The terror of Pride Month 2022
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Pride Month 2022 was marked by an alarming uptick of violent and threatening actions against LGBTQ+ people, spurred on by hateful narratives spread on right-wing media. This strategy, employed by entities as obscure as “Libs of TikTok” to the mainstream Fox News and lawmakers across the country, is a picture-perfect example of stochastic terrorism in action: to wit, the dehumanization of a targeted group—LGBTQ+ individuals—resulting in a statistically likely act of violence.
Let’s begin with Libs of TikTok, a Twitter account run by Brooklyn real estate agent Chaya Raichik that began its ascent in 2020 with cringe content about vaccines and Anthony Fauci. After a quick pit stop ridiculing critical race theory, Raichik found the perfect brand of hate fuel to capture the mainstream right’s attention. In May 2021, she tweeted “STOP GROOMING KIDS”; in June 2021, she mocked someone for describing gender fluidity; in November 2021, she called the Trevor Project—dedicated to LGBTQ+ youth suicide prevention—a “grooming organization”; in April 2022, she celebrated the passing of Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill, calling it “one of the biggest accomplishments of my life.”
More recently, Libs of TikTok has posted the locations of family-friendly drag shows and pride events in the U.S., including the Dallas, San Lorenzo, and Coeur d’Alene events that were targeted by right-wing extremists (see below).
The mainstream right-wing news took notice of Libs of TikTok once Raichik began trafficking in transgender bigotry. “Libs of TikTok has essentially become a Twitter-based wire service for Fox News prime time to source anti-transgender and homophobic content related to teachers and youth,” said Sophie Lawton of Media Matters.
Tucker Carlson recently shared clips sourced from the Libs of TikTok account in a March 29 segment attacking the Human Rights Campaign’s work on transgender equality. The clips targeted individuals who claim to be teachers sharing ways they include gender and sexuality conversations in their classrooms…Earlier that evening, Fox’s Jesse Watters quoted a tweet shared by Libs of TikTok that claimed to represent internal messages from a fourth grade teacher who wanted to celebrate and promote LGBTQ+ pride in her classroom.
Watters also sourced multiple clips from Libs of TikTok in a March 15 segment on “the left’s sneaky and quite sinister attempts to wage psychological warfare on our children in the classroom.” Watters and his guest, The Daily Wire’s Matt Walsh, went on to claim “leftist radicals” are brainwashing American kids.
Discussing Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill on March 9, Fox host Laura Ingraham aired clips tweeted by the Libs of TikTok account the day before. Ingraham cited the clips of a summer camp leader and preschool teacher as evidence of supposed “grooming,” demanding, “When did our public schools, any schools, become what are essentially grooming centers for gender identity radicals?”
That’s not to say that Fox News relies on Libs of TikTok for anti-LGBTQ+ content; the network generates its own culture-war-outrage-content with ease. In less than a month, between March 17 and April 6, Fox News aired 170 segments “fearmongering about trans people and spreading dangerous misinformation, including the lie that most trans kids ‘have been led to where they are by adult predators,’” according to a study by Media Matters.
Republican lawmakers, as we’ve seen, have been advancing anti-LGBTQ+ legislation with increasing fervor over the past decade. In just the first three months of 2022, 238 bills that would restrict the rights of LGBTQ+ people were introduced in state legislatures across the country.
Their goal isn’t “protecting the children,” despite what they may say. Their goal is the eradication of gender nonconforming persons, whose very existence threatens the far-right worldview that is fixated on immutable traditional gender roles. Men are supposed to be so masculine that the very idea of homosexuality sends them into a rage; women are supposed to be submissive and chaste, walking wombs to replenish the white race. And violence holds the system together, enforcing both rigid gender roles and the imagined racial hierarchy of the far-right.
The Guardian: …they object to “gender” because it putatively denies biological sex or because it undermines the natural or divine character of the heteronormative family. They fear that men will lose their dominant positions or become fatally diminished if we start thinking along gender lines. They believe that children are being told to change genders, are actively recruited by gay and trans people, or pressured to declare themselves as gay in educational settings where an open discourse about gender is caricatured as a form of indoctrination. And they worry that if something called “gender” is socially accepted, a flood of sexual perversities, including bestiality and pedophilia, will be unleashed upon the earth.
➜Coeur d’Alene, Idaho: 31 members of the white nationalist group Patriot Front traveled across numerous state lines to assault a Pride event at a nearby park. The extremists piled into a U-Haul with riot gear including shin guards, shields, helmets, smoke grenades, and long metal poles. “They talked about entering the park and immediately confronting people; as soon as they met some level of resistance, they were going to release smoke grenades,” Police Chief Lee White said.
NPR: One man, who declined to share his name with NPR, showed up roughly 20 minutes after opening remarks were delivered on the Pride event stage. He paced the perimeter of the gathering wearing full camo, including a hat, sunglasses and mask that obscured nearly his entire face. On his back, he carried a semi-automatic rifle.
“I don’t want it in North Idaho,” he said, referring to the Pride activities. “You know, there’s so many places you can go and celebrate this. Why Idaho? Everyone is fleeing from states to try to have one conservative haven, and yet it ends up here. So where do we go from here? Do we go to Alaska? You know, there’s not a lot of other places we can go.”
➜San Lorenzo, California: 8-10 members of the Proud Boys invaded a public library during an event called Drag Queen Story Time for preschoolers. They were “extremely aggressive with a threatening violent demeanor causing people to fear for their safety,” the sheriff’s officer said.
“It was extremely loud. It was like a cacophony of voices just yelling over one another, taunting me, calling me a groomer, a pedophile, a tranny, and an ‘it.’ (They were) interrogating the parents, ‘Why are you bringing your kids to this?’ I didn’t feel safe because one of them was wearing a shirt with an AK-47 on it. And it said ‘kill your local pedophile’,” [drag queen Panda] Dulce recalled.
- Video of some of the Proud Boys at the event, with one in the background describing the family-friendly events as “sexual.”
➜Dallas, Texas: Self-described Christian fascists descended upon a family-friendly drag show event, chanting “groomers” and demanding attendees “repent for [their] sins.”
“It’s going to be so kek when we take away all your rights,” one protester associated with the white Christian nationalist America First/groyper movement told a counterprotester who was defending the event…In response, hard-right YouTuber and protest leader John Doyle, who was standing nearby, added with a smirk, “Every single one of them.”
- Twitter thread of video from the event.
➜Sacramento, California: A group of suspected Proud Boys stormed a bar that was set to host a drag show in Woodland, about 15 miles from Sacramento, last week. The club had already canceled the event due to anti-LGBTQ threats but dozens of patrons still showed up to celebrate the last day of Pride Month. Libs of TikTok started the influx of threats by posting a flier for the event earlier this month.
According to a social media post from the Woodland Police Department, the protesters “were disruptive while making derogatory comments about the event and the LGBTQIA+ community.” Hayes remembers them yelling, “How many kids are in there?” in a possible reference to the original Libs of TikTok post, which pointed specifically to the drag event being open to all ages… Hayes said she saw police follow the agitators away when they left, but no arrests were made.
- Twitter thread with video.
➜Reno, Nevada: A man in Proud Boys colors, armed with a rifle, interrupted a Drag Queen Story Time event outside Reno, causing chaos as families ran inside the library for shelter. The man did not threaten anyone and legally owned his weapon, so no police action was taken. Nevada is an open carry state.
“We had some people who were visibly shaken and sobbing,” said the librarian. “We brought everybody in the building and got them out of vision out of sight.”…
The Sparks librarian says she wishes officers would’ve done more to make families feel safe coming in and out of the event. “When you have a situation where its potentially volatile and weapon appears — simply a presence, indicating that there are police nearby, would have been reassuring to the families.”
➜Wilmington, North Carolina: A group of demonstrators that included Proud Boys harassed parents and children attending a LGBTQ+ community Pride event at a Wilmington public library.
“I came to Pride Storytime with my two kids. My 7-year-old is gender creative. We came in, there were protesters, there were probably about fifteen, and they were very vocal. They yelled at me, –they yelled at my kids. They told my kids they were going to hell. They told me I was a child abuser, they quoted scripture. We were escorted inside by a county –a library employee,” said a concerned parent.
The concerned parent says at one point, the protesters made their way inside the library.
“It was scary. I told my kids, there, —there are protesters here, and I’m going to hold your hands, and we’re going to walk in, because we’re here for Pride story time. The library did a good job, but my kids were very, very, upset about all of the protesters and upset to be yelled at. My kids were excited to be coming to their first Pride event,” said a concerned parent.
➜Friendswood, Texas: Right-wing activists launched a harassment campaign of a local retired Marine, forcing her to resign from leading the small town’s July 4th parade. Haley Carter served two terms in Iraq, played in the National Women’s Soccer League, and serves as the chair of the Mayor’s Commission Against Gun Violence in Houston. The town of Friendswood, outside of Houston, chose her to be the grand marshall of the parade. However, conservative radio host Jesse Kelly targeted her online, calling Carter a “gun-grabber” who is “into drag” and “trans activism” for supporting her son’s interests.
“If you’re looking for someone to blame, Mayor, you should know that it’s me who did this,” [Jesse Kelly] said in response to a tweet from [Houston Mayor Sylvester] Turner. “I stopped your communist friend from representing a great community. Welcome to The New Right.”
➜Canaan Public School, Vermont: Shane Gobeil, the father of a student that attends classes in the Canaan public school system, threatened to “show up and kill somebody” if his daughter was exposed to drag queen shows or transgender people at her high school. According to a Vermont State Police affidavit, Gobeil doubled down on his threats to an officer:
When Vermont State Police made contact with Gobeil, he allegedly reiterated, “if they’re going to ever have a transgender and drag queens … and bring it right here in my daughter’s face, I am going to have a big problem with that. … If anybody comes near my daughter with a fucking dick and fucking panty hose, I’ll kill ‘em.”
Vermont State Police troopers said in their report that they advised Gobeil “multiple times” that his statements were concerning to the students, teachers and parents of children who attend the school. “Gobeil advised that he did not care, and he would say whatever he wants as it was his own right to do so,” the affidavit states.
➜San Francisco, California: State Sen. Scott Wiener (D) was ordered away from his home in San Francisco last month following a written bomb threat. The letter to Weiner, an openly gay lawmaker who has written legislation to protect LGBTQ+ rights, said “you bastards all deserve to die.” Police searched his home and office but didn’t find any bombs.