Escalating Right-Wing Attacks on the LGBTQ+ Community

In 2022, the American right has sharply escalated its attacks on gay and transgender people and the broader queer community. This escalation shows up in the Crowd Counting Consortium’s data as a steep and sustained increase in the rate of right-wing demonstrations pushing anti-LGBTQ+ claims.

These anti-LGBTQ+ actions represent a still-modest but growing fraction of all right-wing protests and demonstrations in the U.S. In CCC’s data, the monthly share of right-wing events with anti-LGBTQ+ claims stayed at or close to zero from the start of collection in 2017 until mid-2022. By September of this year, however, it had increased to about 16 percent.

A substantial share of these recent anti-LGBTQ+ events have explicitly targeted transgender people.

Drag shows and Drag Queen Story Hours have also been a common target of the current hate wave. So far in 2022, CCC has logged more than 40 actions targeting these events, including at least 15 so far in September.

Firearms have also become more common at anti-LGBTQ+ demonstrations. Armed protests with these theme are still the exception rather than the rule, but they have clearly been more frequent this year than they were last year. (CCC only started consistently tracking this and other tactical specifics in 2021.)

That escalation in intimidation and terrorism stems, in part, from violent groups like the Proud Boys shifting their attention to anti-LGBTQ+ issues and actions as right-wing media and influencers increasingly harp on these theme, as watchdogs like Media Matters have documented.

If you’re wondering just how ugly it’s getting, look no further than a September 24 protest against a drag bingo event at First Christian Church in Katy, Texas. Promoted on Steve Bannon’s War Room show, that protest drew not just Proud Boys but also Patriot Front and members of the Aryan Freedom Network waving flags with swastikas.

What these charts don’t show (but CCC is also tracking) are the frequent and usually successful counters to these anti-queer protests. You can see one in reporter Candace Bernd’s Twitter thread on the recent protest in Katy, but there’ve been many others, too.

These counters are often joyful in tone and creative in tactics. At recent pride festivals in Provo, Utah, and Boise, Idaho, for example, some counter-protesters wore large angel wings and stood in a line to block peoples’ view of the protesting bigots. In Helena, Montana, counter-protesters danced to music from a speaker and blew an air horn to drown out protesters’ shouts. Outside the Arlington Hills Library in Saint Paul, Minnesota, a counter-protester parked their car near shouting Proud Boys and cranked up the stereo while others formed a wall with blankets and banners.

Counter-protest at Boise Pride on September 11, 2022. Photo credit: Redoubt Antifascists (@RedoubtAFA on Twitter)

In other cases, armed community defense groups are helping hold the line. At the counter-protest outside that recent drag bingo fundraiser in Katy, some participants openly carried firearms. On August 28 in Roanoke, Texas, the Elm Fork John Brown Gun Club provided armed security in the face of an protest at a drag brunch event. Back in June, the same group led an open-carry march through the street in Dallas in response to protests against drag shows at local establishments.

This is part of a broader trend we’re seeing in the CCC data toward more frequent armed protests and counter-protests organized by groups on the left (broadly speaking), including socialists and anarchists. As the chart below shows, these remain rare, but they’ve been more common in the past several months than they were in late 2021 and early 2022.

Technical Note: All of the charts in this post were made with R using the compiled and augmented version of the CCC dataset posted to the Nonviolent Action Lab‘s GitHub repository on September 28, 2022. Right-wing actions are identified by a 2 in the ‘valence’ column, and we look for the “lgbtq rights” tag in the ‘issues’ column to identify actions associated with that theme. To look for armed protests, we apply the following regular expression to the text in the ‘participant_measures’ column:

"(?<!water |squirt |bb |stun )\\b(hand ?)?guns?|rifle|(?:fire|side)arm"

Most of the material in this post was originally shared as a Twitter thread.

Published by Jay Ulfelder

Jay Ulfelder has worked for more than two decades at the intersection of social science and data science, with particular interests in contentious politics, democracy, and forecasting.

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