Editor’s Note: Allison Hope is a writer whose work has been featured in The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN, Slate and elsewhere. The views expressed here are the author’s. Read more opinion on CNN.
It’s every parent’s worst nightmare to have their child’s safety or well-being threatened. That’s what two gay parents, Robbie Pierce and Neal Broverman, experienced this week when a man accosted them and their two small children on an Amtrak train from Los Angeles to San Francisco.
The man screamed at them for simply being a family, using anti-LGBTQ language and homophobic tropes that date back decades. The attack, which was uniquely horrifying because it involved the couple’s two young children, makes me fear for my own family’s safety at a time when the LGBTQ community is already facing a string of violence.
Take the three people who were attacked as they were leaving a drag show in Old Town Pasadena, or the gay club in Brooklyn that was set on fire, or the deaths of two Black, transgender women in Chicago, at least one of which was ruled a murder (the other is still under investigation). This was all in the past month, and it doesn’t capture the full scope of heinous acts.
While attacks on our community are sadly nothing new, this current environment, in which public officials use dangerous rhetoric while peddling bills that discriminate against us, feels ever more fraught. It doesn’t help that some Republicans are increasingly perpetuating the harmful myth that liberals and members of the LGBTQ community are grooming children – a move that shatters any illusions that the US has become fully understanding and accepting of our LGBTQ lives and experiences.
Pierce, who shared his experience on Twitter, wrote that while his family had encountered homophobia before, characterizations like “pedophiles” and “rapists” were new. He laid the blame on people who were eager to “stir up their lucrative culture war” – a cause taken up by Republican lawmakers like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who signed the “Don’t Say Gay” law that bans any mention of sexual orientation or gender identity from kindergarten to third grade.
The bill is written so broadly that critics fear it could create an environment where teachers could be fired for mentioning a spouse, and kids could be barred from talking about LGBTQ family members. And now DeSantis has gone after Disney World’s status as an “independent special district,” after the company’s CEO said he’d support the repeal of the “Don’t Say Gay” law.
That’s just one bill. In all, more than 250 bills have been introduced in state legislatures this year with the aim of stripping away the rights of LGBTQ Americans, including in sports, libraries, schools and other facets of civic life. There was even a recent attempt in Tennessee to define common law marriage as one between one man and one woman. Thankfully, the bill died before it made it out of the general assembly, but I fear the fight to undo marriage equality may only be beginning.
And let’s not forget, there is a correlation between hateful political rhetoric and a rise in hate crimes, acts of discrimination or violence. The Brookings Institute analyzed this last year and found research that “suggests the incendiary rhetoric of political leaders can make political violence more likely, gives violence direction, complicates the law enforcement response, and increases fear in vulnerable communities.” In 2018, a right-wing party in Germany that shared anti-immigration sentiments on Facebook predicted violent crimes against refugees, according to researchers at the University of Warwick. And a 2020 analysis conducted by ABC found at least 54 criminal cases that invoked President Donald Trump, who launched numerous verbal attacks on minorities and other groups, in connection with an act of violence, threats or alleged assault.
The current anti-LGBTQ climate even made the tough-as-nails White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki cry during a podcast interview that was released this week. “I’m going to get emotional about this issue because it’s horrible. But it’s kids who are bullied, and all these leaders are taking steps to hurt them, and hurt their lives and hurt their families,” she said.
As Psaki pointed out, right-wing legislators are strangely fixated on LGBTQ bills that marginalize those who are already vulnerable, instead of focusing on policies that would actually help their constituents. It’s certainly easier for lawmakers to exploit hot-button issues like denying trans kids healthcare than, say, lower healthcare costs for all. But elected officials are exploiting the ignorance of their constituents, firing up their base and throwing LGBTQ Americans under the bus – all while skirting over the actual responsibilities that come with civil service.
Bills like The Equality Act would provide more universal protections from discrimination for LGBTQ Americans at the federal level and, perhaps more poignantly, send a message across all levels of government that we deserve equal protection. This would help prevent the state level attacks against the LGBTQ community that we’re now seeing across the country.
This backlash may be in response to the great progress and representation we’ve realized in recent decades. More people are identifying as LGBTQ than ever before. More kids have queer parents. We’re seeing ourselves reflected in media and culture and more public figures are out and proud. For reasons that I will never fully understand, the visibility and inclusivity that allows some people to step more fully into who they are makes others frightened or angry.
In this moment of heightened urgency, to remain silent is to be complicit. Together, the full power of the LGBTQ community and our allies can help to push back against this onslaught of hate.
My message to these politicians: You are stoking violence against your most marginalized citizens. Focus on issues like renewable energy or living wage jobs and make it easier for all people to live safe and fulfilling lives. Lay down your swords in these so-called culture wars and go pick on somebody your own size!