In the days after the Colorado Springs shooting that killed five and injured 18 at a gay nightclub, LGBTQ groups in Massachusetts continue their fight to ensure members of their community are safe.
“Every day our youth see, hear and feel the weight of anti-LGBTQ rhetoric in the media, in their homes and in their communities,” said the Massachusetts Commission on LGBTQ Youth. The group is an independent agency that recommends LGBTQ-inclusive policies to the state government. “The links between the Club Q shootings and the toxic messages that are being bombarded against LGBTQ youth every day are unmistakable.”
The commission says medical bans on gender-affirming care, bans on LGBT-themed books in schools, attacks on queer people and threats against health care providers and teachers who support LGBTQ rights have never been greater.
Although hate crimes against gay people fell from 1,393 in 2019 to 1,287 in 2020, crimes based on gender identity increased nearly 20%, according to a federal report.
- Continue reading: Colorado Springs shooting: Community responds to LGBTQ nightclub deaths
“[Massachusetts] is not exempt from the anti-LGBTQ violence sweeping the nation and much more needs to be done to ensure that every single youth in the state feels empowered to live their lives free from violence, grief and the harm of racism live , homophobic and transphobic entities,” the commission said.
Ellyn Ruthstrom, Executive Director at SpeakOUT, shares the same sentiment. As the director of SpeakOUT, an organization that trains members of the queer community to publicly share personal stories, Ruthstrom said attacks on the LGBT community make them feel “vulnerable.”
“We recognize that even in a state like Massachusetts where we have many LGBTQ protections, we are not completely safe from the violence and harassment directed against our community,” Ruthstrom said. “We know we have protections in place and we know the people of Massachusetts will stand up for us, but there are things they can’t protect us from.”
- Continue reading: Boston’s LGBTQ+ retirement community The Pryde has been vandalized with homophobic graffiti
In the summer, a Boston housing project for LGBTQ+ seniors was vandalized with anti-gay abuse.
Often SpeakOUT conducts public engagements in sheltered settings such as schools, organizations and businesses. At events open to the public where there isn’t the same level of protection, fear of anti-LGBT protesters or public harassment looms over organizers’ minds, Ruthstrom said. That is why the organizers of SpeakOUT ensure that police officers are present at public events.
Members of Out Now, a queer youth group in Springfield, are upset and saddened by the recent attack on the LGBTQ community, according to Holly Richardson, director of the organization.
“At Out Now, we will not only continue to exist, we will thrive as we fight together with everything we have for our queer community (and all other oppressed groups) here at home, across the country and around the world. ‘ Richardson said in a statement.
The group also said they were concerned about easy access to firearms and the number of firearms per resident in the country.
In the US, according to Small Arms Survey, a Geneva-based organization, over 98% of the country’s 400 million firearms are owned by civilians, which equates to 120 firearms for every 100 people.
“This country has always been and always will be a violent place; and remarkably, almost all mass shootings are committed by white, young cis men,” Richardson said. “While BIPOC people have borne the brunt of white supremacy violence, those living with ‘minority’ status are at risk of being targeted.”
- Continue reading: Colorado Springs shooting: Suspect in LGBTQ nightclub shooting faces murder and hate crime charges
According to the Violence Project, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research center that has tracked data on mass shootings since 1996, nearly half of all mass shootings in the United States are committed by white men.
“Finally, we are all forced to listen to lawmakers who continue to incite violence when they speak dangerously about LGBTQIA+ communities as if we were a threat to them; in fact, it’s just the opposite,” Richardson said.
The Colorado Springs shooting follows another similar mass shooting that took place at a gay nightclub a few years ago.
In 2016, an American-born man gunned down 49 people and injured 53 at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando. The shooting was among the deadliest mass shootings in US history.
Two of the Pulse victims had ties to western Massachusetts — Stanley Almodovar III of Springfield and Kimberly “KJ” Morris, who formerly lived in Northampton and Holyoke. Morris was working as a nightclub bouncer when the mass shooting took place. She had moved to Orlando from Hawaii to be closer to her family. A mural was dedicated to the young woman on Main Street in Northampton.
The Colorado Springs shooting took place on the eve of Transgender Day of Remembrance. In response to the shooting, TransResistanceMA, a transgender rights organization in Boston, has moved its in-person Memorial Day event online.
“One of the things we really had to consider was if there might be protests or violence if we want to hold Trans Memorial Day in person, and how might that feel?” said Julia R. Golden, Interim President of TransResistanceMA. “It’s a heavy and emotional event that we’re hosting because it’s important that we keep talking about violence and trans groups and people.”
There’s often a lot of talk about resilience following homophobic or transphobic attacks, Golden said. However, for Golden, resilience is just a form of survival.
“We have to mourn and mourn for them first, but then we have to look around and say, ‘What policies and laws are going to be put in place to protect our group?’ Resilience is not a plan, policies and laws are plans.”
Issues such as housing, job insecurity and hunger are among the top issues facing Boston’s transgender community, according to Golden. For now, TransresistanceMA will host two online town halls and will announce a $10,000 campaign next week called the Trans Community Program. The program focuses on supporting transgender and gender biased people.
Schools also show their support for the LGBTQ community. On November 22, Lexington High School expressed condolences over the mass shooting in Colorado Springs.
“At the news of yet another senseless, violent attack on people of LGBTQ identity, we send our love and support to LGBTQ students, staff and families in Lexington and everywhere,” said Julie L. Hackett, city school principal.
- Continue reading: In 2020, 385 hate crimes were reported in Massachusetts; Prejudice against blacks, anti-Semites and homosexuals tops the list
The school also warned that these types of hateful incidents start “close to home.” According to an email from the high school counselor, several Lexington High School students were told by adults during their town event in October that “LGBTQ people are pedophiles and groomers and that they were lucky to live in a place where they would not live stoned.”
According to the school, several people intervened in the situation to protect the students.
“My heart goes out to all those affected by this senseless act of violence. We stand in solidarity with all LGBTQ students, staff and families and their loved ones. We see you, we support you, and we’re here for you, and there is no place for hate in our community,” Lexington High School said.
Maura Healey, the governor-elect of Massachusetts, also expressed her condolences. On Twitter she wrote:
“My thoughts are with Colorado Springs, Club Q and everyone affected by this senseless act of gun violence.” she said. “Anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric has brought us here before. This country needs to take a good look at where hatred and gun violence intersect – it must not happen again.”
Healey, a Democrat, will be the first female governor of the Commonwealth and the first openly gay governor. Healey has shown her support for the LGBTQ community in the past. On October 12, she joined a coalition to support efforts to provide gender-sensitive welfare to the state’s transgender community.
- Continue reading: Congress members call for an investigation into anti-trans threats to hospitals
In recent months, there have been multiple cases of hate crimes against transgender Americans in Massachusetts. The transphobic hate crimes have prompted several lawmakers, including Democratic state officials Rep. Ayanna Pressley and Rep. Jim McGovern, to ask the Justice Department to investigate transphobic hate crimes.
“We urge you to outline the steps the Department is taking to counter anti-transgender violence threats occurring online and in person, and provide further guidance to healthcare providers on how to protect their staff and patients from such threats,” they wrote lawmakers in a Nov. 18 letter to the DOJ.
The letter follows multiple bomb threats against Boston Children’s for providing gender-affirming health services.
“Transgender youth and adults, like all of us, need and deserve access to medically appropriate, life-saving care to support their health and well-being,” said Kurtlan Massarsky, executive director of BAGLY, in a statement. BAGLY is a Boston-based LGBT group. “Boston Children’s Hospital is a nationally recognized model of best practice in gender-affirming care, and BAGLY strongly condemns these attacks, which threaten some of the youngest and most vulnerable members of our community. We all must stand up against hatred wherever it arises, and so we call on all of our communities to unite as allies against those who seek to harm us.”