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Pride month fears: Is the FBI missing the real threat to LGBTQ+ safety?

Date: June 4, 2024

Press Clip Source: The Reckon Report
Link to Source: Here

The threat posed by violent extremism has continued to rise in recent years, and this is what LGBT leaders and activists want to see addressed.

By Denny | [email protected] 

People in rainbow celebrating pride
Revelers cheer during San Francisco's Pride Parade on Sunday, June 25, 2023. (Noah Berger/AP News)

Despite the urgent warning that terrorist threats are on the horizon this Pride Month, some leaders of the LGBTQ community are saying that subliminal terrorist attacks already impact the community daily. 

The threats were announced in a May 10 Public Service Announcement by the Federal Bureau Investigation (FBI) and the Department of Homeland and Security (DHS). 

“[Foreign terrorist organization] efforts to commit or inspire violence against holiday celebrations, including Pride celebrations or LGBTQIA+-related venues, are compounded by the current heightened threat environment in the United States and other western countries,” the statement read.

Potential threats, according to the announcement, include online and in-person hateful speech, unusual surveillance, soliciting private information about events, attempts to bypass and enter restricted areas and more. 

Why anti-LGBTQ terrorism is on the rise

Hateful rhetoric and dehumanizing narratives around queer, trans and nonbinary people in recent years have taken greater spotlight in the public, which has direct ties to anti-LGBTQ threats and attacks. 

“When elected officials, grifters and influencers promote conspiracies and ‘culture war’ propaganda, that emboldens violent extremists and radicalizes mainstream Americans,” said Jon Lewis, a domestic terrorism research fellow at the Program on Extremism at George Washington University, where he specializes in white supremacist and anti-government movements in the U.S. as well as the federal responses to such threats. 

Lewis explains that while there is no “silver bullet solution” to curbing anti-LGBTQ hate and terrorism, the root of the cause starts with hate speech, which requires more proactive approaches. 

“The threat posed by foreign and domestic violent extremism has continued to rise in recent years, and new solutions are required to address an increasingly decentralized threat,” he said, harkening to the mainstreamed anti-queer and anti-trans rhetoric that is responsible for such threats and acts. He says that understanding the ties between the two are crucial, and that divorcing this from such violent acts that directly follow suit will not better the situation. 

Lewis also draws this announcement’s connection to today’s civil unrest across pro-Palestinian solidarity and the escalation of violence done by extremists as a means of disruption. 

LGBTQ+ people face threats everyday, not just during Pride month

Eric A. Stanley, the Haas Distinguished Chair in LGBT Equity and an associate professor in the Department of Gender and Women’s Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, is skeptical of the FBI and DHS’s warning. 

Akin to Lewis’ observation that civil unrest is being used to leverage extremist levels of violence, Stanley speculates that it is no coincidence that pro-Palestinian demonstrations against major corporations and institutions have a large presence of queer and trans people. 

“I can imagine a beautiful pro-Palestinian disruption happening in front of Meta or the Palantir or Google contingent, and that being understood—which is to say produced—as an act of terror against LGBTQ communities,” they explained. 

In addition to questioning the motives of the announcement itself, Stanley argues that the ones who have caused most harm to the LGBTQ community are already marching alongside community members in Pride parades. 

“It’s the banks, it’s the military, it’s the FBI, it’s the politicians, it’s the cops,” they said. “So, if we’re going to think about anti trans and queer terrorism, it’s actually already happening inside the parade.”

The warning announcement makes note that this Pride Month will mark eight years since the Pulse nightclub shooting that killed 49 people and injured 53 at the Orlando, Fl. gay club. 

Criticizing this mention, Stanley—whose book “Atmospheres of Violence” touches on the 2016 shooting—notes three things about the journey of Pulse’s narrative: the aggression towards LGBTQ people was rewritten as a generalized terrorism against Americans, therefore speculating and framing the shooter Omar Mateen as a “jihadist,” or a person who is committed to violence against non-Muslims.

“They forget to mention that he was training to be a police officer, as if that’s not more informative than whatever his other identities may or may not have been,” Stanley said, adding that the police themselves waited nearly five hours outside of the nightclub until almost everyone was dead. “They get paid a lot of money to stand outside while we’re being murdered.” 

Stanley recommends focusing on the anti-LGBTQ terrorism that torments the community on a daily basis: from the hyper-representation of Black and indigenous LGBTQ people in prisons, jails, detention centers, psych wards, to the hyper-policing of unhoused queer people

More police isn’t the answer, activists say

Queer and trans people of color “have always been in an undeclared war zone,” said Kalaya’an Mendoza, the director of mutual protection with Nonviolent Peaceforce, an international humanitarian protection organization. 

Mendoza is also a street medic and community safety and mutual protection trainer. Having worked on the ground across various political movements since 1999, he describes one of his key policies of “we keep us safe” as a form of “ancestral technology” used against all instances of oppression. 

Similarly, Shannon Novak, director of The Safe Space Alliance, an international nonprofit organization advocating for LGBTQ safety worldwide says that for queer, trans and nonbinary people, “we can never guarantee 100% safety, rather, it’s about how we respond to safety breaches if they were to occur.” 

Mendoza, who is Filipino, tells Reckon of a collectivist mentality from his upbring called “kapwa bayanihan,” in which community safety is grounded in the community—not police systems. In terms of LGBTQ safety against terrorism, Mendoza’s expertise has proved him time and time again that organized protections thrive when cultivated by fellow members of the community. 

“Having intentional spaces of care and healing is such an integral part of safety because It’s part of the proactive and responsive work,” he said. “What we are learning is what else it could look like when [the communities themselves] are running systems of safety and when they’re utilizing the resources that they have.” 

According to Stanley, even the idea police can keep the LGBTQ community safe is untrue when taking police data and history into consideration.

“The idea that you can be prepared for something like [terrorism] is a fantasy, and I think it’s tied into the generalized fear of the world where anything can happen at any time,” Stanley said, adding that preparation individualizes the risk of terrorism. 

Rather than suggesting people to prepare themselves this Pride month, they challenge the overall circumstance with one simple question: 

“How about we changed the world that mandates this form of harm?”

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