If you try to follow news on threats to the LGBTQ community, 2022 has been an exhausting year. It began with a raft of anti-trans bills considered in state legislatures before moving to the more recent Republican governors’ tactic of acting outside the law, alongside harassment and violence targeting all-ages drag and Pride events and hospitals that provide gender-affirming care. Each week brings some new twist to the horror. But the totality of the threats can be lost amid each individual news story about a conservative flak latching onto the smear “groomer,” or a children’s hospital receiving bomb threats, or a library being evacuated, or a far-right group gearing up to attack a Pride celebration. Each story gets brief attention, then fades into the background as the next threat emerges. The connections between the individuals and groups driving these threats too often go unmentioned, and someone casually following the news can easily miss how widespread and common the increasingly dehumanizing rhetoric, political repression, and threats of violence have become.
To offer a glimpse of the full scale of what is occurring, I examined just one week of threats to freedom in America, from September 19 to September 25, 2022. There was nothing particularly exceptional about this week, which is what makes it so troubling—that every week we are exposed to more threats, more dehumanization: an ongoing accumulation.
For example: Every weeknight this past week, Tucker Carlson aired a segment spreading virulent misinformation and outright conspiracy theories about LGBTQ people, on what is billed as the most popular cable news program (it is popular; it’s debatable whether it’s news). Kat Abu at Media Matters was maybe the first to notice this pattern last week: Carlson’s gross repetition of phrases like “chemically castrating children” when referring to gender-affirming care, such as puberty blockers.
Last week, Carlson repeatedly defended the Twitter account Libs of TikTok, which, along with right-wing pundit Matt Walsh, spent this week cherry-picking informational content about gender-affirming care from hospital websites. This built a self-perpetuating news cycle that seemingly crested with victory laps, when, after the harassment that followed, the hospitals removed the content, perhaps in hopes the harassment would end, achieving Carlson, Libs of TikTok, and Walsh’s goal of making this care less accessible.
In one segment, as if both to reassure and inflame those watching, Carlson said, “No parent should put up with this for one second, no matter what the law says. Your moral duty is to defend your children. This is an attack on your children, and you should fight back.” Four days earlier, a Massachusetts woman was charged with calling a bomb threat in to Boston Children’s Hospital, accusing the staff of being “sickos,” after which the hospital was locked down but no bomb was found. The response from Carlson and Libs of TikTok and Walsh wasn’t to back off but to keep picking off more hospitals, pushing harder on Republicans to join their “early-stage pogrom.” Because Carlson is just the weeknight guy. The weekends are for street harassment, when right-wing influencers and neo-Nazis alike take the fight to those they’ve been told are after children and are therefore acceptable targets, and to “fight back.”
American Principles Project releases an ad in Arizona claiming President Joe Biden and Mark Kelly, the Arizona Democratic candidate for Senate, are “taking away parental rights.” The ad features censored, partially nude photos of apparently trans children, including an image from a video from Boston Children’s Hospital. The anti-Kelly ad closes, “We have to go out there and stop this.”
On Twitter, Libs of TikTok takes credit for getting Akron Children’s Hospital to remove gender-affirming care information, after making several misleading posts about the hospital’s procedures a few days earlier. The hospital said in a statement that it had faced a flood of “harassment, intimidation and the intentional spread of misinformation,” which started after Libs of TikTok posts.
Tucker Carlson, with a chyron beneath him reading “These Are Sex Crimes and People Should Be Punished,” said: “Some people describe what is happening as ‘grooming.’ We’re not exactly sure what that means, but if it’s sexually abusing children, yeah, that is what’s happening.” (That is not at all what is happening.)
News reports appear after antisemitic flyers claiming “Every Single Aspect of Disney Child Grooming Is Jewish” are left in the driveways of some residents of Lynchburg, Virginia, including the former mayor, who is Jewish. The flyers were in plastic bags, weighted down with corn; they featured the names and photos of several individuals and the repeated phrase “Protect Your Children.” (Nearly identical flyers had previously been left outside homes in Nashville, Tennessee, in August and in Miami and Coral Gables, Florida, and the Los Angeles neighborhood Westwood in June.)
Public school students in East Baton Rouge, told they were going to a “college and career fair,” were in reality brought to a Christian event, the Baton Rouge Advocate reported, where students were divided by gender, with girls having to listen to talk about rape and “forgiving the offender,” according to one teacher present, while the boys were told to compete for money for doing the most push-ups. A trans boy assigned to the girls’ talk was at first told he could not leave, and other trans students throughout the day reported being bullied, with some having water poured on their heads. Students said they felt duped and are working to hold the church legally accountable.
Seventeen public library branches in Fort Worth, Texas, close and evacuate after a bomb threat, later determined to be unfounded.
Right-wing pundit Matt Walsh claims on Twitter to be “investigating” the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt University for offering gender-affirming care, singling out doctors by name. (In June, Walsh released an anti-trans documentary called What Is a Woman? The Daily Wire, where he works, reportedly spent millions to promote it on Facebook.)
Tennessee Republican Governor Bill Lee calls for an investigation into Vanderbilt’s pediatric gender-affirming care clinic, telling the Daily Wire, “We should not allow permanent, life-altering decisions that hurt children or policies that suppress religious liberties, all for the purpose of financial gain.”
Georgia Republican Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene holds a press conference in Washington to promote her proposed federal legislation to criminalize providing gender-affirming care to minors. In addition, it would bar federal funding to all gender-affirming care at any age, as well as barring federal funding for insurance plans that cover gender-affirming care. “How on earth can this be happening in America? It’s hard to even understand,” she said.
Tucker Carlson runs a segment in defense of Gays Against Groomers, an account in the vein of Libs of TikTok, with Jaimee Michell, who runs GAG. He claims that GAG’s PayPal and Venmo accounts were shut down as punishment because they think it is “wrong that adults enlist children in their sexual fantasies.” (Previously Michell compared gender-affirming surgery to the medical experiments of Nazi doctor Josef Mengele.)
After a bomb threat, the Denver Public Library closes its branches and cancels Bookmobile stops. KUSA reports, “The Denver Police Department said … that preliminary findings indicate the threat was sent from out of state and that a number of similar threats were sent to libraries in other states.”
Vanderbilt University Medical Center releases a statement saying it is “now the subject of social media posts and a video that misrepresent facts about the care the Medical Center provides to transgender patients.” It also removed the clinic’s page from its website.
Tennessee Republican Senator Marsha Blackburn joins Governor Lee’s call to investigate VUMC, saying she was “shocked” by the videos and that “there is nothing healthy about mutilating the bodies of minor children.” (The night before, she attended a black-tie event where she was photographed with Walsh and said, “Stay tuned for more tomorrow about how puberty blockers are being used on children.”)
Tucker Carlson runs another segment spreading lies about gender-affirming care, singling out VUMC, claiming “Vanderbilt Ghouls Castrate Kids for Big Profit.” He runs names and photos of the hospital board of directors, taking time to read each name, adding, “Let’s hope these people act immediately to stop this crime.”
Nashville Public Libraries close all 21 branches after a bomb threat, which police later said was not credible. A city councilwoman told WTVF, “This is so common now, this is domestic terrorism. This is trying to make us all afraid, and a library is really the perfect target for this kind of stuff because it is a place of knowledge and information and history.” It’s not clear from what police have shared why the libraries are being targeted, but now many are across the country.
Blackburn asks the Food and Drug Administration to investigate the use of puberty blockers. Walsh celebrates the news on his podcast, while also claiming that “the left” is threatening to have him “arrested and even killed.”
The Tennessee chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union condemns the calls for investigations, adding, “Misinformation like the recent social media posts has fueled attacks on trans children and adults from state legislatures across the country.” (On Wednesday, Matt Walsh said he had met with Tennessee lawmakers working on a new bill to “shut down” the gender-affirming care clinic at VUMC.)
The state of Florida argues that the educators and students challenging the “STOP WOKE Act”—a law restricting how race, gender, and sexuality are discussed at school and in the workplace—have no First Amendment protections from government regulation of speech, because in regulating curricula at public universities the government is regulating its own speech. This is just one of three challenges to the law; a judge had already partially blocked enforcement of the law and called it unconstitutional.
In Florida, a judge denies Governor Ron DeSantis’s request to dismiss a lawsuit brought by the state attorney who refused to criminalize abortion and gender-affirming care, which DeSantis called the prosecutor’s “woke agenda.” It will go to trial.
An Arizona judge allows a provision of an 1864 law, adopted when Arizona was not yet a state, to go into effect, criminalizing abortion nearly completely. Republican Attorney General Mark Brnovich, who recently lost his bid for U.S. senator, asked the court to reinstate the law after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June.
At 2:20 p.m., Libs of TikTok posts about a gender-affirming program at U.W. Health, a University of Wisconsin hospital, singling out one specific woman doctor over multiple posts. At 3:09 p.m., Ted Cruz shares one of the posts, commenting, “She does this to children. Sterilizes & mutilates them.” At 4:45 p.m., the account announces the program’s website has been “scrubbed.”
Later, Libs of TikTok posts about an adolescent clinic at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital, specifically its practice of asking a parent to step out of the room for a few minutes to give young people “safe space.” The video posted features one specific woman doctor.
Community members learn that the Pride Community Center in Gainesville, Florida, had its glass windows and door shattered. This was “retaliation,” according to a local pastor who volunteered at the center, for what was meant to be “a student meet-up for queer and questioning kids to come together and just be.” A note left with the rocks used to smash the windows appears to back this up. The center noted that this was just a few weeks ahead of its Pride festival, which hadn’t been held since 2019.
Anti-“grooming” protesters picket outside a drag event at UpRising Bakery in Lake in the Hills, Illinois, met by supporters of the bakery and the LGBTQ community who intended to protect the bakery. The protesters have been coming to the bakery for weeks, with Trump flags and one man pledging to stay all winter. After the weekend protests, the bakery has been a discussion item on one of the remaining QAnon message boards, with one user writing, “They don’t want this story on Q boards, because they know we will pick it apart.” (The bakery was vandalized in July, after announcing an earlier drag event and receiving threats. The windows were smashed and walls spray-painted with the messages, “Christ is king” and “Fags rape kids.”)
Protect Texas Kids, headed by self-described “Christian fascist” Kelly Neidert, and other far-right groups gather outside First Christian Church in Katy, Texas, near Houston, attempting to intimidate people attending a drag bingo fundraiser hosted by the church. Steve Bannon’s War Room had promoted the protest, with guest and Representative Lauren Boebert’s former campaign manager, Sherronna Bishop, calling it a “spiritual battle” meant to stop parents from supporting their trans kids. (Bishop’s home was one of those raided by the FBI as part of an election-related investigation.) The neo-Nazi group Aryan Freedom Network and the Proud Boys were present. Some protesters carried swastika flags and antisemitic and homophobic signs.
The “patriot pastor” Sean Feucht brings his revivalesque anti-mask “superspreader” road show, “Let Us Worship,” to Times Square, protested by NYC for Abortion. Feucht gained prominence in MAGA circles by claiming churches were being victimized by Covid-19 health restrictions and then “pivoted seamlessly to raging against the alleged ‘groomers’ at Disneyland,” as Rolling Stone reported, organizing protests there in April after Ron DeSantis made Disney an enemy over his “Don’t Say Gay” bill.
The Miami-Herald editorial board warns of DeSantis’s “Christian nationalist schtick” and its links to white supremacy. “If DeSantis is telling his followers to go fight to shape the nation to their religious liking,” it writes, “the counter-narrative should be that this rhetoric could not only incite violence, but it also undermines Christianity itself.”
The president of the Heritage Foundation, a key group pushing anti-LGBTQ laws across the United States, celebrates the apparent (and now official) victory of Giorgia Meloni, Italy’s new prime minister, a fascist.