The Real Epidemic- Trans Shooters or Hate?


In late March, a school shooting in a Nashville town left the community and people across the country shaken. The School Shooter, Audrey Hale, was a 28-year-old trans-man who identified using He/Him pronouns. When Officials first identified the shooter, Hale was referred to as using She/Her pronouns, and the confusion about Hale’s gender identity has caused anti-trans sentiment to take the country by storm.


Earlier in March, a few weeks before the shooting, Tennessee became the first US state to put bans on Drag Shows, criminalizing cross dressing which could easily be an outlet for aggression against Transgender citizens. The high tensions surrounding LQBTQ+ issues has caused Transgender people to be used as scapegoats and blamed for the tragic losses in the school shooting. 


Hashtags swirling the internet refer to events like these as “#TransTerrorism” and big names such as Donald Trump Jr. offer up claims that there is an “epidemic of trans/non-binary mass shooters,” despite the fact that out of more than 3,500 perpetrators involved in US mass shootings since 2016 only 4 have been identified as trans or non-bianary, making non-cis people, only 0.11% of mass shooters. These statistics disprove the claim growing in popularity that there is a dramatic influx in Transgender shooters. In reality, 98% of mass shooters are cis men. 


Even so, Benny Johnson, a political columnist and conservative voice, tweeted on March 27, the date of the shooting, that “the modern trans movement is radicalizing activists into terrorists.” 

“Statements like those are just blatantly false in their nature,” says Parker Hawley, the president of the Gender and Sexuality Alliance (GSA) club at West Orange High School. “Some people are so set on their opinion of trans people that they will refuse to listen to trans people and refuse to listen to the actual facts.”


Conservatives have repeatedly played the blame game when it comes to gun violence. Last October after a school shooting in Texas, Conservative Politicians began to pinpoint the tragedy as a direct result of “wokeness” in schools. Claiming that gun violence was not the result of relaxed gun laws but instead has been sidelined and replaced by Transphobia. Hawley describes it as “Weaponry against Trans People,” a swift distraction from one issue (gun violence) all the while beating down on so-called “wokeness” and queer rights in order to push agendas such as depleting access to gender-affirming care. 


The existing Struggle:

Many people in America misunderstand the reality of LGBTQ+ people and specifically trans youth. A common narrative about Transgender people is that they are being wrongfully forced by their parents to transition. As Hawley explains, “A lot of conservatives are led to believe that how someone is becoming trans is that the parents say ‘Hey your trans lets go get you surgery’” when in reality the “…concept is someone finding themselves and then a slow process of transitioning.” The idea that trans youth are “indoctrinated” into a “trans ideology” has caused extreme transphobia in many communities. 


Between the years 2017 and 2021, 175 transgender people were murdered. As Insider noted, only 3 of these homicides were identified and charged as hate crimes. Yet transphobia in society is certainly fueled by hate and stigma. Trans people are often profiled as predatory and groomers. In Tennessee, the perceived danger of Transgender people and the associated “idealogy” has been reflected in bills such as the one signed in early March that restricted healthcare opportunities for trans youth looking for gender-affirming care. The law bars doctors from prescribing any gender-affirming care to minors. When the bill goes into effect on July 1 of this year, people under 18 will not be able to receive hormones, puberty blockers, or surgery, all of which are procedures known to combat gender dysphoria among transgender youth (and adults). 


In 2022, 50% of Trans and Nonbinary youth were reported to have considered suicide within the year. Additionally, trans youth were 2 to 2.5 times more likely than cis youth or even other members of the LGBTQ+ community to experience depression or suicidal considerations. The high suicide rates among trans people are often the result of violence, bullying, and yes, the lack of gender-affirming medical care. Many studies have proven that gender-affirming care such as puberty blockers and estrogen/testosterone supplements have significantly improved youth mental health and lowered the risk of self-harm.


 Even so, House Majority leader William Lamberth stated that “These children do not need these medical procedures to be able to flourish as adults…They need mental health treatment,” Thus, invalidating the trans experience and making it seem that mental health issues are the source of gender dysphoria and not the other way around. He goes on to state that trans-youth “… need love and support, and many of them need to be able to grow up to become the individuals that they were intended to be.” Lamberth’s comment accentuates the belief that being queer is a choice and that Transgenderism is the indoctrination of youth. 


Aside from outlawing gender-affirming medical opportunities, Tennessee has also passed a bill recently that identified drag shows as adult performance, falling under the same category as strippers. The new legislation did not ban drag shows entirely but listed them as “adult cabaret” and required age restrictions for attendees. The reason behind this, republicans say, is that drag shows are explicitly sexual and introduce inappropriate content to children. 


These laws have not only targeted self-expression and made it increasingly challenging to exist as a Trans or Queer person but in the aftermath of the Nashville shooting have also aroused misleading rhetoric about the alleged dangers Trans people pose.


What does this mean for the future of queer rights?


Transphobia isn’t limited to politics and has already struck the LGBTQ+ community with force. On the day following the Nashville shooting, Adam Michael Nettina of Maryland made a threatening call to the Human Rights Campaign, a hub for Queer activism. Nettina left a voicemail to the organization in which he threatened to assault and “slaughter” the organization’s members after stating “You guys [are] going to shoot up our schools now? Is that how it’s going to be?”


 Statements like these are concerning but are far from isolated. The “Trans Day of Vengeance” march in Washington D.C. was canceled due to safety concerns following the Nashville Shooting. The March’s goal was to help shift away from hypothetical changes and towards more concrete and tangible actions that allow the Trans community not just to achieve visibility but exist freely and safely on a daily. Perhaps unironically, the cancellation was caused by transphobic reactions to a tragedy. 


So what does this mean for the future of queer rights and the safety of the trans community? Hawley believes that “… in the long run…it’s going to be one of those things… they’re going to use it as ammo. Oh, you think Trans people are good, well, look at this shooter.” Experts worry that the increased anti-trans sentiment that has followed the shooting will cause more violence toward the Trans community who are already at greater risk of being victims of violent crime. 


The Real Epidemic: 

While some claim that transgender people committing violence is an epidemic, others argue that gun violence is the real disease, a lethal one that kills about 4,000 kids every year in school settings. 


In Tennessee, gun laws are relatively relaxed. Permits are not needed to obtain handguns or other firearms as they are in states like New Jersey. As a result, it is significantly easier to obtain such weapons in the state. Laws that made it an obligation to perform background checks on buyers have also been revoked in recent years. 


Tennessee lawmakers have even proposed new bills that would allow concealed weapons to be carried by school staff on school premises. Currently, firearms are prohibited in educational settings. Bills like these represent the mindset of many legislators: Teachers need guns to protect themselves and their students from more guns. The statement sounds like a warzone. 


Gun Control activists and members of the Nashville community have pleaded for stricter gun control legislation to be passed. Yet on the house floor, the uproar was muffled slightly by the forced explosion of two democratic representatives from the legislature after they joined peaceful protests on the house floor that called for action against gun violence and stricter gun laws. Of course, the frustration wasn’t stifled for long because soon after the majority republican house voted out two of their colleague’s representatives, and even President Biden responded to the action calling it “undemocratic.” In a tweet, the president wrote, “Three kids and three officials gunned down in yet another mass shooting. And what are GOP officials focused on? Punishing lawmakers who joined thousands of peaceful protesters calling for action.” 


The expulsion has drawn public attention to how many lawmakers and right-wing politicians are again choosing to ignore the immediate issue of gun violence in America and are instead shunning activists and using “disorderly behavior” as the excuse to veer away from conservations about gun laws. 


As of April 17, just 107 days since the beginning of the new year, 163 mass shootings occurred in the US. Currently, 469 Bills in the works pose harm to LGBTQ+ Americans. Whether the real epidemic is gun violence or the ability of Americans to act on hate, one thing is for certain: things need to change. “We need to teach people,”  Hawley offers, “… we need to have some people open their ears and shut their mouths.”