Acceptance of LGBTQ People Is Growing and Violence Won't Stop It | Opinion

Support for LGBTQ rights is at an all-time high but it has not immunized our society against tragedies like the one that unfolded Saturday night. Minutes before midnight, a 22-year-old shooter opened fire in Colorado Springs' Club Q—an LGBTQ nightclub—killing five people and injuring 25 others. If not for the heroics of the two brave patrons who disarmed the shooter, the toll would have been higher.

How can we be both a country experiencing a surge of support for gay people and a nation that is so often home to such deadly massacres? After the 2016 mass shooting at Orlando's LGBTQ Pulse Night Club, Sunday's events shouldn't come as a complete shock, but they are another wake-up call that queer life is not insulated from America's current right-wing wave of hate and violence.

It is all part of a wider culture war that is being fought despite the will of the majority. A 2021 Gallup poll shows 66 percent of Americans support trans people serving in the military and 70 percent support same-sex marriage—a record high. And yet, a record 238 anti-LGBTQ bills have been proposed by state lawmakers this year.

A makeshift memorial
A memorial near the LGBTQ nightclub, Club Q, in Colorado Springs, Colorado, on Nov. 20. JASON CONNOLLY/AFP via Getty Images

The hyper-politicization of LGBTQ rights—particularly trans rights—has stirred a moral panic around a topic most Americans consider a non-issue. To gin up as much emotional force as possible, the fight for human rights for the LGBTQ community has been twisted and tormented into becoming a war against pedophilia.

These aren't new issues. In 1978 Ronald Reagan, former governor of California, denounced the anti-LGBTQ bill known as the Briggs Initiative, which would've prevented gay people from teaching in California. The voices calling for the ban used the spurious pedophilia claim then, too. In his weekly newspaper column, Reagan dismissed that argument for the ignorance that it is and cited the individual right to privacy as paramount.

With his vocal opposition, Proposition 6 was defeated overwhelmingly by voters at the ballot box. Forty-four years later we're dealing with a more sanitized reboot of the same old prejudice.

When politicians promote ideas like Florida's "Don't Say Gay Bill"—and Proposition 6 before it—it sends a message to society that being LGBTQ is deserving of derision and ostracism.

The term "safe space" has become synonymous on the right with overbearing sensitivity. But places like Club Q—one of only two gay bars in Colorado Springs—offer much-needed refuge from the demonization rampant in political speeches and in a string of harassment campaigns.

Just last month, an Oregon pub hosting a drag-queen story time event was protested by 200 people, some of them armed with guns and smoke bombs. The Proud Boys, a far-right nationalist group that participated in the Jan. 6, 2021, riots has protested similar events in California, Maryland, and North Carolina. This messaging has also been amplified by the popular right-wing account LibsofTikTok, which boasts over a million followers on Twitter.

The massacre happened the night before the venue was scheduled to host a drag brunch in commemoration of Transgender Day of Remembrance, which honors trans people who lost their lives to violence. This year, at least 32 trans peoplehave been killed in the United States, according to the Human Rights Campaign. The first victim identified in Saturday's shooting was a trans man, 28-year-old Daniel Aston.

It's not just the LGBTQ community that's in danger, of course. We're living in a time rife with conspiracy theories and extremism of all kinds is on the rise. The Anti-Defamation League reports that hate crimes have risen to their highest level in 12 years. The same day as the Club Q shooting, two men were arrested in New York for a planned antisemitic attack that fortunately was thwarted. If it hadn't been, the nation could have suffered two massacres of minority communities in a single day.

When it comes to LGBTQ acceptance, the pop culture war may have been won—just look at the surge in "rainbow capitalism" from major brands every June during Pride Month—but the political culture war continues. Just as Barack Obama becoming president didn't end anti-Black racism, the growing acceptance of LGBTQ people and rise of openly gay politicians hasn't squelched violent homophobia and transphobia.

It's significant that this shooting happened in Colorado, the first state to elect an openly gay governor, Jared Polis, who was just re-elected in a landslide. The married father of two is the perfect rebuke to the anti-gay hysteria spreading throughout this country.

Yet Polis' visibility didn't immunize the LGBTQ community against a fringe bigot turning his hate into violence.

Before there are bullets, there are words. What we say matters. How we engage in discourse, both casual and political, is vital to healing the wounds of our broken society.

Until America treats hate crimes—and gun violence of all types—as a systemic disease, rather than just a seasonal allergy, our political body will remain broken and in need of healing.

Peter Fox is a writer and LGBTQ advocate. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, Teen Vogue, CNN Opinion, and elsewhere. He currently serves on the Anti-Defamation League's Advisory Board of NY/NJ.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article misstated Ronald Reagan's job status in 1978. He was California's former governor.