On Sunday, November 20, five people were killed and more than 20 injured in a shooting at the LGBTQ nightclub Club Q in Colorado Springs, Colorado, as the club hosted a drag show and planned a drag brunch the following morning to honor Transgender Day of Remembrance. The attack came amid a right-wing media campaign against drag shows, framing them as a threat to children and civilization.
Media Matters documented months of content on social and news media smearing drag events with claims that they’re a plot to sexualize children, comparisons to cancer, and calls for an “aggressive” approach to “fighting it.” The anti-LGBTQ account Libs of TikTok has been publicizing the locations and organizers of drag events alongside similar claims.
The media has normalized violent right-wing rhetoric such as this. Fox’s Tucker Carlson has been a particularly loud mouthpiece for spreading homophobic and transphobic hate, but other personalities have continued the fear campaign after the shooting.
I talked this morning about an inflection point in this country right now, specifically for reporters:
What are you more afraid of? Being on Breitbart for saying that trans people deserve to be alive?
Or are you more afraid of waking up to the news of more dead people? pic.twitter.com/1B4FqNrZSQ
— Ben Collins (@oneunderscore__) November 22, 2022
Conservative activist Rob Smith warned on Fox Business’ Varney & Co. that the left would appropriate the shooting story to push gun control or “bully and shame the people that are speaking up against drag queen story hour.”
Daily Wire columnist Matt Walsh denied that he promoted hatred against LGBTQ people, though he played a driving force in the campaign targeting children’s hospitals for providing gender-affirming care. Daily Wire founder Ben Shapiro claimed that according to the left, “anyone who doesn’t support their radical social agenda is complicit.”
Baseless claims like LGBTQ people “grooming” children are a staple of rightwing media, but “liberal” and centrist media have amplified transphobia and placed blame on “both sides” of bigots and LGBTQ people. Some examples from recent years that FAIR collected include pieces from The New York Times and The Economist suggesting that allowing gender self-identification could impede efforts to “keep women and children safe.”
On the night of the shooting, patrons at Club Q subdued the killer, likely saving many more lives, but right-wing media have mocked attempts of armed LGBTQ people to secure their events, even while ignoring the presence of Proud Boys.
TODAY: Right wing media figures affiliated with Blaze TV were joined by masked Proud Boys to taunt a Transgender Storytime event in Denton, Texas today. The right wing media ignored the presence of masked Proud Boys and instead focused exclusively on armed LGBTQ+ supporters. pic.twitter.com/THcpIkZouN
— steven ''italian elon musk'' monacelli (@stevanzetti) November 19, 2022
The lack of transgender youth represented in far-right and centrist media is exacerbating this slanted narrative. According to FAIR, “Right-wing efforts to demonize trans people (as well as others in the LGBTQ community) are that much more effective when the targets are denied the ability to speak for themselves.”
Appearing on MSNBC, Media Matters President Angelo Carusone explained the fear campaign that popularized the false notion that any exposure of LGBTQ issues to children amounts to “grooming.” Republican officials picked up the idea from Libs of TikTok and other far-right activists and solidified it into legislation like the Don’t Say Gay bill.
As Twitter regulations have laxed and extremists spread the details of LGBTQ events, Carusone said “we are in an environment now where it’s going to get a lot worse.”
Encapsulating the deadly effects of media negligence, FAIR’s Olivia Riggio said, “The risk of living as a transgender person is widely known, yet news outlets still treat their existence as something that’s up for debate. As we’ve seen time and again, transphobia costs lives.”
Image by Andrea Austria / Media Matters.