It’s 6:30 am and my wife is already playing the news silently in the dark. “Colorado Springs,” she says.
My dull eyes focus on the carnage—again. It’s been six years since she woke me up one Sunday morning and whispered, “Something terrible happened in Orlando.”
In 2016, after the Pulse nightclub shooting in which a man killed 49 people, I was an attorney with the human rights campaign. I spent the day on conference calls and writing letters to Attorney General Loretta Lynch and other federal officials, asking for a speedy investigation and additional protections for Orlando’s LGBTQ community.
At the end of that day, I just held my toddler and cried, repeating the victims’ names and remembering my own appearances in the small, happy Oklahoma City lesbian bars. I understood the relief these spaces carve out of an otherwise hostile horizon.
Pulse seemed unimaginable. The attack on Club Q is anything but. While we don’t yet know the killer’s motive, the target is all too familiar.
This latest shooting, which killed at least five people in Colorado late Saturday night when a gunman opened fire again at an LGBTQ nightclub, follows six years in which far-right leaders have dragged American politics into a horrifying spiral of blame was fueled by homophobia, xenophobia and racism.
In the past election, Republican candidates ran on a platform that referred to queer and transgender people as “groomers.”
They targeted the families they support as criminals. And many of the candidates who talked like that won their races.
In less than a decade, the right has breathed new life into an old, dangerous narrative that queer and transgender people are a threat to children and the health of the nation.
This strategic scapegoat is intentional. It mobilizes white, conservative GOP voters by stoking the basest of emotions — the fear of annihilation.
High American ideals such as tolerance, justice and individual freedom are incompatible with the demonic narrative of the right.
There is no room for differences when differences are seen as a threat, especially for children.
At a school board meeting in suburban Portland last week, parents railed against LGBTQ-related targeting, harassment and intimidation.
But these weren’t the parents of queer or transgender youth. Instead, as one parent later summarized, the school district’s adoption of LGBTQ-inclusive materials and anti-bullying policies encouraged “discrimination against people who are white, straight, and Christian.” The parent asked, “Where’s the equity for her?”
Morality-based fear mongering and the characterization of minorities as dangerous enemies from within are predictable moves from an old playbook. It stays because it works.
It fosters a rupture with our common humanity and incites bloodshed. Violent, fearful words breed – and sanction – action.
Within days of Trump’s election in 2016, reported hate crimes skyrocketed. Attorneys general in Massachusetts, Maryland and New York set up emergency hotlines to deal with the flood of reports. Studies now show that Trump rallies cast a long shadow of hate-based violence, with host cities reporting a 226% increase in violence.
The far-right’s emboldened, low-key slander of LGBTQ life as political fodder has created a powder keg in the context of our fractured democracy.
In the coming days we will continue to find out more about the Colorado victims, who they loved, what they dreamed of.
Their lives and ours must be valued as people, not simply specters summoned by weak leaders to get people to the ballot box.