“They are going to kill us,” I thought as I saw far right commentators weaponizing information about the Nashville school shooter’s identity to push the nation’s anti-trans panic into overdrive.
It was already terrifying to be trans in a country where there is an ongoing and documented movement to “eliminate openly LGBTQ people from the fabric of society.” But now, with Donald Trump Jr. spreading lies and panic about what he describes as “a clear epidemic of trans or nonbinary mass shooters,” the fear of harm to trans communities intensifies.
I find moments of such joy in queer and trans spaces, but this joy is marred by the suffocating exhaustion of surviving in a world where every day people are making living so much harder for people in my communities.
That’s how I already felt, and then the Nashville shooting happened. The massacre of six people at a Christian school in Nashville, Tennessee, by a 28-year-old on March 27 is yet another heartbreaking shooting in a country that seems to have accepted pervasive gun violence as a normal way of life. But this time, the shooter was most likely transgender, a fact that Republicans have already exploited to advance their Christian nationalist, anti-trans agenda.
I was on the tram riding back to my apartment from school when I heard this news. Scrolling through Twitter, I saw that my friend, the historian Dr. William Horne, had posted, “I peeked at the Christian nationalist corners of the internet & can’t shake the feeling that things are [about] to get horrifically bad. I’d give anything to be wrong, but they were already in the midst of a genocidal attack on LGBTQ folks & seem ready to expand it dramatically.” And I felt a crushing, suffocating fear.
Before the right-wing weaponization of this shooting, transgender people were already facing the reality every day that state legislatures have introduced 435 anti-LGBTQ bills across the country. Right-wing media host Michael Knowles recently took center stage at the Conservative Political Action Conference, giving a speech on how “transgenderism must be eradicated from public life entirely,” offering further evidence of how the right’s anti-trans rhetoric is taking an increasingly genocidal turn.
The Trans Journalists Association has cautioned that it is unclear how the police came to the determination that the shooter was transgender. More information, including a “manifesto” regarding the attack, is most likely forthcoming, and not a lot of details about the shooter have been confirmed. It seems likely, however, according to sources close to the shooter’s family, that the shooter used he/him pronouns and signed his name as Aiden Hale. The far right quickly sensationalized this information in a mass disinformation campaign against transgender people.
Several far right media figures, including Tucker Carlson, Matt Walsh, Benny Johnson and Andy Ngo, along with Republican politicians Senator J.D. Vance (Ohio) and Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene (Georgia) took to social media to blame the shooting on Hale’s gender identity, instead of guns.
“The Republican Party has embraced anti-trans policies as central feature of their party that literally violate the 1948 Genocide Convention of the U.N., created in the aftermath of the Holocaust to prevent similar atrocities,” Horne told Truthout. “The anti-trans rhetoric we’re seeing from Christian nationalists like Tucker Carlson in the aftermath of the Nashville shooting represents an escalation of that existing genocidal rhetoric and policy. That’s what makes this moment so dangerous — that fascists are using the shooting to accelerate their existing genocidal campaign against trans folks and the LGBTQ community more broadly.”
The far right also homed in on Hale’s neurodivergence and alleged autism — a strategy that isn’t surprising given the far right’s history of weaponizing ableism to justify transphobia, according to disability scholar Amy Gaeta.
“Attributing the shooter’s autism or gender identity to their motivation behind the shooting is a dangerous, strategic distraction from the urgent need for gun control in the U.S. Further, it allows right-wing politicians to weaponize this tragedy to fuel their own anti-trans agenda,” Gaeta told Truthout. “There is no evidence that being autistic or trans makes one violent. Being autistic and/trans is more likely to make one a recipient of violence, such as the violent anti-trans legislation being passed around the country.”
Gun violence is an epidemic in this country, one that Republicans have clearly decided they are not going to fix. Despite widespread demands for gun reform — especially from members of the LGBTQ community, who are at a higher risk of becoming victims of gun violence — Congress has failed to take action on gun reform for more than a decade.
Just this month, 38 mass shootings have left 57 people dead and 133 injured. Last year, school shootings hit a record high, with 46 shootings taking place at K-12 schools.
Of the 306 mass shootings in the U.S. since 2009, only four were perpetrated by transgender people. A recent study conducted by the National institute of Justice (NIJ) found that 97.7 percent of mass shooters were cisgender men.
“4 shooters out of over 300 mass shooters since 2009 are transgender or non-binary. That’s just 1.3 percent of all shooters,” said Columbia University professor Anthony Zenkus on Twitter. “You just proved our point: 99 percent of mass shooters in the United States are [cisgender].”
Not only are LGBT people nearly four times more likely than non-LGBT people to be victims of violent crime, transgender people also have a higher mortality rate than cisgender people, with one study finding that transgender people are twice as likely to die as cisgender people.
“It’s fucked up that trans people not only have to feel the pain everyone feels when a shooting happen, but we all know we have to defend our very identity during that grief due to someone else’s horrific actions from bigots using the shooters identity to justify hate against us,” said writer Jessie Earl on Twitter.
We shouldn’t have to defend ourselves with facts that have been readily available and widely known for years. The far right was already targeting our community and now it has the perfect opportunity to escalate its attacks. As VICE News reported, “The right is using the Nashville shooting to declare war on trans people.”
It is a very scary time to be alive as a trans person.
I was recently at a Queer Youth March in Denver, Colorado, where a young transgender person spoke about how difficult it is to exist in a world marred by gun violence, legislative attacks on trans youth, and the fear of being attacked for being LGBTQ.
In the past year, queer youth in Colorado have had to grieve for the victims of Club Q, for their classmates killed by gun violence, and for the suicides of community members like Kayleigh Scott and Eden Knight.
Just this month, several hundred high schoolers staged a school walkout and marched to the Colorado capital to demand stricter gun laws after a 16-year-old student was shot in February near the school. The student died from his injuries two weeks later.
The same high school suffered another shooting just three weeks later, when a 17-year-old student shot two administrators at East High School before fleeing the scene and committing suicide.
At the Queer Youth March, which occurred the same week of the most recent Denver high school shooting, LGBTQ youth and their allies marched for their autonomy and for gun reform.
We chanted “We are not afraid” as we marched. I really wanted to mean what I said when we chanted “We are not afraid.” But I was afraid.
I was afraid that day, because every day I am afraid for the queer youth across the country who are being targeted by a coordinated far right attack on transgender lives. I am scared for the LGBTQ kids who are losing access to gender-affirming health care, who are being forced to detransition, who are being banned from participating in school sports, using the bathroom, changing their legal names and gender markers, and attending queer cultural events, like drag performances.
I am afraid for the trans kids who are struggling with their mental health because of the political debates surrounding their autonomy, because of being forcibly de-transitioned, and because of an increase in hate crimes targeting transgender people. Roughly 86 percent of transgender and nonbinary youth surveyed in a poll by The Trevor Project have said the recent debates around anti-trans bills have negatively impacted their mental health. The impact of anti-trans bills and anti-trans rhetoric in the aftermath of the Nashville shooting is expected to amplify the current mental health crisis of transgender youth.
And I am afraid for myself. I am scared that I might be targeted by politicians like Ron DeSantis, the anticipated front-runner for the 2024 Republican ticket, who has asked state universities for the number and ages of their trans students. I am afraid that if I decide to seek gender-affirming health care in the future, I will not have access to it. (States including South Dakota, Tennessee, Kansas, South Carolina, and Texas are currently pushing legislation forward that would limit lifesaving health care for trans adults.) And I am afraid that I won’t be able to use the bathroom when I need to in public.
I am afraid of being shot or otherwise attacked simply for being in queer spaces, which have been increasingly targeted by hate crimes. Whenever I go to a gay club or a drag show or a queer music event, I think about the potential that I might be killed or attacked. According to a 2015 survey conducted by the National Center for Transgender Equality, nearly half of trans people have been verbally harassed for being transgender and nearly 1 in 10 respondents were physically attacked for being transgender. And I am afraid that if I die, I will be deadnamed and misgendered in death, like so many transgender people have been.
And now I’m so unspeakably terrified.
The far right’s weaponization of this tragedy, one which was primarily caused by its own policies and inaction, intentionally puts the already-at-risk transgender community at a heightened risk of danger and justifies the attacks on trans rights across the country.
“To see some people look at all of the ways in which trans people are targeted and then blame mass shootings on us is sick,” said transgender activist Erin Reed. “Shootings aren’t new. Trans people aren’t to blame, nor are any other marginalized group.”
The transgender community is anticipating that the anti-trans rhetoric that has surged in the aftermath of the Nashville shooting will embolden those who are attacking our autonomy and safety. ABC News has reported that Nashville’s transgender community is anticipating an increase in anti-trans hate crimes in the city because of the far right’s scapegoating of trans people after the shooting. “We were already fearing for our lives. Now, it’s even worse,” one transgender advocate in the state said.
However, despite the risk of harm, trans people across the country have continued to organize against anti-trans legislation and rhetoric for today’s Trans Day of Visibility, and that gives me strength. We will continue to fight for the freedom to be happy and to be safe, even if we are afraid.
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