The celebratory air of Pride Month is clashing with the increasing threats of anti-LGBTQ violence across the country.
At Kalama High School in Washington state on June 6, a 16-year-old student was arrested for assault and charged with a hate crime after allegedly attacking two transgender students and using a homophobic slur.
The altercation left a trans student with a concussion. At a June 13 rally at the school in support of the trans students, another student reportedly expressed his desire to aim an automatic machine gun in the direction of the demonstrators, forcing the school to go into lockdown.
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“The actions by one of our students last week are not consistent with the values and mission of Kalama School District,” the district said in a statement sent to ABC News. “We stand with our student body in demanding a school environment free from harassment, abuse and violence, and we thank our students and families for helping to drive the conversation around acceptance, understanding and school safety.”
These incidents coincide with several other attacks on the LGBTQ community across the nation. On June 11, drag queen story hour performers in Alameda County, California, were harassed and threatened by apparent members of the far-right Proud Boys group. On June 12, more than three dozen white nationalists were arrested for plotting a riot at a Pride march in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.
Several Pride organizers nationwide have taken extra safety precautions or canceled events in response to such incidents.
Advocates say they’re hearing of more anti-LGBTQ hate incidents as some conservative lawmakers implement what advocates say are anti-LGBTQ laws.
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Ongoing wave of legislation on LGBTQ issues
Republicans have introduced more than 300 anti-LGBTQ bills and at least nine states have signed at least one into law.
Some conservatives say they are fighting for parents to have more of a say over what their children learn in school and have passed laws restricting LGBTQ content in some classrooms.
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Others say children should not be allowed to transition even with parental permission and have banned hormone therapies or implemented policies against social transitioning for trans youth.
Equality Texas CEO Ricardo Martinez says anti-LGBTQ legislation and rhetoric “empowers folks who have an animus against us to use us as targets.” Martinez says his local LGBTQ advocacy group has seen a marked increase in the number of reports of trans people being bullied or attacked.
Anti-transgender hate crimes in particular have continued to climb year after year, according to FBI data.
Inflammatory rhetoric may increase attacks: Advocates
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Some Republicans have recently amplified false pedophilia claims against LGBTQ people, claiming they are “grooming children” or are claiming that it’s child abuse to allow a trans child to embrace their gender identity.
When signing the Parental Rights in Education bill, which bans curriculum on sexual orientation or gender identity in kindergarten through third grade or when age-inappropriate, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis stated: “We will make sure that parents can send their kids to school to get an education, not an indoctrination.”
His press secretary, Christina Pushaw, claimed that anyone who opposes the Parental Rights in Education bill was “probably a groomer.” Grooming generally refers to when someone manipulates a person — typically a child or teen — in order to commit a sexual offense, according to the American Bar Association.
Officials in some states, such as Texas and Alabama, have called the transitioning of trans youth “child abuse.” This includes Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who directed the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services to investigate instances of gender-affirming care among youths.
Georgia Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Green has called Democrats “the party of killing babies, grooming and transitioning children, and pro-pedophile politics.”
One of the men who stormed the California drag queen story hour at a library was wearing a shirt that said “kill your local pedophile,” with a picture of a gun, according to an Associated Press report of the incident.
Advocates say these restrictions on LGBTQ rights may be emboldening extremists who are being told to believe that LGBTQ people are falsely related to pedophilia and child abuse.
Tori Cooper, director of community engagement for HRC Foundation’s Transgender Justice Initiative says the homophobic and transphobic people may “feel empowered in a way that perhaps they haven’t in decades” due to the actions of politicians.
“We’re bearing the brunt of that,” she said.
Efforts to ‘protect progress’
Experts stress that the backlash is coming from a “vocal minority,” and the country has overall continued to show rising support for the LGBTQ community.
“With progress comes the fight to protect progress,” Martinez said. “We’ve made some incredible gains over the course of the last 15 to 20 years, we are in the moment where we have to protect that progress. That doesn’t mean that we’re going to go back.”
A recent Gallup poll showed more adults in the U.S. are openly identifying as LGBTQ+ than ever before, making up 7.1% of the U.S. adult population.
A March ABC News/Ipsos poll found that more than 6 in 10 Americans oppose legislation that would prohibit classroom lessons about sexual orientation or gender identity in elementary school.
And new executive orders from President Joe Biden are aimed at combating the negative impacts of local policy and inflammatory rhetoric — increasing administrative protections for LGBTQ people and raising awareness about ongoing challenges faced by LGBTQ people, including the prevalence of conversion therapy to attempt to change a person’s gender identity or sexual orientation.
“People in the LGBTQ+ community don’t just live this during Pride Month, they live it 365 days a year,” said Brian Bond, executive director of LGBTQ advocacy group PFLAG.
“We are in every community. We’re in every facet of life. All we want is to be treated fairly and equitably. And parents want their kids have the same opportunity that every other child has in this country. It’s a small, well organized, mean-spirited, politically motivated minority of individuals who are creating much of this chaos,” Bond added.