“It was only a matter of time.”
That was my first thought upon hearing of the callous and hateful murder of Laura Carleton, the owner of Mag Pi Clothing in Cedar Glen, California. A straight woman, Carleton was fatally shot by a man who confronted her over an LGBTQ+ Pride flag which was displayed at her shop. Her assailant was later killed by police.
This was not the first time someone had taken issue with Carleton’s Pride flag. As The Independent has previously reported, friends of Carleton say that the flag has been ripped down multiple times. Every time, she simply replaced the flag with another, refusing to cave in to the hateful bigots who vandalized her shop.
The inevitability of something like this happening was apparent to anyone paying attention. Following last year’s deadly homophobic shooting at a Colorado gay club, Scientific Americanreported on the link between rising anti-LGBTQ rhetoric on the right and violence against LGBTQ people. Around the same time, the UCLA Williams Institute released a startling statistic: LGBT people are nine times more likely to be a victim of a hate-crime than non-LGBT people. This was followed by a document from the Department of Homeland Security in May warning that violent threats against the LGBTQ community are increasing in both number and intensity.
In June, a joint report by the Anti-Defamation League and GLAAD found more than 350 anti-LGBTQ incidents across 46 states and the District of Columbia. These included acts of online harassment and vandalism, which Carleton’s murder – after multiple incidents of vandalism – shows can and do escalate into incidents of physical violence.
These incidents also do not exist in a vacuum. This year has seen a record number of anti-LGBTQ bills introduced in state legislatures; more than 500 were introduced, with over 75 of them becoming law. While we can and should debate public policy on its merits, what cannot be denied is that with these bills has come the normalization of some truly disgusting and hateful rhetoric.
For example, in April, a spokeswoman for Florida Governor Ron DeSantis tweeted that anyone who opposed the state’s notorious “Don’t Say Gay” law is “probably a groomer or at least you don’t denounce the grooming of 4-8 year old children.” This, after the Human Rights Campaign found that the anti-LGBTQ grooming narrative had increased on social media by 400% following the passage of the law, which prohibits teaching Florida students about sexual orientation or gender identity. This harassment is not limited to the internet, though; in April, The Independent interviewed three people who “had been harassed or attacked in public over the past two weeks by strangers who accused them, with no provocation or evidence, of ‘grooming’ children or being a ‘groomer.’”
This is not the first time the American right has been swept up in a moral panic over LGBTQ people and children. Nearly 50 years ago, Anita Bryant (the singer and orange juice spokeswoman) famously led the so-called Save Our Children campaign which sought to allow teachers in Florida – and later California, when she campaigned for the Briggs Initiative – to be fired for being gay. This led gay rights activists Jean O’Leary and Bruce Voeller to write in a 1977 New York Times op-ed that “gay women and men in this country have been required to join a conspiracy to pretend we don’t exist, so that other people can lie to their children.”
Make no mistake, that is what is happening: people are lying to their children, to themselves, and to the public. As the Poynter Institute’s PolitiFact reported last year, most child molesters are straight, “school employees who perpetrate child sexual abuse are most likely to be white, heterosexual, male adults…” and that actually, “gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans people are less likely than people who do not claim those labels to commit child sexual abuse in school settings.” There is also no evidence that teaching about LGBTQ people, sexual orientation, or gender identity leads to children becoming LGBTQ or increases incidents of child sexual abuse.
Despite these facts, history is repeating itself – this time with deadly consequences. The murder of Laura Carleton is not the first anti-LGBTQ hate incident to occur in this dangerous political climate created by Republicans and their far-right paramilitary supporters such as the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers. The Club Q gunman ran a neo-Nazi website. Five members of Patriot Front were convicted earlier this summer after planning to riot during a Pride event in Idaho. In March, things turned violent when protesters, some of whom “appeared to be affiliated with the Proud Boys” according to NBC News, turned up at a drag show in New York City.
It does not matter that Carleton was straight; she was killed for being supportive of our community, the same way that Viola Liuzzo – a white woman from Detroit – was killed by racists in Alabama for her Civil Rights work. If anything, the fact that a straight woman was killed in a homophobic attack belies just how dangerous things have gotten. I am more concerned for the safety of my community now than I have been at any time since I came out in 2001.
The Republican Party, beholden to its far-right base, has created an atmosphere of hostility and hatred from sea to shining sea. Its embrace of a disproven conspiracy theory that LGBTQ people are grooming children has led us to where we are today. That Carleton was killed in Southern California – typically assumed to be a blue bastion of acceptance and progressivism – further shows just how dangerous things have gotten for LGBTQ people and our allies.
Nowhere is safe, or so it seems. Whether in queer-friendly California or the shelter of our own venues like Club Q, the wicked forces of hate whipped up by the anti-LGBTQ rhetoric being irresponsibly deployed by rightwing politicians and pundits have shown they will hunt us down wherever we are. It is truly terrifying.
This has got to stop. The right – especially Republican elected officials and their staff – must end the baseless and bigoted moral panic over LGBTQ people “grooming” children, a conspiracy theory that has been disproven time and again in modern American history. Instead, they should focus on issues that matter, including gun control, and to keep our people (including our LGBTQ people) safe from extremists and violent vigilantes.
Let Laura Carleton’s name go down in history as a martyr for equality and acceptance – but let her be the last. It is time for every fair-minded and decent American to demand the political right cease this relentless hate campaign against LGBTQ people and our allies before anyone else is killed.