We must reject the transphobic narrative around Nashville

‘The right is the radicalized threat to public safety, not the LGBTQ community. Here are the receipts to prove it.’

Skylar Baker-Jordan
Wednesday 29 March 2023 17:36 BST
(EPA/Metro Nashville Police/AP/The Tennessean)

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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas


The bodies of the six innocent victims – including three precious children – killed in the latest school shooting weren’t even cold yet before the “don’t politicize tragedy” brigade was politicizing tragedy.

On Monday, a female-to-male transgender man shot his way into Covenant School – a pre-k through sixth-grade private school affiliated with the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of America – in Nashville, Tennessee. The right quickly pounced on the shooter’s transgender identity, using it to target an entire community that it has already spent the first three months of this year targeting through state legislatures.

Republican Senator JD Vance tweeted that the left needed to do some “soul searching” over the Nashville shooting because the shooter was trans and targeted a Christian school. Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, his fellow Republican, blamed the “hormones like testosterone and medications for mental illness” the shooter may have been on for the violence, adding that “everyone can stop blaming guns now.” (Ms Greene’s Twitter account was later restricted after another post where she made unfounded claims about the shooting being linked to “Antifa” and “trans-terrorism”.) Tucker Carlson, meanwhile, called transgender people the “natural enemy” of Christianity in a hateful tirade on his Fox News show.

These comments are all part of an emerging narrative on the right that seeks to turn an isolated incident – only three mass shooters out of over 300 since 2009 have been trans – into a rallying cry for further hate and violence against the LGBTQ community. We must reject this narrative because the reverse is true.

The right is the radicalized threat to public safety, not the LGBTQ community. I have the receipts to prove it.

No less than the esteemed think tank the Center for Strategic and International Studies and FBI Director Christopher Wray have stated that right-wing extremists/white supremacist terror is the greatest domestic terror threat the country faces. Over the past several years, we’ve seen many mass shootings committed by radicalized right-wing extremists, with a body count that staggers and horrifies any decent person’s imagination. Here are just the ones I remember off the top of my head:

Meanwhile, hate crimes are on the rise. Earlier this month, the New York Times reported that FBI data shows a 12 percent increase in hate crimes in 2021 alone. There is concern the FBI is undercounting hate crimes though, and that number could be as high as 44 percent. The UCLA Williams Institute found that LGBT people are nearly four times more likely than non-LGBT people to be victims of violent crime. An analysis from the University of Maryland found that right-wing extremists commit more acts of violence with greater lethality than left-wing extremists.

This is not “whataboutism.” This is contextualizing the data. This is stating a simple fact: that one isolated incident should not be used to undermine reality, and that reality is that the right is responsible for the vast majority of political violence in the United States today.

And this is to say nothing about the Proud Boys, the Oath Keepers, and other militia groups which now resemble something close to a paramilitary wing of the Republican Party. Routinely deployed to intimidate and silence opponents, these groups represent an existential threat to American freedom and liberty. You’d be hard-pressed to find a Republican who condemns them, though.

Facts don’t care about your feelings, the right likes to say. Well, here are the facts, and they point to a reality where one side massively and disproportionately has the blood of innocent Americans on its hands. And that side is not the transgender community or the left more generally.

None of this is to downplay the tragedy in Nashville. As a Tennessean, I grieve for the loss of life, especially the precious children who deserved so much more and their families who are left with unimaginable grief. As an American, I am horrified yet another mass shooting has happened in another school and frustrated that we seem unwilling to stop the bloodshed.

This also isn’t to say the Nashville shooter might not have been politically motivated. He may have been, and if so, we should acknowledge it and condemn it. No matter the reason, violence – especially political violence – is not and can never be seen as an acceptable answer in a civilized, free, and democratic society.

If folks like Vance, Greene, and Carlson are concerned about sectarian violence in the United States – and we all should be, given its ubiquity in modern America – they ought to take a step back and consider the rhetoric they use to demonize and dehumanize their political opponents, the laws they pass targeting them, and the actions they take to harm them. They ought to also consider the use of violence on their own side.

Just last week, far-right extremists shut down an all-ages drag show in Kentucky with threats of violence knowing children would be present. In New Mexico, a defeated Republican candidate paid four men to shoot up the homes of four elected Democratic officials. Last year, a far-right extremist with ties to QAnon broke into then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s home and bludgeoned her husband, Paul, with a hammer. And then, of course, there was the January 6 insurrection – which was an act of far-right political violence whether Greene, Vance, or Carlson admit it or not.

Rather than being a moment for the right to misrepresent the facts, this should be a moment for the right to take a deep breath and a good long hard look in the mirror. None of us should want to live in a country where political violence is a regular occurrence.

Rather than further stoking the flames of sectarianism, JD Vance, Marjorie Taylor Greene and other Republican leaders should take this moment to lower the temperature on their own side – the side that is objectively most responsible for the divided and violent state of our union today. If the motive for the Covenant School shooting was political and it turns out to be an act of left-wing extremism, I will condemn it just as I condemn it on the right. I will do it not because it is politically expedient, but because it is the right thing to do.

I have no problem condemning violence when it comes from my own political fellow travelers. It’s just a shame Republicans can’t do the same.

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