It’s a story as American as apple pie: a young man walks into a bar with an AR-15, a semiautomatic weapon that is capable of killing a lot of people in a very short time, and proceeds to kill a lot of people in a very short time. The latest iteration of this story came on Saturday night in Colorado Springs. On the eve of the Transgender Day of Remembrance, a gunman opened fire in an LGBTQ+ nightclub, killing five people and injuring at least 25 in what is widely thought to have been a hate crime. Those numbers would have been far higher had it not been for the bravery of two unarmed people at the bar, who restrained the killer.
You know what’s most shocking about the massacre in Colorado Springs? The fact that it felt so inevitable. Over the past year there has been an escalation in dangerously dehumanising anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric. The idea that LGBTQ+ people are “groomers” and paedophiles has become a mainstream conservative talking point pushed by everyone from Fox News to Republican politicians. Christina Pushaw, the press secretary for the Florida governor Ron DeSantis, for example, said that a new law preventing Florida schools from teaching kids about LGBTQ+ people should be called the “the anti-grooming bill”. If you’re against it, she tweeted, “you are probably a groomer or at least you don’t denounce the grooming of four- to eight-year-old children”. According to the Human Rights Campaign, the average number of tweets each day using slurs such as “groomer” and “paedophile” in relation to LGBTQ+ people increased by 406% in the month after the Florida bill was passed.
The dehumanising rhetoric has been accompanied by growing violence. The Proud Boys, a far-right group, have been disrupting Drag Queen Story Hour events (in which performers read books to children) across the US, often turning up with guns. In September Boston children’s hospital received bomb threats after sustained far-right harassment sparked by the hospital’s work with transgender youths. The tragedy at Club Q didn’t happen in a vacuum.