The relentless stoking of anti-gay and anti-transgender intolerance by Republicans needs aggressive pushback. We cannot accept their protestations of not intending violence. If they merely opposed us for being different, they could do so without inventing preposterous lies portraying us as a menace to their children. The real threat is from the purveyors of hate. It is time to turn the tables on them.
The increasingly radicalized Republican Party will gain a new platform for its incitements when it takes control of the House of Representatives in January. Revenge-driven investigations and impeachments are promised. Loony though voices like Marjorie Taylor Greene may be, we cannot afford to laugh them off now that she is in the majority.
Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says that the most dangerous person in the world is not President Xi of China or Putin of Russia, but Randi Weingarten of the American Federation of Teachers. This, he says, is because of the “filth” she allegedly advocates being taught in schools. This is culture war talk, in which tolerating gay and trans people and acknowledging that America’s history is not an unbroken stream of glory constitutes a depraved threat to our children.
Unless you just arrived by spaceship from Proxima Centauri, you likely know that extremist talk is nothing new for Pompeo. He is putting teachers in danger to advance his political ambitions.
Extremists like Pompeo who persist in this demonizing rhetoric are either trying to get people killed or they have a reckless disregard for the observable consequences of their flamethrowing.
Some in our movement seem to have forgotten the main lesson of Stonewall, which was fighting back and refusing to be victims. I am not suggesting that we deny reality. We are disproportionately targeted for hate crimes. I’m talking about how we see ourselves.
Dan Savage tweets, “The raid on the Stonewall Inn was state-sponsored violence. The attack on Club Q in Colorado Springs… looks like GOP-sponsored violence. Not just the logical result of the ‘groomer’ blood libel, but the goal.” And “[W]e’re going to keep fighting. Because if we’re not safe behind the closed doors of a gay bar — if they can’t let us have even that — then we’re not safe anywhere.”
One of gay rights pioneer Frank Kameny’s contributions in the early days of the movement was pushing his colleagues to get out of their defensive crouch and frame their activism more positively and proactively. At the time, many gay people let themselves be gaslit that they were sick.
A young trans woman in Kenya whom I help, Sharon, posts photos on Facebook of herself in stylish poses. I marvel at her determination to be herself despite being thrown out of her house, disowned by her family, and targeted for hate crimes. Her perseverance amid a storm of bigotry is an example of grace. Sure, hard-nosed advocacy and organizing are needed. But to me, these brave, despised people represent a new world struggling to be born.
Richard Fierro, the principal hero who stopped the Club Q shooter, is a straight Army veteran. Among the dead that night was his daughter’s boyfriend. The social acceptance that brought his family there is what right-wing political and media voices seek to destroy. In order to defeat the intolerance, we must acknowledge the advances we have made. Attacks like the one on Club Q are part of the backlash that follows progress.
As to the shooter being nonbinary, that is no more shocking in a hate-drenched climate than, say, the sexual orientation of a vicious, closeted Republican senator.
After the candlelight vigils are over, refusing to be victims — even though some of us are indeed victimized — is crucial. We are not mere isolated victims, but compatriots in a multi-generational struggle.
Three decades ago I saw Holly Near sing “We are a gentle, angry people, and we are singing, singing for our lives…. We are a justice-seeking people…” It was moving; but we are also fighting, for our lives and for the common good: for the idea that a diverse people can live and thrive together in peace. That idea was alive and well on November 17 in Nancy Pelosi’s announcement that she would step down from leading Democrats in the House:
“With these elections, the people stood in the breach and repelled the assault on democracy. They resoundingly rejected violence and insurrection. And in doing so, ‘gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.’”
As the assault has not ended, neither can our struggle. Now, you must get to your battle stations.
Richard J. Rosendall is a writer and activist at [email protected].