Far right protests targeting the LGBTQ community show link with violent attacks

Far-right activists engaged in at least 55 public actions targeting members of the LGBT+ community, according to a new report released this week by the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED). That number, up from only 16 last year, marks an increase of 340%. But more concerning, states ACLED, is “a corresponding rise in violent attacks on people perceived to be gay or transgender.” 

In 2022, ACLED reports, 14% of demonstrations involving far-right groups have been anti-LGBT+, up from less than 3% last year.

Though not limited to organized far-right actors, these groups have taken an increasingly large role in anti-LGBT+ mobilization around the country: far-right groups have engaged in over three times more anti-LGBT+ demonstrations than they did last year (55 events in 2022, up from 16 events in 2021), and in three times as many states (18 in 2022, up from six in 2021). 

ACLED describes itself as a “disaggregated data collection, analysis, and crisis mapping project.” ACLED collects information on the dates, actors, locations, fatalities, and types of all reported political violence and protest events around the world. That the U.S. is increasingly on the 

ACLED radar is emblematic of how the GOP has normalized far-right groups like the Proud Boys and Patriot Front in the wake of the January 6 insurrection. 

Last month, Donald Trump had dinner with Nick Fuentes, a far-right neo-Nazi white nationalist and Holocaust denier. Fuentes attended the 2017 white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, and was a speaker at the “Stop the Steal” rally prior to the January 6 insurrection. He has expressed strongly anti-LGBTQ views, calling out the “LGBT agenda.” Fuentes has referred to both trans people and same-sex marriage as “deviancy.” 

Trump is the only declared GOP candidate for president. Trump’s dining with Fuentes and antisemitic performer Kanye West was decried by Democrats, but not by Republicans, further normalizing the link between the GOP and such ideologies. 

The sudden increase in protests is in part due to the midterms, and in part due to anti-LGBTQ rhetoric from Republican politicians. Potential GOP presidential candidates like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott have pushed anti-LGBT+ legislation and policies throughout 2022. Extremist members of Congress, like Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) have promoted anti-LGBT+ rhetoric. 

Graphic via Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project

The real-world consequences of these policies and the demonizing of LGBT+ people as “deviant” and “groomers” are harassment and violence. In just the past month there has been a series of escalating events, which while not linked together, are very much reflective of the ACLED data. 

The mass shooting at Club Q is already out of the news cycle, but the aftermath shattered the Colorado Springs LGBT+ community. The weaponized attack on power substations in Moore County, North Carolina has not been tied directly to threats against a drag show in that area, but law enforcement have not ruled out a connection. In Philadelphia and other cities, protests at children’s hospitals engaged in gender-affirming care for transgender youth have seen protests as well. 

Some protests at drag shows have been preceded by threats. A new report from LGBTQ advocacy group GLAAD shows 124 anti-drag incidents have happened nationwide so far this year; these data are separate from the ACLED report as they don’t involve violence. N.C. and Texas have seen the largest number of threats at 10 each, Pennsylvania, Delaware and New Jersey have reported three each, and all but two states have at least one such report on file. Dec. 5, the Proud Boys shut down a Christmas drag show at a local church in Ohio.

Protests at drag shows have become commonplace, and one of the most concerning aspects of the ACLED data is that these protests are now erupting into violence. The Washington Post reported that “The Proud Boys have shown up to protest drag shows in various states, for example, and have served as protesters at events focused on showing support for the gay community. At times, those appearances have devolved into violence.” 

The Washington Post makes the connection clear: “As LGBTQ-related issues became a talking point in right-wing political circles (as with the passage of a law restricting discussion of same-sex relationships in Florida schools earlier this year), Proud Boys involvement in events with that focus increased. In the second quarter of this year, a third of the group’s 40 appearances were focused on or involved LGBTQ issues. In the third quarter, with the midterms looming, more than half did.”

The ACLED report follows last month’s Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Foundation report on violence against transgender and gender nonconforming people in the United States. HRC’s report found that trans and GNC victims of fatal violence are mostly Black, under 35 years of age, and killed by firearm. Cases of fatal violence have been reported across 166 towns and cities throughout 38 states, territories and the District of Columbia. In 40% of cases, the killer remained at large.

Rep. Ritchie Torres (D-NY), the first openly gay Black member of Congress, said that he had experienced harassment and threats for his political stances. He said, “The far right has unleashed homophobic hate against me. I refuse to be intimidated. When I presided over the Respect for Marriage Act, I had a simple message for the far right fanatics: your time has expired.”

ACLED says in states with increasing levels of non-violent anti-LGBT+ organizing, “the rise in anti-LGBT+ protests and offline propaganda has correlated strongly with an increase in political violence targeting members of the LGBT+ community.” 

In an MSNBC interview he posted on Twitter, Torres said, “We’re not going to leave it to the forces of hate and the relics of the past to be the final word on the fate of love. The future of our democracy doesn’t belong to bigotry, it belongs to LGBTQ inclusive democracy.”

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Victoria A. Brownworth is a Pulitzer Prize-nominated award-winning journalist whose work has appeared in The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Baltimore Sun, DAME, The Advocate, Bay Area Reporter and Curve among other publications. She was among the OUT 100 and is the author and editor of more than 20 books, including the Lambda Award-winning Coming Out of Cancer: Writings from the Lesbian Cancer Epidemic and Ordinary Mayhem: A Novel, and the award-winning From Where They Sit: Black Writers Write Black Youth and Too Queer: Essays from a Radical Life.