GOP lawmakers and far-right figures seize on Nashville shooting to push dangerous anti-trans rhetoric

Right-wing figures pivot to attacks on gender-affirming care after six killed in 130th mass shooting in 2023

Alex Woodward
New York
Tuesday 28 March 2023 21:45 BST
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Republican members of Congress and prominent far-right voices have seized on the fatal shooting of three nine-year-old children and three school employees in Nashville to promote legislation targeting transgender people and bans on gender-affirming healthcare.

Law enforcement officials have identified the suspected assailant as a trans man, a detail that GOP lawmakers and far-right personalities with large social media platforms have used in their attempts to undermine threats of violence against LGBT+ people and suggest that trans people, not the proliferation of high-powered firearms, should be regulated and criminalised.

LGBT+ advocates have argued that media personalities and elected officials have exploited the aftermath of the shooting to shift blame towards trans people and depict trans people as mentally ill, echoing falsehoods and rhetoric that has surrounded a wave of legislation targeting gender-affirming care in recent years.

Far-right congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene, who has proposed federal legislation to outlaw gender-affirming care for trans youth, said “everyone can stop blaming guns now.” There have been at least 129 other mass killings so far this year.

Her congressional account also was briefly suspended on 28 March after she baselessly suggested that trans people and “antifa” were conspiring to commit mass violence.

New York Democratic congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez criticised Ms Greene’s “absolutely disgusting” remarks, telling The Independent that the Georgia Republican “should be looking into a mirror as to why she’s defending and posing with the same weapons that are being used to kill children, teachers and educators.”

Ohio Senator JD Vance said the “extreme left” needs to do a “lot of soul searching” after “giving into” transgender “ideas,” an apparent reference to widely established medical standards for caring for trans people. Far-right activist and failed congressional candidate Laura Loomer called the shooting in Nashville an “LGBTQ inspired” terrorist attack.

Kingsley Cortes, a former aide on Donald Trump’s 2020 presidential campaign, appeared to be the only Republican to float the idea that the availability of guns should be restricted in the wake of the attack – but only for trans people.

“If you identify as transgender and/or are undergoing hormone therapy – you should NOT be allowed to legally purchase a firearm,” she wrote.

Donald Trump Jr falsely stated that there has been an “incredible rise of trans/non-binary mass shooters in the last few years,” a statement that does not bear out in fact. The vast majority of mass shootings are committed by cisgender white men. “Maybe, rather than talking about guns we should be talking about lunatics pushing their gender affirming bull****on our kids?” he added.

All but four of the 172 shooters identified in mass shootings since 1996 were cisgender men, according to The Violence Project. All extremist-related murders in 2022 were committed by right-wing extremists, according to reporting from the Anti-Defamation League.

A suspect facing more than 300 charges for the mass shooting inside a Colorado Springs LGBT+ nightclub that killed five people and injured 17 others last year has been identified by attorneys as nonbinary. The 22 year old defendant ran a neo-Nazi website and used gay and racial slurs online, according to law enforcement. Extremism experts argue that the suspect’s alleged identity could be dubious trolling.

In the immediate aftermath of the Nashville attack, far-right trolls flooded Twitter and other social media platforms to falsely link the shooting to a prominent transgender activist who was the victim of several unrelated harassment campaigns.

After the release of police body-worn camera footage showing officers fatally shooting the assailant, anti-trans trolls shared images celebrating the killing of a trans person specifically.

A front-page headline from the right-leaning New York Post said “transgender killer targets Christian school.”

“When hundreds of white men commit mass shootings, it’s a ‘societal problem,’ but when one trans person commits a mass shooting, it’s a ‘trans problem,’” wrote Alejandra Caraballo, a trans activist and clinical instructor at Harvard Law’s Cyberlaw Clinic. “The actual problem is that this country is unable to do anything at all to stop gun violence.”

“The Republican party will blame anything and everything before they do a thing about guns. And so this will just keep happening,” said Ari Drennan, LGBTQ+ program director for media watchdog Media Matters.

Anti-trans legislation and rhetoric have also consumed right-wing media, this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference, or CPAC, and, increasingly, congressional committees, where lawmakers in Washington DC are mulling national bills that mirror the proposals dominating state capitols.

There are nearly 2 million people living in the US who identify as transgender, representing fewer than 1 per cent of all Americans. Yet states are increasingly engaged in legislation and policies to restrict or eliminate access to gender-affirming medical care and other support systems. Eight states have enacted laws or policies banning gender-affirming care for young trans people, and at least 10 states are considering similar measures.

More than half of all trans youth in the US between the ages of 13 and 17 are at risk of losing access to age-appropriate and medically necessary gender-affirming care in their home state, the Human Rights Campaign has reported.

“I am concerned that this one crime by a bad person will be used to justify stripping more rights away from a vulnerable group, as we’ve seen in other moments in history,” Ms Drennan told The 19th.

Trans people are four times more likely than cisgender people to be the victim of a violent crime, including rape and assault, according to a 2021 study from the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law. The killings of trans people have more than doubled from 2017 to 2021, when at least 59 trans people were killed in homicides, according to Everytown for Gun Safety.

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