An already vigorous assault by Republicans on LGBTQ+ rights around the US is certain to gather pace in the wake of the Nashville school shooting, advocacy groups are warning.
Hard-right figures wasted little time in seizing on the reported transgender identity of the Covenant school killer to advance tenets of a “hateful” agenda that has become an obsession of Republican-controlled statehouses from Florida to Tennessee.
Related: Tennessee governor fails to mention gun control in message after shooting
In contrast to a muted response to numerous mass shootings in which the majority of the killers were white, male and cisgender, these extremists appear to be manipulating the Nashville shooter’s self-identification to make their case for even more anti-trans legislation, even as they eschew gun control.
They include Donald Trump Jr seeking an end to what he calls “bullshit” gender-affirming care; Marjorie Taylor Greene having her Twitter account temporarily suspended for misrepresenting a planned protest against anti-trans laws; and homophobic and transphobic rants from Fox News hosts Laura Ingraham and Tucker Carlson, the latter blasting the trans movement as “the natural enemy of Christianity”.
We knew the hate bombs were coming
Jay W Walker of Gays Against Guns
“We knew the hate bombs were coming,” said Jay W Walker, cofounder of the Gays Against Guns advocacy organization set up after the 2016 attack on the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando that killed 49.
“We knew the second the identity of this person came out as trans it was going to be all about demonizing trans people, as they’re already doing across the country with hundreds of bills in different legislatures restricting medicine, stopping people using the bathroom or whatever they’re trying to do.
“What’s going to matter is what Democrats, progressives, liberals and all attendant LGBTQ+ groups do in response, because the left has a history of backing down when the right starts doing these big pushes.”
Walker and others see hypocrisy in Republicans imposing a wave of draconian new measures on lesbian, gay, trans and similar marginalized communities while rejecting gun reform proposals and Joe Biden’s pleas to Congress to reinstate a federal assault weapons ban.
Tim Burchett, Republican congressman for Tennessee, which passed a first-in-the-nation drag show ban earlier this month alongside legislation blocking certain medical care for transgender youth, insisted the day after the Nashville murders that lawmakers had no role in trying to prevent mass shootings.
“We’re not going to fix it,” he told reporters. “I don’t see any real role we could play other than mess things up.”
According to the Human Rights Campaign, Tennessee has enacted more anti-LGBTQ+ laws since 2015 than any other state.
The cradle of the movement, however, is Florida, which passed a “don’t say gay” law last year that became the template for a “chilling” wave of Republican legislation elsewhere. It has doubled down in the current legislative session with a number of bills Equality Florida calls Governor Ron DeSantis’s “slate of hate agenda”, expanding “don’t say gay” to all classroom grades, targeting drag shows and transgender medical care, prohibiting pride flags on public buildings and banning pronouns in schools.
Where do we see the headline, ‘Cisgender heterosexual white guy shoots up a church’? You don’t see it
Cathy Renna of the National LBGTQ Task Force
Meanwhile, Florida lawmakers are moving quickly to remove all training and permit requirements for owning firearms, and returning to 18 from 21 the legal age for buying a gun, a raise introduced following the 2018 massacre at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school in Parkland that left 17 dead.
Carlos Guillermo Smith, special projects manager for Equality Florida and a Democratic former state congressman representing the Pulse community, is angered by Republicans’ resolve to focus on a murderer’s identity only when it suits them.
“After Pulse, the far right immediately seized on the killer’s Muslim faith to advance an Islamophobic agenda. And if they can’t make it about the shooter’s identity they’ll make it about unlocked doors, or mental health, or video games,” he said.
“The same politicians who repeatedly say it’s too soon to discuss gun safety reform after another mass shooting are tripping over themselves to blame gun violence on transgender people. It’s desperate, bigoted and a nakedly obvious attempt to change the subject from guns.
“Does any serious person believe the solution to America’s gun violence epidemic is banning medically necessary healthcare for trans people? It’s the guns, and everyone knows it.”
Cathy Renna, communications director for the National LBGTQ Task Force, also fears the Nashville tragedy will embolden Republican extremists to harden their stance.
“The LGBT community, but particularly the trans community, is under unprecedented assault in statehouses, in Congress and in the streets, and it’s just so obviously opportunistic that they have jumped on this to continue to promote their agenda,” she said.
“Where do we see the headline ‘Cisgender heterosexual white guy shoots up a church’? You don’t see it. But the real story is the impact on people’s lives, the young trans kids that we work with.
“I’d love to sit down with Ron DeSantis and a bunch of trans kids and help him understand the horrible impact of what he’s doing. I’d love to have him sit down with LGBTQ+ families whose children go to school and can’t talk about their families. I’d love him to talk to librarians or authors who are looking at empty shelves.”