OPINION: Recent political successes have made LGBT+ people targets for attack

by Koritha Mitchell | The Ohio State University
Thursday, 4 June 2020 12:04 GMT

ARCHIVE PHOTO: Transgender rights activists protest the recent killings of three transgender women, Muhlaysia Booker, Claire Legato, and Michelle Washington, during a rally at Washington Square Park in New York, U.S., May 24, 2019. REUTERS/Demetrius Freema

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

All people should refuse to be bystanders when LGBT+ people, especially trans and gender-non-conforming people, are denigrated

Koritha Mitchell is author of the award-winning book Living with Lynching and of the forthcoming book From Slave Cabins to the White HouseShe is an Associate Professor of English at Ohio State University and can be found on Twitter @ProfKori

Studying racial violence and anti-LGBT+ violence has taught me that attacks are a response to success. Marginalized communities are targeted in order to keep them in their “proper”, subordinate place. As I have said elsewhere, “Any progress by those who are not straight, white, and male is answered by a backlash of violence … that essentially says, know your place!”

Victories during the Obama administration made the anti-LGBT+ Trump-Pence ticket attractive.

Federal employment protections increasingly included sexual orientation and gender identity. “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was repealed. The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr., Hate Crimes Prevention Act became law. Obama appointed openly LGBT+ people to federal positions and made the Stonewell Inn a national monument.

The bold self-affirmation of Pride inspires opposition - not unlike the traction gained by the Trump-Pence ticket. So anti-LGBT+ violence increases around Pride season, as shown by data collected by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP).

COVID-19 is forcing New York City Pride, Los Angeles Pride, UK Black Pride and hundreds more globally to go online. But the communities affirmed by these celebrations remain targets.

African American trans woman Nina Pop was found stabbed in her apartment on May 3rd. She became at least the 10th trans person murdered in 2020. Helle Jae O’Regan became the 11th a few days later, and on May 27th, African American trans man Tony McDade became at least the 12th at the hands of the police.

These deaths and the brutal beating of Iyanna Dior on June 1st suggest that Pride 2020 may resemble 2019, even as the new coronavirus alters celebrations.

Between May 15 and July 15, 2019, fourteen LGBT+ people were killed. Of the 11 homicides deemed hate violence, ten of the victims were black and seven were black trans women, according to the NCAVP.

By focusing on trans and gender-nonconforming people, aggressors target those who believe they deserve dignity, safety, and joy whether or not they fit neatly into a gender box. Bigots punish others for the victory of self-regard.

As the NCAVP has pointed out, Pastor Tommy McMurtry posted a video before attending the ‘Make America Straight Again’ conference. Referring to LGBT+ people, he said, “There was a time when society … put them in their place: six feet under.”

Hostility toward LGBT+ people throughout Pride 2019 in the United States included businesses refusing service, vandalism, beatings, stabbings, and shootings.

But the most coordinated efforts revolved around preventing or disrupting Drag Queen Story Hour events, where drag queens, who are often trans women as well as cisgender men, read books to children.

In New Jersey, a library cancelled its Drag Queen Story Hour after two days of constant phone calls calling for the event to be stopped. Libraries in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, cancelled two story hours after online threats.

But pro-LGBT+ mobilization proved effective too. After a library in Leander, Texas, cancelled an event, a local church stepped in. It booked a conference room in the same library and the rescheduled story hour was attended by over 100 supporters. Although the library later stopped rooms from being rented out altogether as the controversy continued, advocacy still matters.

Vitriolic responses to drag queens land on the spectrum of anti-trans violence. That behavior and the taking of a trans person’s life constitute actions of a different intensity, but not a different kind.

People who act as if encountering a drag queen places children in grave danger would likely agree with the “trans-panic defense”, where murderers receive leniency because the discovery of someone’s trans status threw them into what they claim was an understandable homicidal rage.

Opposition to Drag Queen Story Hour aligns with the high rate of trans homicide as well as the findings of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey. In grades K-12, trans youth experience “alarming rates of harassment (78%), physical assault (35%) and sexual violence (12%).” In adulthood, abuse and discrimination are typical.

As this year’s Pride season gets underway amid the Covid-19 pandemic, you may not be able to attend a celebration. But you can donate to organizations like NCAVP, Los Angeles LGBT Center, and UK Black Pride so that they survive this uncertain time. As important, you can refuse to be a bystander when LGBT+ people are denigrated in any way, not just when they are physically attacked.

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