LGBTQ people: Canaries in a violent coal mine
Did you read about the group of staid U.S. historians who just met privately with President Biden to warn him that U.S. democracy is teetering? They told him we’re closer to civil war and authoritarian rule than at any point in history since the 1860s.
Guess who knew that already? Queer people. Black people. Immigrants. Women. Politicians on the right are using us as punching bags, and violence is breaking out everywhere.
It’s not in our imaginations, and I’ll show you the data in just a minute to back that up. Then I’ll explain what that has to do with the breakdown of democracy.
But first, let’s meet some canaries.
Chuck Johnson and J.P. Singh recently told the Washington Blade a group of young men spotted them holding hands steps away from their D.C. home. As the couple was returning from an evening out, the group shouted that they were “faggots” and punched them both. The couple ran, but the men chased them down. They knocked Chuck to the ground, punching and kicking him.
Responding to J.P.’s 911 call, EMS rushed Chuck to the hospital where he was treated for a broken thumb and underwent surgery for a jaw broken in two places.
According to the Blade, another gay couple was attacked in D.C. under similar unprovoked circumstances on Aug. 7, chased down by random strangers who objected to them holding hands, then called them “monkeypox faggots,” knocking them to the ground, brutally punching and kicking them.
Jacob and Christian are also canaries.
They’re a gay couple who were attacked while standing at the end of Christian’s driveway in a suburb of Salt Lake City, Utah in July. A group of young men in a car spotted them hugging. They jumped out, yelling, “We don’t like gay people in our street.”
Christian tried to defend Jacob from violence by stepping in front of him. He ended up on the ground, beaten so badly he landed in the hospital diagnosed with brain swelling.
I interviewed Christian and his family earlier this month and learned that he often puts up with anti-gay slurs shouted at him in the street by random strangers.
Over the past week, nurses and doctors in Boston have received a barrage of hateful phone calls and text messages, including at least one bomb threat, inspired by anti-LGBTQ extremist Chaya Raichik of Brooklyn who tweets as Libs of Tiktok. Raichik objects to parents choosing gender-affirming care for transgender teens, and she objects to medical providers delivering that care. She used Twitter to unleash an army of Proud Boys and other haters.
Slate reporter and Harvard Law instructor Alejandra Caraballo tweeted this: “In the last 5 days, Libs of Tiktok has tweeted and retweeted 14 posts about Boston Children’s Hospital. As a result, BCH providers are being inundated in death threats and harassing calls and emails. It’s now affecting their services. This is stochastic terrorism, full stop.”
When I saw the tweet, I called a friend of mine who practices internal medicine at a different Boston hospital. As I asked him for a comment, he reminded me that we watched the 2016 election returns together at a bar in Detroit.
“I won’t say I told you so,” he said. “But I told you so.”
I remembered how fearful he became the night Donald Trump was elected. “I’m from Lebanon,” he reminded me, “and my last name broadcasts ‘Arab’ loud and clear. Trump is going to make my life hell, and since you’re a gay man, you’d better be as worried as I am.”
Libs of Tiktok is the tip of the iceberg on Twitter, where attacks against LGBTQ people are constant background noise, and where community standards meant to prohibit slurs and attacks are rarely enforced. Caraballo asks in her tweet thread, “When will Twitter do something about [Libs of TikTok] and their ability to rile up massive harassment campaigns against their targets? Last time it was Nazis at pride and drag events. This time it’s threatening pediatricians.”
According to a new study released on Aug. 10 by the Human Rights Campaign and the Center for Countering Digital Hate, “discriminatory and inflammatory “grooming” content surge by over 400% across social media platforms” in response to Florida’s Don’t Say Gay law.
According to Christopher Kane writing in the Los Angeles Blade, major social media platforms including Facebook and Twitter are doing almost nothing to counter growing waves of anti-LGBTQ hate speech on their platforms. Both platforms claim their rules prohibit users from calling LGBTQ people pedophiles or groomers, but neither platform routinely removes such slurs, not even when users report the slurs.
According to Alexandra Martinez writing in Prism, anti-LGBTQ arson and frequent street attacks in New York City have left queer people this summer living with a gnawing feeling of unease.
It’s not just New York City. She notes that 2021 was the deadliest year on record for LGBTQ people in the U.S., and that violence rates are surging higher in 2022.
Remember Ricky Shiffer who was shot and killed after he tried to shoot up an Ohio FBI office? He was outraged that the FBI searched Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort. He urged people to arm themselves and join him.
Did you know hatred of LGBTQ people is one of the reasons he supported Trump? Read this tweet, in an account deleted after his attack:
“We need to be ready for war against the communists who chemically nueter [sic] prebuscent [sic] children and call it gender transitioning, not bellyache about the arguments of 30 years ago. Save ammunition.”
Large majorities of Americans say they support LGBTQ equality. Large majorities of Americans say they believe our nation should stand for freedom and liberty for all, including for marginalized people. Large majorities of Americans support women’s reproductive freedom, support taking steps to lift up Black people, and support immigrant rights.
Large majorities of Americans want to live in a diverse, pluralistic society where everyone is free to pursue happiness and live in peace.
I wrote this column from the perspective of a queer person, but my Lebanese-American doctor friend could have written something similar from his immigrant perspective. My writer friend Allison Gaines could have written from the perspective of a Black woman.
We share a common fear: that politically and religiously conservative white men are working as hard as they can to sow fear of the Other for personal power and privilege. Men like Donald Trump, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, and many more are plying the demagogue’s trade.
Leaders are spouting hate, seeking to establish or maintain minority rule, and historians are warning President Biden that they may very well succeed.
Chuck Johnson, J.P. Singh, Chad Sanford, Jacob Metcalf, Christian Peacock, and a score of nurses and doctors at Boston Children’s Hospital already know. They’ve been the targets of extreme violence in the past few weeks, directed by people using hatred of the Other to prop up their own privilege and power.
I opened this article by writing about the historians who told President Biden that we’re at a place we haven’t been since the 1860s. In the same meeting, they made a more frightening comparison.
They warned the president we’re at a very similar place to where Germany found itself in the 1930s when a demagogue took power by demonizing the Jews. They say a war like the one that destroyed Europe could repeat itself soon, only with the U.S. in the driver’s seat.
We worry the rest of you don’t see and hear the hatred directed against us. We worry that you’re too complacent. We don’t think you appreciate the gravity of the crisis facing our nation. We fear apathy will let the the Republican Party seize Congress and state governments this November, unleashing a process that could cement minority rule for generations.
Extremists in the Republican Party are already quietly taking over state election offices, something the Washington Post warned about last November.
Will Democratic voter turnout this November be overwhelming? Will it be enough to stop the assault on our teetering Democracy?
Only you can help make that happen. Will you?
(The preceding article was previously published by Prism & Pen– Amplifying LGBTQ voices through the art of storytelling and is republished by permission.)
James Finn is a columnist for the Los Angeles Blade, a former Air Force intelligence analyst, and alumnus of Queer Nation and ACT UP. Reach him at [email protected].