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Advocates fear an escalation of hate toward trans community after Nashville shooting


Today, March 31, is the annual Transgender Day of Visibility. But this week has seen a surge of anti-trans rhetoric after police said the shooter, who attacked a Christian school in Nashville, identified as transgender. The shooter's gender identity remains unclear. As NPR's Melissa Block reports, the LGBTQ community fears a further escalation of hate.

MELISSA BLOCK, BYLINE: Wednesday evening in Nashville, at a vigil to mourn the six victims of this week's shooting, Darin Johnson (ph), a transgender chaplain, turned to song to express her community's grief over the lives lost.


DARIN JOHNSON: (Singing) I don't know a soul that's not been battered. I don't have a friend who feels at ease. I don't know...

BLOCK: We come to this moment, she said later, filled with sadness, worry and fear. That fear has been amplified this week by rhetoric in right-wing media that brands the entire trans community with the actions of one killer. Here's Tucker Carlson on Fox...


TUCKER CARLSON: The trans movement is targeting Christians, including with violence.

BLOCK: ...Matt Walsh on his podcast...


MATT WALSH: The gender ideology movement is, once again, the most hateful and violent movement in America, and it's not even close.

BLOCK: ...And Greg Kelly on Newsmax.


GREG KELLY: Transgender is potentially more of a threat if applied recklessly than, say, white supremacy, OK? We have actual...

CHRIS SANDERS: There is no situation in which blaming an entire group of people for the actions of one is appropriate.

BLOCK: That's Chris Sanders, executive director with the LGBTQ advocacy group Tennessee Equality Project in Nashville.

SANDERS: This is a systemic problem, the access to guns in our state. Hate is a systemic problem in our state. So in that cauldron, we all have a duty to act responsibly and speak responsibly.

BLOCK: And yet the hashtag #TransTerrorism trended on twitter this week. Donald Trump Jr. tweeted about a, quote, "clear epidemic of trans/nonbinary mass shooters." Analysts who have looked at the data say that is false. They confirm that the overwhelming number of mass shootings in the US have been carried out by cisgender males, while mass shootings committed by those identifying as transgender have occurred at a rate far lower than their estimated population. Impugning the trans community as inherently violent is an alarming new pattern, says Heron Greenesmith, who monitors anti-trans movements for Political Research Associates. False claims like that, Greenesmith says, amount to pouring gasoline on a fire.

HERON GREENESMITH: There already is a roaring blaze and inferno. As a trans nonbinary person and as someone who monitors anti-trans rhetoric for my work, I don't think I have capacity in my body for any more anxiety or discomfort.

BLOCK: The inflammatory rhetoric of so-called trans terrorism comes as state legislatures are considering more than 400 bills that aim to limit LGBTQ rights. Jenny Pizer is with Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund. We are seeing this.

JENNY PIZER: Appalling flood of legislation in states based on misinformation and often driven by a kind of cruelty.

BLOCK: Anything that adds to that climate, Pizer says, compounds the threat for a community under siege.

PIZER: Transgender people are targeted for violence. They're the victims of violence at vastly disproportionate rates. Anything that may make that worse is almost beyond comprehension.

BLOCK: Advocacy groups in Nashville had been planning to hold a march and rally tomorrow in support of LGBTQ rights. That's now been postponed indefinitely out of caution. Organizers say it just didn't feel safe. Melissa Block, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

As special correspondent and guest host of NPR's news programs, Melissa Block brings her signature combination of warmth and incisive reporting. Her work over the decades has earned her journalism's highest honors, and has made her one of NPR's most familiar and beloved voices.