Far-right groups are taking their anti-LGBTQ agenda to lockdown protests

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Groups like the Proud Boys and Michigan Liberty Militia have pushed homophobic and transphobic views in the past.

A slew of far-right groups who have openly embraced anti-LGBTQ messages are taking part in so-called "lockdown protests" across the country — further endangering the lives of LGBTQ people who are already vulnerable to the coronavirus.

Groups like the Proud Boys and right-wing militia groups are among those protesting the many statewide stay-at-home orders. The Michigan chapter of the Proud Boys — a so-called "western chauvinists" group that has pushed transphobic, racist, and sexist rhetoric, and encourages members to commit acts of violence — recently attended a lockdown protest in Lansing, Michigan, along with the Michigan Liberty Militia, which has frequently pushed views of white nationalist groups like Patriot Front, according to the Guardian.

In December last year, Michigan Liberty Militia's Facebook page posted a "heterosexual pride month" meme that depicted a family holding an umbrella over their heads to prevent LGBTQ pride colors from touching them.

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Journalists and antifascist activists have also spotted other right-wing groups at these protests, including organizers of last year's Boston Straight Pride parade and a member of the National Socialist Movement in Ohio.

The National Socialist Movement, an antisemitic and racist group, attended Detroit's Motor City Pride Festival last year where they made Nazi salutes and tore apart pride flags. The Boston Straight Pride organizers' Facebook posts have also included anti-LGBTQ memes and references to Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, who killed political dissidents by throwing them from helicopters.

Activists also claimed to have seen supporters of QAnon — a baseless conspiracy that claims high-profile Democrats are involved in a global pedophila ring — at some rallies.

Though a few QAnon supporters are members of the LGBTQ community themselves, a substantial portion of its followers endorse homophobic views, the Advocate notes, specifically the idea that marriage equality is a ploy to push for open pedophilia, a common anti-gay trope.

Cassie Miller, senior research analyst for the Southern Poverty Law Center, said, "Many white nationalist groups like Patriot Front push for 'traditional' notions of the family, which they believe will help to restore and revitalize the nation. For them, gay and trans people represent 'degeneracy' and are therefore viewed as a threat. Anti-LGBTQ sentiment is implicit in their belief that the nation needs to be 'purified.'"

Miller said that although the Proud Boys — which has also been seen at lockdown demonstrations in Colorado, Nevada, and Florida — allows gay men to join, they have a long history of using anti-LGBTQ slurs.

"They are extremely transphobic and have referred to trans people as 'mentally ill gays.' They, too, are hyper focused on 'restoring' lost masculinity, to which trans people — in their minds — pose a threat," she said.

In a blog post about the lockdown protests, Miller explained that the gatherings were the perfect platform for the Proud Boys and groups like them to "make the case that the will of a small minority of Americans — the hyper-individualistic 'patriots' who attend these rallies — should supersede democratic processes, and that individual desires should trump the collective public good."

They also get to bring their ideas into wider right-wing circles, she wrote.

According to a 2019 Southern Poverty Law report, transphobic rhetoric among hate groups appears to be on the rise more broadly, with white nationalists targeting events such as drag queen story hours at libraries and bookstores. Those events feature drag queens reading books to children about family diversity and gender issues.

And far right groups that are more careful about how they express their racist views often use the normalization of anti-feminist and anti-LGBTQ views to bring more people to their movements.

According to FBI data, the number of reported incidents targeting LGBTQ people rose from 1,217 in 2017 to 1,347 in 2018. Reports of anti-trans violence increased 34%.

Although the lockdown protests are not focused on LGBTQ people specifically — the gatherings put everyone's health at risk — they are particularly dangerous for many LGBTQ people.

According to a study by the Williams Institute at UCLA Law School released last week, hundreds of thousands of transgender people are at risk of serious illness from COVID-19 due to economic and social barriers they face, including less reliable access to health care. Flouting statewide stay-at-home orders only serves to endanger them more by spreading the virus further.

"We have seen the impact of #COVID19 on communities of color and now we have data to show how LGBTQ people are struggling," Alphonso David, president of Human Rights Campaign, said last week. "For those living at the intersections, it is even more profound. We must continue to push for policies that support those most impacted."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.