Threats against pride events and reports of suicide attempts by trans kids are only the first violent consequences of the far right’s campaign.
This Pride month, the violent consequences of the Republicans’ all-out assault on the lives of LGBTQ+ people, and particularly trans people, has been laid frighteningly bare. From government officials to paranoid media commentators to far-right militias, attacks on the rights and freedoms of adults and children are taking place nationwide and striking at all aspects of public life.
This weekend, as kids danced and adults socialized and enjoyed drag performances and picnics at a Pride event in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, over 30 masked, uniformed white nationalists from around the country crammed in the back of a U-Haul. They brought shields, metal poles, and a smoke grenade — preparations for attacking the Pride in the Park festivities. Thanks to a tipoff from a concerned citizen who noticed the small army of “Patriot Front” members, local police intercepted the truck and arrested 31 men for conspiracy to riot.
In San Lorenzo, California, on Saturday, a group of men believed to be Proud Boys disrupted a drag queen storytelling hour, screaming anti-trans, anti-gay slurs in what is being investigated as a hate crime.
Earlier this month, self-described “Christian fascists” attempted to force their way into an LGBTQ+ bar in Dallas, Texas, which was hosting a family-friendly drag queen brunch for Pride. The fascists threatened attendees, chanting that the adults were “groomers” — a dangerous, dated trope once again gaining furious traction in right-wing media.
Meanwhile, a lawsuit filed in Texas against Gov. Greg Abbott’s most vicious anti-trans order to date revealed that a teenage trans boy attempted suicide earlier this year, on the same day the governor ordered that parents of trans kids be investigated as potential child abusers. The 16-year-old was referred to a psychiatric facility, where hospital staff learned that he had been prescribed gender-affirming hormones; they reported the family for potential “child abuse” — as required by the very rule over which the boy attempted to take his own life. (It should not need repeating at this point that every major medical association has recognized the medical necessity of gender-affirming care for trans adults and children.)
Participants in LGBTQ+ liberation struggles have long stressed that the all-out legislative and rhetorical assault on trans people would inevitably lead to violent attacks, suicide, and subhuman treatment. This is not a concern for the future: It is happening now.
It is no accident that anti-LGBTQ+ laws have taken priority alongside the decimation of reproductive rights and the enforcement of racist national myths in schools. The Christian fascist insurgency informing all these moves, constituted by state and vigilante forces, is unabashed in its authoritarian aim to codify white, patriarchal standing.
For more than a year, Republican-led state legislatures have made the eradication of trans children and adults from public life a top priority. They proposed and swiftly passed a mountain of legislation to remove health care, harass trans-affirming families, and physically assault gender-nonconforming children who want to play sports with their peers.
The goal is eliminationist in scope. As one of the Christian fascist protesters was reportedly overheard telling the Pride brunch attendees in Dallas, “It’s going to be so fun when we take away all of your rights.”
LGBTQ+ people, their families, and their advocates are fighting back. The Texas lawsuit that revealed the trans teenager’s suicide attempt was able to obtain a temporary restraining order from a judge this week. The ruling blocked child protective services from investigating PFLAG families who allow their trans children to receive gender-affirming health care. The mother of the teen boy who attempted suicide is among the plaintiffs.
Temporary legal victories, though, can only be welcomed as short-term reprieves. They are likely to face appeals to higher courts, those bastions of the far right.
Moreover, the staggering speed of the anti-trans legislative push is its own daunting challenge. In recent years, over 100 bills have been introduced across the country targeting trans people, mostly children. Even when the bills fail, state executives and prosecutors have taken action to enforce a violently anti-trans legal status quo, as was the case with Abbott’s order in Texas. It’s especially important to note that, while the police may have intercepted the Patriot Front attack in Idaho, law enforcement has a more established record of aiding, or at least overlooking, the far right. Indeed, cops have their own rich legacy harassing trans individuals, particularly trans women of color. Neither the police nor the courts will serve as a source of protection for LGBTQ+ communities.
As a lawyer on the front lines against the anti-trans onslaught in the courts, Chase Strangio of the American Civil Liberties Union wrote in a powerful essay this month, “Our ability to meaningfully build resistance movements in the coming years demands that we better understand the limits of law as an instrument of justice.” He added, “Ultimately, we cannot trust the Supreme Court, or any court, to honor the capaciousness and complexity of our bodies and lives.”
It should be enough that trans children’s lives are at risk for liberals and leftists, in general, to take up this fight. We should not need a “First they came for” narrative to activate widespread resistance, yet it should be clear by now that there are connections to struggles like the fight for reproductive rights. Legislative attacks on trans lives are also methods by state governments to expand the authoritarian ability to remove health care provisions, legitimize vigilante violence, and assert control over who does and does not have access to the public space.
All too many liberals and even some leftists have dismissed this anti-trans assault as a cynical culture-war distraction or, worse, have legitimated putrid “debates” over trans lives. They, too, bear responsibility for far-right, eugenicist violence that has been permitted to take hold.
There can be zero patience for contrarian media figures who give credence to far-right talking points. Consider the fight over the purported failure on the part of trans-supportive medical professionals, activists, and theorists that they cannot give a simple, one-line definition in answer to the question of “What is a woman?” As any first-year philosophy student can tell you, we also can’t give a one-line, all-encompassing definition in response to the same question about other basic nouns and concepts — What, after all, is a game? — and yet these terms are widely used completely and correctly. The only meaningful thing the kerfuffle over “What is a woman?” gives us is a demonstration of the anti-trans media’s intellectual impoverishment.
The goal, of course, cannot be to reveal the idiocy of reactionary commentators through debate. Too much is at stake. These figures have already made clear that they align themselves with fascists. Nor, as is abundantly clear, can we cling to liberal myths of progress and constitutionally protected rights to ensure the protection of trans individuals, and LGBTQ+ rights more broadly.
The necessary response to this fearsome moment of white backlash must, as the attorney Strangio argued, focus on “collective organizing, care and action.” He, more than most, can speak to the necessity and profound insufficiency of winning battles in court. Resource redistribution, on-the-ground defense of trans-inclusionary public spaces, and an insistence that trans children are not only to be tolerated but also celebrated: This is the shape resistance must take.