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We should, as human beings, feel once again united by tragedy, as the epidemic of gun violence, especially another school shooting, brings us all together in exasperation. We typically would be focused on mourning the tragic loss of life at Covenant School in Nashville, Tenn., on the murders of little children, on the killings of the three adults gunned down in cold blood Monday morning. We’ve learned from police that the shooter had plans to go on a rampage beyond that private Christian school, to a local mall and more.
You might even expect this would be that hallowed time of GOP “thoughts and prayers,” and renewed calls for more laws regarding mental health. But, no: This time is different, because the person pulling the triggers was transgender, like me.
We trans Americans find ourselves reeling from unprovoked and unjustifiable attacks, on television, on social media, and across conservative news media—as if we pulled the triggers that killed six people in Tennessee. The message they’re sending is that despite the fact 99% of mass murderers are cisgender white men, the massacre is our fault.
That has author, Navy veteran and advocate Brynn Tannehill scared like never before, she tweeted. She’s worried the next step is to prevent trans people from owning guns, to have trans Americans classified as mentally ill, to advance the “eradicate transgenderism” agenda ultra conservatives have been pushing. And she made this dire warning: Make a plan to run.
Both Tannehill and out trans journalist Parker Molloy tweeted the stats, and Molloy had choice words for the “absolute ghouls on this website trying to use this to attack trans people.” Notorious transphobe and Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) tweeted that “Everybody can stop blaming guns now.” She questioned whether testosterone was a factor in the violence. Greene also claimed the shooter was on medication for mental health, and Tuesday police confirmed he was being treated for what they called “an emotional disorder.”
This outpouring of bigotry serves a grander purpose of course. Republican-run legislatures are presently engaged in a relentless, ongoing, ugly campaign of denying young trans people access to healthcare and bathrooms, as well as an array of other anti-trans and anti-LGBTQ bills; a trans shooter allows everyone who supports such discriminatory policy-making the opportunity to use one individual to demonize an entire community. And this is being done with relish.
As The Daily Beast has reported, the shooter, whose surname is Hale, was first identified by police as a woman whose name was Audrey and was 28, and then later misgendered as a transgender woman by both police and media. The shooter had recently started using he/him pronouns.
In addition to painting all trans people as mentally ill and the murders as an anti-Christian hate crime, author and anti-trans activist Candace Owens also blamed “Big Pharma” as contributing to Monday’s deadly violence: “Virtually all of these psychopaths are on anti-depressants, hormones (trans), anti-psychotics, etc.,” she tweeted, calling gender-affirming hormone treatments that have been endorsed by every major medical institution “human experiments.”
So what do trans people like me do when MTG, Owens, and fellow Twitter wackos like Ann Coulter, Jeff Younger, “deplorable4trump2024,” “DCDraino” and “JoeHasDementia” pile-on? Journalist Gwendolyn Ann Smith, the founder of the annual International Trans Day of Remembrance, recommended in a tweet Monday night that trans and nonbinary folx step away from social media, “Maybe just tonight. Maybe for a week. Maybe for the foreseeable future.”
But even if you avoid social media, there’s the New York Post’s front page headline screaming, “TRANSGENDER KILLER TARGETS CHRISTIAN SCHOOL.” The MailOnline front page features a panoply of headlines and text screaming “Trans shooter.” When do straight white male shooters have that prefix added as a key qualifier preceding their names?
There’s Steve Bannon’s War Room podcast, with rabid transphobe Jack Posobiec of Turning Point USA’s declaring, “This was a Christian massacre, they're calling it the trans day of vengeance.” Fox News is only too happy to follow that with a report on the group planning to hold a rally outside the U.S. Supreme Court on Saturday, what is traditionally the Transgender Day of Visibility.
Another TPUSA pundit and podcaster, Benny Johnson, threw more gasoline onto that fire, ignoring the stats tweeted by Molloy, to suggest “the modern trans movement is radicalizing activists into terrorists.”
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On Tuesday afternoon, the Mail also broke the story that Hale may have been rejected by their devout Christian parents because they could not “accept” they were gay and transgender. This does not excuse or explain the terrible act Hale conducted, but it may partially illuminate a key aspect of their character and experience, and also presents an uncomfortable question for all those gleeful bigots. Should you judge and reject your LGBTQ child, or accept them and hold them close? What is healthier, and better for your family and society?
LGBTQ organizations have done what they can to push against the tide of hate crashing down upon trans people. GLAAD tweeted a statement in defense of our marginalized community. HRC tweeted that “every study available shows transgender and nonbinary people are much more likely to be the victims of violence rather than the perpetrator of it.”
I was comforted to receive this strongly-worded email from the out trans nonbinary spokesperson at the National Center for Transgender Equality, calling out the real problem. “Tennessee lawmakers are working to weaken the state’s gun laws and Tennessee has no laws regulating the purchase and possession of assault weapons,” wrote Ash Orr.
“Regardless of the perpetrator’s identity, it is important to understand that one person’s actions do not reflect an entire community,” they wrote. “While we may never know the reasoning behind this attack, we do know that this act of violence was a preventable tragedy. We are calling for immediate, measurable actions to be taken to strengthen our gun laws and protect our communities.”
This particular tragedy hit me in a way that I wasn’t expecting. Yes, I cried at the loss of life. I flashed-back to being the first journalist from ABC News at the scene in Sandy Hook, Conn., just weeks before I came out as transgender. But for the first time since Pulse, I worried about my safety and that of my out trans daughter. That anxiety shook me to my core, and I decided to do what I always do: Write about it.
I reached out to Orion Rummler, the out trans man and LGBTQ+ reporter for The 19th News. He also covered this mass shooting, and I asked him how he was dealing with it.
“Reporting about any mass shooting is difficult,” Rummler told me. “There's almost always inaccurate information floating around in the first few days, including from police as they begin and then revise initial investigations of what's happened—meaning you have to clinically sort through conflicting information at the same time as you're reading the names of the people who were killed, and thinking of their families, and everyone they knew who's been hurt. In this case, the gender identity of the shooter was part of that early misinformation.
“The stakes felt especially high for me to get this story right, because right now, we are working in a media and political environment that is saturated with misinformation and extremist rhetoric about transgender people. I feel very supported by my editor and my colleagues at The 19th News, but I know that most transgender people working in the media either do not have any support or are simply not given full-time employment,” he added.
“Right now, I mostly just feel tired,” he said, “and I urge newsrooms to reconsider how we can cover events like this without quickly spreading misinformation.”
That’s the advice of the Trans Journalists Association, of which both Rummler and I are members: “The TJA's guidance is to not assume someone is cisgender or transgender based on their appearance, gender presentation, or pronouns,” the group wrote in a statement. “Police reports, public documents, or statements from family members can likewise incorrectly identify a person's gender. Even social media profiles can be misleading, outdated or incomplete.
“We urge newsrooms to refrain from speculating without further facts. It is additionally important to keep in mind that sharing partial, un-fact-checked, or contextless information and public records during breaking news events can have outsized consequences for members of marginalized communities.”
I’m about to hit send on this story, and I’m going to ask all my editors for that space, to reconsider how we do this. We should have learned that from Pulse, but we didn’t. Not every newsroom at least. Back then, I was at The Advocate, and after a few days of day after day horror, everyone got a day off, a mandatory one. I think I need that right now.
If you’re not trans and reading this, please remember the wise words of Ari Drennen, the out trans LGBTQ program director at Media Matters for America, who put it simply in a quote tweet: “The Republican party will blame anything and everything before they do a thing about guns.”
This is a guns problem, not a trans problem. But gun rights advocates are turning this, as they do everything, into a something-other-than-guns problem. And once again, it’s the trans population that is the bogeyman.
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