The last two years have been the deadliest for transgender people, especially Black transgender women, with nearly one in five of all hate crimes motivated by anti-LGBTQ+ bias, according to the Human Rights Campaign.
Several new reports detailed the growing violence and intimidation against LGBTQ+ people, with white nationalists targeting Pride events and showing up to Drag Queen story hours at local libraries, shouting homophobic and transphobic slurs.
The Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED) released a report last year, which found that there was a nationwide surge of at least 174 anti-LGBTQ+ demonstrations.
Online and offline these attacks have taken different forms, but all with the same purpose – to demonize the LGBTQ+ community.
The core narratives driving these attacks against the LGBTQ+ community include disinformation about gender-affirming care for LGBTQ+ youth, false allegations of “grooming” children and the indoctrination of a “so-called LGBTQ+ agenda” in schools, said Sarah Moore, an Anti-LGBTQ+ Extremism Analyst at the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) in partnership with Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD).
“This grooming story in particular really picked up in traction in 2021 with the passage of the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill in Florida, in which different folks started using the term ‘grooming’ and misappropriating it by making it into something that is demonizing the LGBTQ+ community as a whole,” Moore said.
Republican-controlled state houses across the country have introduced a record 315 discriminatory anti-LGBTQ+ bills with a majority of these bills targeting the transgender and non-binary communities.
Last month, the Arkansas Senate advanced Senate Bill 43, an anti-LGBTQ+ bill that restricts drag performances. If passed, it would classify them as “adult-oriented businesses,” where anyone under 18 could not watch.
Banning LGBTQ+ events and spaces – including labeling drag performances as predatory – is part of a large-scale attack on the LGBTQ+ community, which has significantly grown after receiving support from right-wing media outlets and personalities.
Social media accounts with high followings have played a major role in spreading dangerous and false narratives that further marginalize the LGBTQ+ community.
Libs of TikTok, for example, use its influence to push out baseless tropes and conspiracy theories online, which gain even more traction after being picked up by far-right media personalities.
“They’re intentionally spreading news to audiences that they know are likely to act upon those narratives,” Moore said. “Libs of TikTok is spreading these false allegations of grooming, that same rhetoric [is] being picked up on the ground by folks that are [for example threatening] to let’s say bomb Boston Children’s Hospital or folks that are protesting at drag shows. They’re using the same language and capitalizing upon the same claims that are being made by a number of these influencers.”
ADL found that a number of drag events targeted by threats and protests in person were first targeted by right-wing media outlets like Fox News and the Daily Wire, and social media accounts like LibsOfTikTok.
Narratives promoted by LibsOfTikTok have been picked up by right-wing media figures and politicians, including Tucker Carlson, Glenn Greenwald, Ron DeSantis and Marjorie Taylor Greene.
Carlson has dedicated Fox News segments to attacking the LGBTQ+ community and even invited an anti-trans author Abigail Shrier to spread misinformation about medical care for transgender people on his show.
Despite having “very little idea of what it means, medically,” to be trans, as Carlson noted on the segment, he continued to let Shrier make sensational claims attacking best practice care for trans kids.
Shrier, who doesn’t have a medical degree, “equated being trans to having anorexia, engaging in self-harm, being involved with witchcraft and ‘demonic possession'” in her book, according to Media Matters.
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But despite a lack of expertise on the topic, individuals like Shrier drive views and engagement.
Right-wing content about trans kids’ health care often receives high engagement according to a Media Matters study of Facebook, which found that content about trans issues from right-leaning sources “earned nearly two times the engagement of all other sources combined” on Facebook.
“Once folks realize that this was something that they could sensationalize and get a lot of traction out of, that’s when we started seeing groups picking up on this extremist narrative and turning their attention from previous causes like fighting against mask mandates or COVID vaccines or even the anti-CRT movement and turning that action and that call to action into something that is now anti-LGBTQ+,” Moore said.
Media Matters found that Fox hosts spent more time attacking trans people and drag queens than they did covering the second January 6 hearing.
Groups like Gays Against Groomers have even profited off of spreading dangerous narratives attacking the LGBTQ+ community by selling merchandise including phrases like “ok groomer,” “protect children” and “protect kids from transitioning.”
In the aftermath of the January 6 attack on the Capitol, far-right extremist groups have juggled through different cultural and racial issues, trying to “find purchase” among the wider right and trying to regain momentum, said Sam Jones, head of communications at ACLED.
In 2021, many of these groups started focusing on Critical Race Theory and abortion as issues, but they didn’t have the “same staying power” as opposition to LGBTQ+ equality did, Jones added.
“[It] was a natural candidate in many respects, as it fit easily into the false ‘child protection’ narrative strategy that was already employed around CRT and abortion, for example, and allowed them to repackage longstanding tropes and prejudices for a modern right-wing audience,” he added.
ACLED found that anti-LGBTQ+ mobilization — including demonstrations, political violence, and offline propaganda activity — rose to its highest levels since they first started collecting data for the United States in 2020.
Nearly 200 anti-LGBTQ+ incidents were reported in 2022, marking an increase of three times compared to 2021 and 12 times compared to 2020.
Since the attack on the Capitol and through the November 2022 midterm elections, far-right mobilization has only continued to evolve in the United States, according to ACLED.
Despite far-right candidates losing in the midterms, anti-LGBTQ+ organizing succeeded “in mobilizing far-right extremists and bringing them together with other like-minded groups and individuals in the wider activist right,” Jones said.
A mixture of different extremist groups have come together coalescing around the messaging of anti-LGBTQ+ tropes and narratives, including the Aryan Freedom Network and the Nationalist Socialist Club, but the Proud Boys has been the most active in anti-LGBTQ+ efforts – attending a third of all of the protests.
Outside of the extremist groups, a number of attendees also tend to be individuals who are not aligned with these organizations, she added. This can be dangerous, Moore pointed out, since the language that is being used by extremist groups “is designed to get an audience angry and drive them into action”.
Some of these people include individuals who are part of Christian organizations or QAnon or local white nationalist groups.
“These kinds of events are targets for these large organized groups, both in the sense of the literal sense that they are targeting a perceived enemy politically, but it’s also a target for them in the sense that they can typically find people… who are like-minded or trying to get into this kind of activism, and they can take and bring them into their coalition,” Jones said.
ACLED also found that demonstrations involving far-right militias and militant social movements are five times more likely to turn violent or destructive than demonstrations where they are not present. That risk factor grows even more for particularly violent actors like the Proud Boys, especially if participants are armed.
Once we get closer to the 2024 presidential election, “Trump’s candidacy could further reinvigorate certain sectors of the far right during the campaign season and election period,” Jones said.
Last year, ACLED recorded over 100 pro-Trump demonstrations around the country, and about a quarter of these involved far-right militias and violent groups like the Proud Boys.
“The remaining pro-Trump demonstrations were predominantly made up of individuals with no clear affiliation to organized far-right actors,” Jones said, “which presents an opportunity for more extreme groups seeking to recruit and expand their networks at these types of events.”
about the right’s LGBTQ attacks