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On Saturday night in Colorado Springs, a gunman opened fire at an LGBTQ nightclub. Five people were killed and 25 injured.
The gunman was subdued by people inside the club and quickly taken into police custody. Law enforcement officials have not commented on a motive for the deadly rampage, one of 600 mass shootings in the U.S. so far this year. However, along with five murder charges, the shooter was charged on Monday with hate crimes for the deaths.
The killings in Colorado didn’t happen in a vacuum. They happened amid a troubling rise in anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and policies.
In many states, Republican lawmakers have pressed for legislation to restrict the rights of LGBTQ Americans, with at least 325 such bills introduced this year.
One of the most notable was legislation in Florida’s dubbed a “Don’t Say Gay bill.” In March, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill that bans some instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in primary schools. Other states then moved to consider similar legislation.
Across the country, these bills particularly focus on transgender people. There were 155 anti-transgender bills introduced in state legislatures this year. That’s the most ever, according to an analysis by the Washington Post.
The bills focus on bathroom usage, sports team participation and medical care. Eighteen states have passed restrictions on transgender student participation in girls sports, for example. Alabama lawmakers enacted a law to ban gender-affirming care for transgender youth. Earlier this year, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott follows issued a directive that treated gender-affirming care as child abuse. A state judge temporarily blocked the implementation of that order as court challenges continue, leaving some Texas families in a fearful limbo.
Maine, thankfully, has moved in the opposite direction. It was the first state where voters legalized same-sex marriage and, in 2019, joined 15 other states to prohibit so-called conversion therapy, a harmful and ineffective practice that aims to “convert” gay and lesbian people into straight people.
Yet, anti-LGBTQ sentiment is evident here as well. In numerous states, including Maine, teachers have been labeled as “groomers” for teaching about LGBTQ Americans. Conservative activists have tried to ban books about LGBTQ people from schools and libraries. Those efforts have mostly failed in Maine.
Beyond harmful legislative efforts, actual violence has also increased. Law enforcement officials arrested more than two dozen white nationalists who they say planned to riot at a pride event in Idaho in June.
On the same day, members of the Proud Boys disrupted a drag queen story hour in California with homophobic and transphobic slurs.
Hateful rhetoric and policies can have deadly consequences. Sunday was the National Trans Day of Remembrance. According to the National Center for Transgender Equity, 47 transgender people were known to have been killed in the U.S. since last November. That number does not include the five people killed in Colorado Springs. Seventy percent of these victims were Black and 12 of the killings were in Florida and Texas, where governors have been particularly cruel in their anti-transgender comments and actions.
“While no motive in this attack is yet clear, we know that the LGBTQI+ community has been subjected to horrific hate violence in recent years. Gun violence continues to have a devastating and particular impact on LGBTQI+ communities across our nation and threats of violence are increasing,” President Joe Biden said in a statement Sunday.
“We must drive out the inequities that contribute to violence against LGBTQI+ people. We cannot and must not tolerate hate,” the president said.
As we mourn the five lives lost in Colorado, there is much work yet to do to overcome the hate and intolerance against our LGBTQ friends, neighbors and family members here in Maine and throughout America.