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November 26, 2022

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EDITORIAL:

Community, political leaders must end rhetoric that inspires violence

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David Zalubowski / AP

A person pauses to pay respects as portraits of the victims of a mass shooting at a gay nightclub are displayed at a makeshift memorial Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2022, near the scene in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Five people are dead. Twenty-five more are injured. Police are still investigating but let’s not pretend for even a moment that the gunman in Saturday night’s massacre in Colorado Springs, Colo., wasn’t motivated by hatred and homophobia.

Despite being in a metropolitan area with more than three-quarters of a million people, the crowded bar he chose to open fire in early Sunday morning was one of only two LGBTQ+ bars in a 50-mile radius.

Let’s also not pretend that the vile hatred spewed by the conservative right played no role in the massacre. There is a nationwide industry that dehumanizes LGBTQ+ people for craven political reasons, and the rhetoric it uses has incited murders — both mass and individual.

The Republican Party has maintained a decades-long unholy alliance with evangelicals and white nationalists to spread a campaign of lies that warned against the dangers posed by foreigners, immigrants, non-Christians and LGBTQ+ people. All the while it ignored — and even promoted — the growing threat of the radical extremism within its own ranks.

Colorado Springs’ own congressional representative, Republican Doug Lamborn, fought to defund the Public Broadcasting Network (PBS) because it aired an episode of the animated series “Arthur” that showed a same-sex wedding.

In Colorado’s neighboring 3rd Congressional District, Republican Rep. Lauren Boebert has repeatedly accused LGBTQ+ people of “grooming” children for the sex trade.

In August, the Center for Countering Digital Hate and the Human Rights Campaign ranked Boebert’s Twitter account as No. 3 on a list of high-profile accounts that most frequently spread anti-LGBTQ lies. Boebert responded by saying, “My tweets about groomers are only third? Guess that means I have to tweet about these sick, demented groomers even more.”

Both members of Congress tweeted their “prayers” for the victims and family members of Sunday morning’s massacre. Neither has accepted responsibility for their role in creating the climate that enabled it or in voting against legislation that could have prevented it.

Both Boebert and Lamborn voted against universal background checks for individuals seeking to obtain firearms and proposed defunding state red flag laws, which temporarily remove weapons from people presenting a danger to themselves or others. These were two particularly devastating votes given that the gunman in this weekend’s murders might have been restricted from possessing the guns used in the massacre if there were universal background checks and adequate funding to properly enforce Colorado’s red flag laws.

A police bomb squad had previously responded to the gunman’s home and evacuated neighbors after his own mother contacted authorities to report that he threatened her with a homemade bomb.

In this limited regard, the GOP is correct. The mere existence of laws alone cannot prevent gun violence when a broad cross-section of society that includes elected officials, churches, paramilitary organizations and law enforcement are more concerned with the right to possess a weapon of mass death, than with preventing the use of that tool for mass killing.

Despite their rhetoric of wanting to create safer communities for our children and families, the words, actions and alliances of GOP leaders reveal a party that both promotes violence against certain groups of people and provides a legal shield to those seeking to commit violence.

No matter how much rhetoric they direct at the dangers of “sanctuary cities,” it is GOP policies that repeatedly provide safe harbor for known violently unstable criminals to remain in possession of dangerous weapons designed for the exclusive purpose of killing as many human beings as possible on the battlefield.

By spreading fear of LGBTQ+ people and “others,” domestic terrorists and their GOP allies keep us distracted from the threat hatemongers pose to our nation and anyone who dares speak against their extremism.

Is the transgender kid trying to participate in high school sports or go the bathroom without fear of bullying and harassment a greater threat to our communities than self-appointed vigilantes?

Are drag queens reading books in a library a greater threat to our children than a domestic terrorist with a weapon of war?

Are gay and lesbian people dancing at a nightclub or a Pride festival more dangerous than the mass shooters now dominating our headlines?

The GOP and its terrorist allies would have you believe that the greatest threat to our country is from people who want little more than to live openly and honestly as LGBTQ+ people. Meanwhile the rhetorical climate of the far right (both evangelical and secular) rivals the language of the Taliban, al-Qaida and Nazis in its willingness to encourage violence against LGBTQ+ people.

Enough is enough.

If the GOP and its extremist allies are serious about safer communities, if they are serious about protecting innocent lives, then they will take serious action to stop the hateful rhetoric and actively promote a society in which LGBTQ+ people can participate fully without fear of bullying or violence.

This means an end to the assaults on equal rights for LGBTQ+ adults; an end to the vile accusations against transgender children; an end to the war on books, TV shows, movies and classroom curriculum that acknowledge the existence and humanity of LGBTQ+ people; and most importantly, an end to the violence.