Minneapolis, Minnesota – Amid a spate of recent attacks targeting LGBTQ communities in the United States, advocates say the government must do more to protect vulnerable citizens.
Late last month, a man opened fire at a gay and lesbian nightclub in Colorado, killing five people and injuring at least 17 others. The suspect has been charged with hate crimes, murder and assault.
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Right-wing demonstrators have also increasingly targeted drag shows during a year in which President Joe Biden has warned of rising violence against LGBTQ communities.
Days after the Colorado shooting, the Department of Homeland Security issued a bulletin highlighting the risk of terrorism against LGBTQ citizens and other marginalised groups, noting that “lone offenders and small groups motivated by a range of ideological beliefs and/or personal grievances continue to pose a persistent and lethal threat”.
But while this acknowledgement is a step in the right direction, rights groups say, it is not enough.
“We are living in a time where there is this rising threat of violence from extreme far-right groups across the spectrum of marginalised communities. It’s frightening, but it’s not surprising, unfortunately,” Laurel Powell, a spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign, a Washington-based LGBTQ+ advocacy group, told Al Jazeera.
“The world we live in today is not one where you can easily divide online and the ‘real world’ … It doesn’t happen in a vacuum, and is being driven by very loud and animated extremist individuals who are stoking this hate online – and it, unfortunately, has real-world consequences.”
Social media companies and other internet platforms must do more to provide a space free from harassment, she said, while the plague of gun violence in the US also needs to be addressed.
“The epidemic of hate against the LGBTQ+ community can’t be separated from the fight against gun violence,” Powell said. “They’re inextricably linked.”
This month, several events across the US featuring drag artists, including a children’s storytime event in Ohio and a performance in Texas, were cancelled amid threats from right-wing individuals.
“The scary thing is how it has continued to increase in being more overtly violent,” Tonya Agnew, a spokesperson for the New York-based Family Equality group, which advocates for LGBTQ issues, told Al Jazeera.
“After Club Q [the Colorado shooting], it was just so scary,” she added, noting that the presence of gun-toting protesters outside local drag events marks an alarming trend. “Having armed protesters standing outside because someone happens to be wearing a lot of makeup and a fabulous outfit and reading to children, they find that offensive. So, it’s really just a scary time.”
The animus of protesters has been reflected in hundreds of legislative proposals introduced around the country this year in an effort to restrict the rights of those in LGBTQ communities. This only serves to embolden people who harbour bigoted beliefs, Agnew said.
The recent midterm elections, however, offer some reason for hope, Powell said, “The people who went all-in with their anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric, for the most part, didn’t win. That message did not resonate with people,” she said.
“We know the vast majority of Americans are in favour of marriage equality. We know that the vast majority of Americans, when asked the question, ‘Do you believe that it’s a parent’s right to give their children the healthcare they need?’ – of course, they agree with that.”
Ashton Rose, a non-binary college student in Minnesota, said the Department of Homeland Security’s bulletin only matters to the extent that it is followed by legislative action.
“Are we going to start talking about reforming gun legislation? Are we going to start being more critical of casual hate speech in the media? Are we going to start supporting families?” Rose asked.
“This is part of the straight [person] silence thing. It shouldn’t be our job to have to stop people from killing us … The responsibility shouldn’t fall entirely on us,” they said. “And yet, it often feels like it does. It’s not enough for allies to be like, ‘Oh I’m here for you and support you.’
“People need to be using the power they have when they can, because we can’t do it all.”