Bigoted Attacks Are Injecting Fear Into Pride Month, But We Won’t Back Down

This year the tide of anti-trans and anti-queer hate has surged to new heights. More than 300 anti-trans or anti-LGBTQ laws have been introduced in 2022 alone — often by the same Republican lawmakers introducing anti-Black and anti-abortion bills. Over 25 have passed, most of them targeting trans teens and children. Republican politicians, as well as right-wing pundits and influencers, have encouraged their followers to murder or otherwise harm trans people, drag queens, queer people and parents who support trans children.

In times like this, it’s all the more important for LGBTQ people to come together in community to express rage, celebrate victories, protest injustice, and just love each other and have fun. But folks are nervous. As if COVID and monkeypox weren’t enough, this Pride month has seen tragic anti-LGBTQ violence in Oslo, Norway; Baltimore, Maryland; San Lorenzo, California; Palm Beach, Florida; Arlington, Texas; Apex, North Carolina; Coeur D’Alene, Idaho; Anacortes, Washington; Kalama, Washington; Karlsruhe, Germany; Kraaifontein, South Africa; Accra, Ghana; Kampala, Uganda; Jerusalem; and more. In some of these incidents, groups of white supremacists were the perpetrators — including five Proud Boys interrupting Drag Queen Story Hour in San Lorenzo, Proud Boys among others disrupting a drag brunch in Arlington and 31 Patriot Front members gathering in Coeur d’Alene to attack LGBTQ+ people at a Pride event.

The Interconnected Targets of White Christian Supremacy

White Christian supremacists tend to save most of their bullets for those who are Black, Indigenous, immigrants, Latinx, Jewish, Muslim, Asian, Arab, or acting in solidarity with one or more of those groups. That includes a lot of LGBTQ+ people, of course. But it also includes a lot of straight cis people. While Buffalo shooter Payton Gendron saw trans advocacy organizations as part of a Jewish plot to reduce white birth rates, the people he actually chose to murder were Black folks shopping for groceries. Still, anti-LGBTQ+ violence has always formed a part of the larger white Christian supremacist toolkit. White Christian supremacy is a gendered ideology and movement that hinges on patriarchy.

Some reasons for anti-transness in white Christian supremacist ideology are theological. Imara Jones explains some of them in her series exploring the anti-trans hate machine:

We have to understand that … they believe that the division of the world into men and women, each in their biblical roles, is the only way that God will return. And their faith is so structured around these patriarchal ideas, that they’re convinced that trans people are the ultimate threat to God Himself, to His divine order.

Other aspects are eugenic, based in the idea that it is desirable and possible to create a world with more or only people who are “fit” (read: non-disabled, healthy, white, Protestant, cis, straight, U.S. citizen, conservative) and fewer or none of everyone else. The Buffalo shooter was far from the first to weave together anti-LGBTQ hatred and antisemitism to speculate that trans identity, gender nonconformity and same-sex relationships result from a Jewish plot to reduce birth rates among white Christians. In their eyes, white, Christian, non-disabled children raised by white, cis, straight, non-disabled, Christian adults and protected from other influences will and should become white, cis, straight, non-disabled, Christian adults who will have and raise more white, Christian, non-disabled children and carry out the white Christian supremacist agenda. In white trans and queer people from Christian backgrounds, they see either misguided victims who can still be rescued and rehabilitated into cisgender and heterosexual normativity through Christianity, or lost causes who must not be permitted to influence others. And in trans and queer folks who are also Black, Indigenous, or other people of color, and in those who are also Jewish, disabled or Muslim, they don’t see people at all. Their tactics are designed to fall most heavily on people in these groups, and they do. Anti-trans laws — by design — tend to harm Black trans folks the most. Of the at least 15 trans people murdered so far in the U.S. in 2022, at least 12 were Black, Latina or Asian.

Police Won’t Save (Most of) Us

On June 11, a worker in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, called in a tip that a “little army” of men with shields were entering a U-Haul van. Police arrested 31 white nationalists, equipped with riot gear and a smoke grenade, who had traveled from 11 states to attack LGBTQ+ people at a Pride gathering. Various media outlets have praised the police for arresting these Patriot Front members — the same group that famously descended on Charlottesville in 2017. At first glance, some might imagine that in this instance the police are trustworthy opponents of white supremacy acting in allyship with LGBTQ people, but that view would be misguided.

Let’s look a little closer at the actors involved.

Sheriff Bob Norris of Kootenai County, along with Police Chief Lee White, took credit for these arrests, and framed them as riot prevention. In Idaho, like most of the country, police favor white people over Black and Indigenous people. According to the ACLU, in Idaho overall, police are 3.9 times more likely to arrest a Black person for cannabis possession than a white person. That’s bad enough. In Kootenai County, though, the disparity soars even higher — sheriffs’ deputies are 6.2 times more likely to arrest a Black person than a white person for cannabis possession. While it’s trickier to find county-level statistics regarding Indigenous people, Idaho law enforcement also targets these communities. Suquamish tribe descendant Jeanetta Riley is one of the Indigenous people Idaho police have killed. A federal study looking at racial disparities in how several states, including Idaho, handle arrests of teens and children found that police were more likely to refer Indigenous people to authorities (rather than release them to their family with a warning) than any other racial group.

As for Norris specifically, a few months ago he attended a Republican fundraiser featuring white nationalist speakers and guests, where a white nationalist speaker — Dave Reilly — thanked him for keeping them safe. A white supremacist publication wrote an article celebrating Norris’s election as sheriff because of his stance against enforcing mask mandates. Previously, he worked as a deputy in the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. He reportedly donated $600 to the campaign of Paul Tanaka, an undersheriff who was himself linked to white supremacists, implicated in giving out promotions based on who donated to his campaign, and convicted of conspiracy and obstruction of justice for interfering in an FBI investigation into corruption and widespread violence from deputies against people in the jail he helped run.

I don’t know what Bob Norris believes. But regardless of his beliefs, he works for a system that violently enforces white supremacy. It’s not surprising that white supremacists saw the police as their friend, and are lashing out against them now for arresting members of the Patriot Front. After all, whether in Ohio or Russia, New York or Turkey, again and again it has been the police who physically attack trans and queer people — especially Black and Indigenous people, and other trans and queer people of color who take to the streets.

As for the Pride event in Coeur d’Alene? It was the biggest yet, as Jessica Mahuron told the Spokesman, “full of love and connection.” But numerous anti-LGBTQ groups organized counter-events and had a presence at the event itself, including some who walked through the event carrying guns or anti-LGBTQ signs. And Patriot Front members were not exactly neutralized — they filmed themselves handing out racist pamphlets after their arrest and ominously promised they would return.

Between the ongoing threat of COVID-19 and of police, vigilante, and other hate violence, it has not been easy for people or organizations to decide on their approach to Pride this June. Some groups have canceled events in light of death threats or increasing COVID rates. Others have opted for coordinating with law enforcement, hiring private security firms and requesting increased police presence. But of course, those have never been the only options — and for many trans and queer people, a police presence spells more danger, not safety.

Keeping Ourselves and Each Other Safe

For many decades, trans and queer people have developed and practiced ways to keep each other safe without relying on the police. We have also defined safety holistically. When we talk about making Pride events safe, that includes safety from tear gas and from overdose, safety from shooters and from illness. And we keep teaching each other our safety tips.

Vision Change Win, a Black-led QTPOC social change organization, released a comprehensive Community Safety Toolkit, written largely by Ejeris Dixon but reflecting oral traditions passed down for decades and covering topics as broad as deescalating conflict, treating tear gas, recruiting and training a security team and reducing COVID risk. All event planners should familiarize themselves with these tools.

Formations like Interrupting Criminalization and Community Resource Hub have been pointing out and fighting for the types of strategies that are proven to actually stop violence. For example, violence interrupter programs, more investment in community organizations, improvements to the physical environment such as better lighting, housing and green spaces, and decriminalization itself have been shown to actually reduce violence.

Meanwhile a wide range of folks have been rolling out trainings on self-defense, community defense, upstander intervention (tactics people can use to stop violence when they see it), harm reduction, first aid, legal rights with police and how to respond when menaced by a shooter. For example, according to Rolling Stone, drag queens have continued reading to kids in libraries targeted by the Proud Boys — but they are working with the Anti-Violence Project to get trained and put protocols in place in case of further attacks.

Those holding digital events often have their own safety protocols in place to deal with Zoom bombers, infiltrators and others who would do harm.

This Pride, we have to remember that when we show up in numbers, white Christian supremacists are likely to back down. We have to remember that they have been trying to rid the world of our magnificence for centuries, and they have always failed. As long as we keep loving and protecting each other, they will always fail.