Earlier this month, the right-wing propagandist Christopher Rufo gave his social media followers a tutorial in the dark art of fearmongering—specifically, how to lie in order to stoke anti-LGBTQ hatred. Republican legislators have already spent the past four years filing some 670 anti-LGBTQ bills, with more than 300 proposed in 2022 alone, a significant portion of which target vulnerable transgender children and young adults. In recent weeks, right-wingers have amped up their smears against drag queens who volunteer their time reading books to kids in schools and libraries, claiming those story hours create “a sexualized environment.” Rufo, doing his part, posted a Twitter thread advising conservatives to dispense with the term “drag queen” in favor of the phrase “trans stripper,” because the latter conjures “a more lurid set of connotations and shifts the debate to sexualization.”
You may remember Rufo from such social panics as “critical race theory” in schools—he has bragged about turning CRT, an anti-racist legal theory, “toxic” by rebranding it as a stand-in for the “entire range of cultural constructions” opposed by the right. Having exploited existing racial resentments to galvanize white parents and politicians against the teaching of America’s history of anti-Black racism, Rufo and his fellow conservatives are playing a new round of rhetorical games whose goal is to criminalize and further marginalize folks whose gender and sexual identities they oppose. And as Rufo shamelessly attests with his tweets, they will use any means at their disposal—no matter how disingenuous—to bully, shame, and legislate against LGBTQ folks.
The notoriously racist, transphobic, and homophobic Twitter account Libs of TikTok began referring to “grooming” by LGBTQ people in May 2021; the months that followed saw Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’s press secretary claim that any opponent of his “Don’t Say Gay” legislation is “probably a groomer,” Fox News host Laura Ingraham declare public schools “grooming centers for gender identity radicals,” and GOP Michigan state Senator Lana Theis make the libelous charge that state Senator Mallory McMorrow is trying to “groom and sexualize kindergarteners.” It wasn’t far from stoking this kind of paranoia to proposing legislation to ban children from drag shows, as Texas legislator Bryan Slaton said he would do in response to a video of kids at a daytime drag show, calling the performers “perverted adults [who] are obsessed with sexualizing young children.” Georgia Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene wrote that she will be proposing a law “to make it illegal for children to be exposed to Drag Queen performances.” Florida state Representative Anthony Sabatini tweeted that he plans to file “Legislation to charge w/ a Felony & terminate the parental rights of any adult who brings a child to these perverted sex shows aimed at FL kids,” which DeSantis appeared to support.
That’s precisely the kind of language that invites violence. One Sunday this Pride month, a Texas pastor stated that “all homosexuals are pedophiles” and called for LGBTQ folks to be “shot in the back of the head,” while an Idaho pastor cited the need to “put all queers to death” to end “pedophilia.” The Anti-Defamation League tracked at least “seven in-person extremist activities targeting the LGBTQ+ community” in just one weekend. That included two incidents, in California and Texas, in which members of the neofascist Proud Boys barged into drag events. (The Texas drag show was solely for patrons 21 and over; no kids were even present.) The list also included the violence that was barely averted when a group of 31 masked members of the white supremacist group Patriot Front were arrested. On June 21, a group of “15 masked men” dressed in the style of the Proud Boys—some waving signs that read “LGBT is grooming our kids”—interrupted a Drag Queen Story Hour at a North Carolina public library after the police “escorted” them inside the building where it was being held. A “Drag Your Kids to Pride” event near the start of the month in Dallas drew right-wing protesters, including a collective organized by a self-described “Christian fascist.”
This is just the tip of the iceberg. The Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project released a study last month that found that from 2020 to 2021, anti-LGBTQ actions increased more than fourfold, rising from 15 to 61; that the number of anti-LGBTQ protests increased ninefold over the same period, with “at least 15 percent” of those protests becoming “violent or destructive” in 2021; and that anti-LGBTQ protests and demonstrations in 2022 are on pace to surpass the number last year. ACLED reports that these actions arose “as right-wing politicians and media outlets have mainstreamed the use of increasingly inflammatory rhetoric against the LGBTQ community in the United States.”
All of this would be dangerous in any historical moment, but at a time when the GOP is using the courts, the law, and old-fashioned white terror to undo decades of hard-won civil rights progress, it’s particularly alarming. This is a party that yells about child sexualization while floating the idea of inspecting children’s genitals to verify sex, that claims to be the protector of children while its members threaten to deny students free lunches because LGBTQ children might be among those who are fed. The forces that have coalesced on the right—white supremacist groups, QAnon proponents, Christian nationalists—have a common goal of reasserting white cisgender heteropatriarchy as the law of the land.
This is where we are. It can be dispiriting to watch your personhood be debated, your citizenship undermined, your very presence treated as a national problem. But even in the best of times, our rights are always precarious. Chase Strangio, an ACLU attorney who has spent years on the front lines of the fight for trans rights, noted in a recent essay that “just as marriage equality did not bring liberation to our communities, neither will the fall of Roe or Obergefell or any other legal precedent mark the end of our fights for transformative justice and liberation.” (Note that Justice Clarence Thomas, in his concurring opinion on the despicable ruling overturning Roe, wrote that the court “should reconsider…Griswold, Lawrence, and Obergefell,” too.) These are fights we will always have to wage, because the alternative is too bleak to consider. And because our most fundamental right, regardless of what the backlash insists, is simply to be.