooters with a “!” comment. Donald Trump Jr. declared “a clear epidemic of trans/non-binary mass shooters,” prompting notes from Twitter users about the thousands of cisgender male shooters who did not receive the same scrutiny.
Even the terror felt by the trans community is weaponized against them: After NBC News reported on the fear pervading the Nashville trans community in the wake of the school shooting, including one drag performer who noted she’d hired armed guards for an upcoming show, far-right media personality Matt Walsh said the report highlighted “trans privilege.” Walsh, whose Twitter bio brags of being labeled a “theocratic fascist” and “transphobe of the year,” added that “they” ― referring collectively to trans people ― had massacred children.
‘A Really Scary Time’
The rhetorical attacks on trans people have been accompanied this year by a deluge of legislation targeting them.
Though there were fewer than 70 anti-trans bills introduced annually in state legislatures through 2020, there were 144 proposed in 2021, 174 proposed last year ― and a whopping 490 proposed in the first three months of 2023 alone, according to Trans Legislation Tracker, a database of the bills.
Andrew Bales, who created the website, told HuffPost that states have already enacted 23 of the proposals into law this year, nearly matching the 26 anti-trans bills passed nationwide in all of 2022.
Bales said that although certain proposals had continued from years past, such as restrictions on bathroom usage and school sports, state lawmakers have sponsored numerous bills in 2023 over gender non-conforming performances, creating legal definitions that could exceed far beyond drag shows, along with bills legislating trans kids’ behavior in schools. Bales also noted a steep rise in bills targeting gender-affirming health care: 148 proposed so far in 2023, more than the past five years combined.
Some legislation would extend bans on trans health coverage to patients as old as 26. Other bills classify this health care as child abuse.
“It’s a really scary time, and a time when I hope a lot of people are looking at this and understanding the kind of attacks that are really happening on trans people and the level of threat that there is,” Bales said.
The bills are part of a broader movement of hate toward LGBTQ+ people in the United States.
In November, the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED) said that anti-LGBTQ+ mobilization had “risen to its highest levels” since the project started recording U.S. data in 2020. A spokesperson for the group, Sam Jones, told HuffPost in an email that although late 2022 remains a high point ― ACLED recorded 240 anti-LGBTQ+ incidents in total last year ― “anti-LGBTQ+ mobilization is continuing at very high levels.”
“If you compared the first quarter of 2023 with the same time period last year, for example, it’s four times higher,” Jones said in an email. Incidents logged this year include protests outside family-friendly Drag Queen Story Hour events and at medical clinics that offer gender-affirming care to trans people. Members of the Proud Boys, the far-right street gang that played an integral role in the attack on Congress on Jan. 6, 2021, frequently attend these events.
On Thursday, a police department in Ohio recommended canceling a planned drag brunch at a community church due to a “realistic threat that organized protests and counter-protests could result in violence.” The Sunday prior ― before the Nashville shooting ― the church announced that Molotov cocktails had been thrown on the property and a sign had been smashed with a sledgehammer, according to WJW-TV in Cleveland.
For Bales, who’s been tracking the right’s aggressive focus on the trans community for years, the recent attacks feel like an extension of years of bigotry ― an “extreme backlash” that goes back to a major win for the LGBTQ+ community, the U.S. Supreme Court’s legalization of same-sex marriage nationwide in 2015.
“I think this year it’s really starting to play out … the same bills are being introduced [in different states], the rhetoric is changing so incredibly” at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), they said. “It’s a really scary thing to watch.”