On Trans Day of Remembrance in November, news of the mass shooting at Club Q in Colorado Springs devastated queer and trans people and our loved ones around the country and the world.
In the years since the last mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Florida in 2016, LGBTQ rights have been increasingly under attack in state legislatures and in the media. 2022 was a record-breaking year for anti-LGBTQ legislation despite massive outrage against bills like “Don’t Say Gay” in Florida and the attacks on families with transgender children in Texas.
Transphobic attacks in the media are not limited to the traditionally right-wing news outlets and political pundits. The New York Times, The Guardian, and The Atlantic have all published opinion pieces this year challenging trans peoples’ participation in sports or gender-affirming care for transgender youth.
As the right-wing political establishment and media personalities like Tucker Carlson spread lies about LGBTQ “groomers,” Hillary Clinton announced this summer that transgender rights should not be a priority for the Democrats. The Biden administration also recently allowed a mandate prohibiting religious hospitals and doctors from denying patients gender-affirming care to be defeated in court without an appeal.
The connection between the ramping up of transphobic attacks in the media and legislatures and the mass shooting at Club Q is undeniable. The shooting in Colorado and the intimidation tactics of the far right this year have trans and queer people asking serious and extremely difficult questions about how we can protect ourselves from the reactionary right.
How Can We Stop The Attacks?
At Club Q, the shooter was stopped by two club patrons, one military veteran and one trans woman, who responded quickly to the violence and rendered the shooter unconscious. Rightly, some have contrasted the rapid (and non-fatal) actions of these individuals to the actions of the police during the Uvalde school shooting earlier this year – wherein over 370 cops stood by as children were massacred.
The heroic actions of the Club Q patrons have been deservedly lionized by ordinary people. Once violence breaks out, it’s exactly this type of bravery and quick thinking that becomes necessary.
Though a larger question still looms over the queer community in the wake of this shooting: how do we disrupt the momentum of the right wing in order to prevent attacks like these in the future?
An already-existing mood of fear among LGBTQ people has deepened due to the Club Q shooting. In this context, it is understandable that a few people, afraid for their safety, have attempted to take matters into their own hands, including a small, heavily armed, pro-LGBTQ presence outside a drag event in Texas this summer. But this type of isolated show of force doesn’t address the real reason the reactionary right is growing, and runs the risk of backfiring by alienating everyday people who may already be skeptical of the trans rights struggle due to widespread right-wing propaganda.
So what type of action do we need to respond to the increased threats against LGBTQ individuals, businesses, and community centers?
In Columbus, OH these threats from the far right led to the cancellation of a drag queen storytime event, though dozens of community members still came out to counter protest the Proud Boys and Patriot Front, demonstrating their staunch commitment to defending queer and trans people from reactionary violence.
These counter-demonstrations, while still very small, are an indication of the solidarity and collective action that will be necessary to turn the tide against the right wing.
Some five years ago, when Trump had recently been elected and anti-trans bathroom bills were being proposed in states across the country, far-right and even explicitly fascist forces were publicly organizing in a similar way to today. Their organizing reached a fever pitch at the “Unite the Right” rally in Charleston, WV where white supremacists marched through the streets, attacking counter protestors and even killing anti-fascist activist Heather Heyer. Ordinary people were horrified by what they saw, and in Boston in August of 2017 a group of working-class Black women organized a march of 40,000 people against a reactionary “free speech” demonstration. The far-right was completely dwarfed by the sea of ordinary people who came out to demonstrate their total intolerance for reactionary violence.
This scale of mobilization is the key to undermining attacks on trans and queer people. Though recent counter-demonstrations have been small, they have shown the effectiveness of strength in numbers and solidarity. Right-wing protesters who made threats against a drag show in early December in Aurora, IL never showed up after community members and LGBTQ activists turned out in support, and right-wing protesters were outnumbered at a Jewish Community Center in Oceanside, NY in the same weekend.
The broad right-wing, right-populist politicians and far-right groups alike, are banking on low public support for trans rights as a means of propping up their attacks. A coordinated nationwide day of protests in solidarity with queer and trans people could have a broad effect in undermining their confidence, demonstrating the broad section of society that’s prepared to go to the mat for queer and trans rights.
Schools continue to be a key battleground for the war on trans rights, and because of that school communities can provide a model of what a real fight back can look like.
In instances where school districts, or even individual schools, are being targeted by transphobic attacks, student organizations, teachers’ unions, local LGBTQ organizations, and progressive groups can urgently organize protests and walkouts. Teachers can refuse to comply with reactionary anti-trans mandates, like Greg Abbott’s order that teachers report the parents of trans students to the authorities as “child abusers.” They can use the structures of their union (if they have one) to support student organizing, like opening up union halls to student organizations to meet and prepare walkouts.
There are already inspiring examples of school communities resisting reactionary attacks. In Virginia this fall, over 1,000 middle and high school students staged a walkout in protest of anti-trans policies.
There have been student walkouts in protest of anti-LGBTQ legislation and school policies all over the country this year, including Florida, Texas, Utah, Arizona, Louisiana, Oklahoma, New York, and Colorado. In order to turn the tide against the right wing, all of these smaller protests must be linked through a nation-wide struggle for queer and trans rights. New organizations of workers, students, and oppressed people must coordinate escalating actions around the country and allow for serious, democratic debate about demands and next steps for the movement.
Defeat Right-Wing Ideas, Take Aim At Capitalism!
While the cost of everyday goods continues to climb, there’s still been no increase to the minimum wage, no student debt relief, and nearly half of Americans cannot afford basic medical care. More than one in five households are food insecure. Meanwhile the Biden administration has failed to make good on any promise to working class people, while delivering on every promise to big business. The right wing has seized on the crises facing working people, using it as an opportunity to point the blame at trans people, immigrants, people of color, feminists, and anyone or anything except the rotten capitalist system. Things are continuing to get worse for working people, and without a powerful working-class movement, based on solidarity and common struggle, the divide-and-rule rhetoric of the right will gain more of a foothold.
The only way out is a mass movement of working and young people independent from the Democrats, prepared to organize against any attack on oppressed groups in our society. Crucially this movement must fight not only for queer and trans rights, or against racism, but for a bold economic program to address the declining standard of living that causes people to look to the right for answers.