End ‘obsessive, dehumanising’ anti-LGBTQ+ campaign or risk more massacres, charity warns

The progress Pride flag lying on the pavement

The media needs to “turn down the temperature” on anti-LGBTQ+ hate in the wake of the Colorado Springs shooting, an advocacy group has said.

Five people – Daniel Aston, Derrick Rump, Kelly Loving, Ashley Paugh and Raymond Vance – were killed when a shooter opened fire in Club Q, an LGBTQ+ venue in Colorado Springs, on 19 November. At least 25 others were injured.

The shooter is facing murder and hate crime charges, with many linking the attack to the recent spate of anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric fuelled by right-wing politicians and the media.

Media Matters for America, a charity that monitors disinformation, said the shooting should send a strong message to media organisations that it’s time to stop the “vicious campaign of dehumanisation” against LGBTQ+ people.

“I think it would be impossible to ignore the broader climate in which the shooting took place,” Ari Drennen, LGBTQ program director for Media Matters, tells PinkNews.

Photos of the shooting victims are displayed at a makeshift memorial outside of Club Q on November 22, 2022 in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
Photos of the shooting victims are displayed at a makeshift memorial outside of Club Q on November 22, 2022 in Colorado Springs, Colorado. (Chet Strange/Getty)

“The promotion of the idea in right-wing media spaces that we’re a threat to children, that queer people are grooming children or turning them queer or trans, that drag queens are dangerous somehow – it’s hard to ignore that when you’re wondering, why did this happen?”

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Urgent action must be taken, Drennen says. 

“The media has a very strong responsibility to turn down the temperature to stop portraying LGBTQ+ people as threatening, to stop putting trans lives up for debate,” Drennen says.

“I imagine a lot of people have been getting a lot of clicks off spreading hate. If they don’t look at [the Colorado Springs shooting] and turn down the temperature, I think that’s pretty horrifying.”

‘Obsessive focus’ on LGBTQ+ lives in the media inseparable from Colorado Springs shooting

While anti-LGBTQ+ hate was once the preserve of right-wing media organisations like Fox News, mainstream and “liberal” newspapers like The New York Times have taken to publishing anti-trans articles in recent years.

There’s an “obsessive focus” in the media on LGBTQ+ lives, with trans people and drag queens bearing the brunt of the hate, Drennen says.

“That has created an ecosystem where it’s easier for hate to spread.

“More broadly what we’re seeing is what happens when trans people are not employed throughout the media. There’s no trans people in senior positions at The New York Times who could look at [stories about trans people] and help give it more humanity or context. 

“The mainstream media has really focused on this question of whether young LGBTQ+ people are receiving too much medical care and in doing so they’re missing the forest for the trees.

“They’re missing the real problems facing the community which tends to be lack of access to health insurance, unemployment or underemployment, lack of social support.

“But those problems are, I guess, less intriguing to their audience.” 

Drennen has personally noticed the anti-LGBTQ+ hate in the media getting worse over the last couple of years – it’s showing no sign of easing off. 

“This is something that is now talked about on Fox News nearly every day on some programs, sometimes multiple times a day. 

“Many of the right-wing influencers on YouTube, places like The Daily Wire, talk about this constantly. It’s kind of become an obsessive focus which has really created an environment that is dangerous for LGBTQ+ people.” 

Queer people and allies must stand up

The result of that climate is that queer people must be constantly aware of their surroundings – and where they’re going – in a bid to stay safe.

“The Colorado Springs shooting was so heartbreaking,” Drennen says. “it’s something I think about happening every single time that I go to a queer bar, it’s always something I worry about. I know I’m not alone for worrying about that. 

“It’s so awful to see that come to pass and to see those lives cut short. Unfortunately it’s something that happens far, far too often in this country.”

For LGBTQ+ people and allies who want to enact change, the advice is simple: keep speaking out when you see the media circulating anti-LGBTQ+ hate.

“I think that’s where a lot of this starts,” Drennen says.

“A lot of the hateful rhetoric that’s been pushed is stuff that’s taken for granted in certain social circles, so I think pushing back against that on a personal level can be very powerful.”