America has a problem. That’s not news to anyone. But it bears repeating again and again until we, as a nation, awaken from our collective slumber and decide to do something to fix it.
A week ago Sunday morning, Americans awoke to yet another headline reporting yet another mass shooting within an LGBTQ night club. For a vast majority of Americans, this headline was scrolled past relatively quickly — mass shootings are daily news in our country, after all. But for the millions of LGBTQ people in this country, this headline likely stopped us in our tracks.
I know I read the headline, my heart skipped a beat as I considered that just the evening before I was dancing carelessly and freely in one of New York’s queer night clubs, and I felt scared. I felt violated. I felt angry.
I continued to read. This nightclub was in Colorado Springs, a conservative evangelical city not known for being a bastion of LGBTQ inclusion. This nightclub, Club Q, was all the more a sacred space for the queer people of the area, one of very few places they could retreat to, one of the few places they could fully express themselves without fear or judgment.
And yet, one Saturday evening a young man decided to enter this truly sacred space and randomly open fire, seeking to harm or kill anyone and everyone he could. This safe space for the Colorado Springs queer community was turned into a place of terror. The gunman was able to kill at least five innocent people and injure almost 20 more before some brave queer folks stopped him.
One of the few sacred spaces that is meant to give life to queer people became a place of death.
But despite what conservative pundits would like us to believe, the massacre at Club Q is not an anomaly, a random tragic incident, but is the logical result of the current rhetoric and policy goals of the Republican Party and its conservative evangelical base. Far-right congresswoman Lauren Bobert, who represents the district bordering Colorado Springs, for instance, had the gall to tweet that she was “praying” for the families of those impacted by the Club Q shooting, yet has a long track record of demonizing drag queens as dangers to children, has referred to LGBTQ people as “groomers” numerous times and has referred to LGBTQ marriage equality as “disgusting.”
Similarly, the silence among prominent evangelical leaders across the country in light of the Club Q shooting was equally as damning. At the time of writing, I could find no statements from prominent evangelical leaders condemning the Club Q shooting after an extensive search across the internet.
Yet in recent months there also has been a clear rise in anti-LGBTQ rhetoric among prominent evangelicals. In October, Pastor Ken Graves of Calvary Chapel in Lake Norman, N.C., warned of the threat that “homofacists” pose to the “traditional values” of our country. And just two weeks ago actress Candance Cameron Bure announced she would launch a new television network that uplifted “traditional marriage” in protest of the Hallmark Channel’s few programs featuring LGBTQ couples.
“When elected officials, religious leaders and public figures use such vitriol and fear-mongering against the LGBTQ community, their constituents listen.”
When elected officials, religious leaders and public figures use such vitriol and fear-mongering against the LGBTQ community, their constituents listen. They feel justified in their own homophobia and transphobia and feel empowered to express it. More than that, they buy into the contrived narrative that there actually is some sort of threat to their families from the LGBTQ community and are increasingly moved to act on such a perceived threat.
Across our country, hate crimes toward the LGBTQ community are on the rise, and this has a direct correlation to the incendiary, false rhetoric of people like Lauren Bobert. The demonizing rhetoric and queerphobic tropes spread by pundits on the far right will continue to lead to more massacres. And despite the “thoughts and prayers” they will offer after each act of violence, the truth is that such violence seems to be exactly what these folks want.
Dan Savage said it best in a series of tweets: “People who hate queer people want us to keep it private. Behind closed doors. … An attack like this says ‘not even here.’… It’s not that that they want us to exist out of sight. They don’t want us to exist at all.”
“The goal is to use this fear to motivate their base not just to … push queer people out of sight but out of existence.”
That is, in fact, the goal of conservative policy and rhetoric, and it always has been. This is why they continue to fight against marriage equality, this is why they continue to demonize the transgender community, this is why they continue to perpetuate the tired trope that LGBTQ people are pedophiles. The goal is to use this fear to motivate their base not just to support their campaigns and their churches, not just to push queer people out of sight but out of existence.
I realize this may sound extreme, but what other conclusion are we to draw? How many mass shootings, acts of targeted violence and suicides do queer people have to endure before conservatives wake up and see the damning fruit of their policy and polemics? The truth is that they’ve seen the cost, the continual loss of LGBTQ lives, and yet they continue to perpetuate their lies — their own power and privilege is more important than queer people’s existence.
In response to this reality, queer people only have one option: to fight back. To continue to raise our voices in the public square, to demand better representation in the media, to let our queer lights shine not just in the safety of our queer-designated spaces but in the streets, in the workplace, in our families and in every other aspect of our lives.
The truth is that in the more than 50 years since the Stonewall riots, while we have taken some significant steps forward, we have not yet seen the most significant change we’ve been fighting for: the emergence of a society that values queer lives and love as equal and worthy of acceptance and protection under the law.
In order to see that become a reality, we need a renewal of queer protest and action in the halls of power, in the sanctuaries of our faith communities and in the public square. Because the forces that are against us, that are fueling not just political and religious opposition to our equality and dignity, but fueling our literal murder, are circling their wagons and doubling down on their hatred and bigotry — which will continue to inspire more violence like what we saw at Club Q in Colorado Springs.
If we are to counter this violence, all queer folks and all our allies must recommit to the fight, through our fatigue and cynicism, believing we can and we will overcome the forces of hatred with the power of solidarity and love. At the same time, we must keep shining a light on the ideology, the political party, the religious communities and the people that bear the brunt of the responsibility for the harm of our community — the white, evangelical, right-wing Republican movement is a danger to our queer lives.
This ideology is at the heart of America’s problems today, and we must do everything we can to expose it for the evil, murderous, unamerican and unchristian ideology it is. There is no middle ground.
Brandan Robertson is a New York City-based author, activist and public theologian working at the intersections of spirituality, sexuality and social renewal. He serves as lead pastor of Metanoia Church, a digital progressive faith community, and is host of The Unorthodox Podcast. He is the author of seven books on spirituality, justice and theology. Named by the Human Rights Campaign as one of the top faith leaders leading the fight for LGBTQ equality, Robertson has worked with political leaders and activists around the world to end conversion therapy and promote the human rights of sexual and gender minorities. He earned a bachelor of arts degree in pastoral ministry and theology from Moody Bible Institute, a master of theological studies degree from Iliff School of Theology and a master of arts in political science and public administration from Eastern Illinois University. He is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in religion at Drew University. This column is excerpted from his forthcoming book, Dry Bones and Holy Wars: A Call for Social and Spiritual Renewal.
It’s a short distance from your Thanksgiving table jokes to queer people being shot dead | Opinion by Amber Cantorna