The media savvy of anti-trans fascists is nothing new
“Unfortunately, you know, the tragedy that happened in Colorado Springs the other night, it was expected and predictable. We all, within Gays Against Groomers, saw this coming from a mile away, and sadly I don’t think it’s gonna stop until we end this evil agenda that is attacking children.” —anti-trans hate group leader Jaimee Michell on “Tucker Carlson Tonight,” Nov. 22, 2022
I'm reminded of William D. Workman Jr., the South Carolina journalist and segregationist mouthpiece. In the 1950s he kept meticulous track of NAACP petitions for school desegregation, the establishment of white Citizens' Councils, and the formation of Ku Klux Klan terrorist cells.
In September 1955 he drew the following map, which I found in the archives while working at the present incarnation of the newspaper that employed him, the Charleston Post and Courier:
Workman was never really a "straight news" guy to begin with — in his position as a political reporter at the News and Courier, and later as an editor at The State in Columbia, he played an active role in massive resistance to school integration. But I think there's something notable about his careful recordkeeping early in his journalism career.
Workman wasn't subtle when he drew this little map in 1955: Here were the local pockets of anti-segregationist sentiment, and here, nearby, were pockets of white backlash, both in violent form (the Klan) and in coercive politico-economic form (the Citizens’ Councils). He wasn't issuing the threat, per se. He was amplifying it.
“There has been no report of violence, but there have been measurable consequences of the economic and personal pressures exerted by council members,” Workman wrote. “Signers of integration petitions in a number of instances have lost jobs. Others have been notified that they will no longer be needed after the expiration of current farming agreements.” Behind the scenes in 1955, and out in mass public meetings by 1956, Workman was working in concert with white supremacists, “patriots,” states'-rights sloganeers, and anti-democratic proponents of interposition and “independent electors.”
The flimsy mask of objectivity came all the way off when Workman entered politics. Described as a "journalistic Goldwater Republican," he helped rebuild the South Carolina GOP by luring white segregationists away from the Democratic Party. He and his party rode to power on a wave of violence and threats of violence, much as the Democrats had done at the end of Reconstruction.
The slur du jour among North American fascists is “groomer.” Picking up one of the oldest attacks lines against gay and lesbian people, they defame all sorts of LGBTQ people, but especially transgender people and those who affirm the existence of trans youth, as pedophiles and child abusers. From drag queen story hours in Dallas to a children’s hospital in Boston, affirmations of queer, trans, and gender-nonconforming youth are being met with aggressive protests, violent threats, and actual violence.
There is always a veil of plausible deniability for those who want it. Sitting Congresswoman Nancy Mace (R-SC) ran such a vile anti-trans re-election campaign this year that her opponent, a pediatrician, was forced to take unpaid leave after Mace accused her of child abuse.
The veil keeps slipping. In Tulsa, Oklahoma, on Halloween night someone firebombed a donut shop after it hosted a drag event. The suspect plastered anti-LGBTQ flyers on neighboring businesses.
On the night of November 19 a shooter in body armor entered Club Q, an LGBTQ-friendly bar in a Colorado Springs strip mall, and began murdering people with a semiautomatic rifle. The shooter killed 5 people and injured 25 before two patrons — a trans woman and a father who was there with his family — beat the killer into submission.
It will be a while before we know the killer’s motive. We might never know. But we already know the effect of this attack, when coupled with a constant barrage of legislation, media blitzes, and harassment campaigns aimed at dehumanizing LGBTQ and especially trans people:
In the aftermath of the Club Q attack, LGBTQ community leaders told the Colorado Sun they were horrified but not surprised. All year long, conservative leaders from Colorado Congresswoman Lauren Boebert to Facebook celebrity Matt Walsh had echoed the “groomer” libel and egged their followers on to the logical conclusions.
“We’ve had numerous transgender and particularly transgender women of color murdered in this year already,” said Nadine Bridges, executive director of One Colorado. “People are afraid. Our young people are afraid. Our elders are afraid.”
The leading anti-trans agitators did not blanch after the massacre Saturday night. They gave perfunctory condolences and then told us that the slaughter would continue until their enemies were eliminated. They did it on the most popular cable news channel in the country.
On Sunday I thought about the goodness and courage of my lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and queer friends who came out in hostile environments, who have never apologized for being themselves, and who have shown me what it takes to live authentically. May we all be so true to ourselves. May we all protect one another’s lives and dignity.
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This is rich. Don’t know how I missed it earlier. It is also frightening as I consider the extremes to which people will go to silence those with whom they disagree.