House Oversight Committee highlights attacks on LGBTQ community

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The House Committee on Oversight and Reform highlighted the rise in violence and threats against the LGBTQ community Wednesday in the final full hearing under Democratic control.

The hearing began with testimony from survivors of November’s shooting at Club Q in Colorado Springs, Colo., a gay nightclub where five people were killed. Matthew Haynes, a co-owner of the establishment, read off homophobic comments written in the aftermath of the shooting lamenting that more patrons were not killed.

“We are being slaughtered and dehumanized across this country,” Haynes said. “LGBTQ issues are not political issues. They are not lifestyles. They are not beliefs. They are not choices. They are basic human rights.” Haynes noted he was in attendance Tuesday at the White House for the ceremony in which President Biden signed legislation protecting same-sex marriage.

“Outside of these spaces,” such as gay bars, “we are continually being dehumanized, marginalized and targeted,” testified James Slaugh, who was shot during the attack along with his boyfriend and sister. “The fear-based and hateful rhetoric surrounding the LGBTQ+ community, especially around trans individuals and drag performers, leads to violence.”

House Oversight Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney holds a microphone as she sits at a hearing.

Oversight Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., tied the violence to the proliferation of anti-LGBTQ bills at the state and local level, as well as rhetoric against the community. Republicans across the country have passed laws banning transgender youth from participating in sports, have attempted to purge books by LGBTQ authors from schools and libraries and have promoted legislation that bans gender-affirming care for youth.

Witnesses and Democratic legislators also noted the recent proliferation in the use of the word “groomer” as an attack against members and supporters of the LGBTQ community, falsely accusing them of sexual abuse. Conservative media members and politicians have had a particular focus on drag shows, leading to an increase in threats. Businesses that host drag shows have been firebombed, while members of right-wing extremist groups like the Proud Boys have targeted drag queen story hours at libraries.

Bouquets, balloons and banners at the closed entrance to Club Q.
Hundreds of items left at the closed entrance to Club Q in Colorado Springs, Colo. (Brett Forrest/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Prior to the Club Q shooting, the FBI had warned law enforcement about the increased threats to the LGBTQ community. An intelligence bulletin published Sept. 13 by the Delaware Valley Intelligence Center similarly warned that racially motivated violent extremists were “very likely to disrupt and protest LGBTQIA+ events and drag performances” in the Philadelphia area, “posing a threat to public safety.”

Kelley Robinson, president of the Human Rights Campaign, highlighted a new report from the organization that noted anti-transgender online harassment of 24 different hospitals and health care providers over a four-month period. Many of the campaigns are driven by right-wing social media accounts and elevated by Republican politicians and large platforms like Fox News. Massachusetts resident Catherine Leavy was arrested in September and charged with making a bomb threat against Boston Children’s Hospital due to its offering gender-affirming care for trans youth. She allegedly called Aug. 30 and said, “There is a bomb on the way to the hospital. You better evacuate everybody, you sickos.”

Republicans stated that while they condemned violence of all types, the hearing’s focus on LGBTQ issues was too narrow and should cover crime generally. They also argued that Democratic policies had led to spikes in violent crime in cities they control, although that overlooks the fact that violent crime rates are often higher in rural, Republican-controlled states.

Committee ranking member James Comer at the hearing.
Rep. James Comer at the hearing on violence against the LGBTQ community. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

“Democrats are using committee time and resources today to blame Republicans for this horrendous crime,” ranking GOP member James Comer of Kentucky said in his opening statement. “This is not an oversight hearing. This is a ‘Blame Republicans so we don’t have to take responsibility for our own defund-the-police and soft-on-crime policies.’”

Republican members of the panel criticized the blaming of “right-wing extremism” for the attacks, while others mentioned instances of crime and harassment against Christians.

Ilan Meyer, a scholar at the UCLA School of Law’s Williams Institute, said that was an incorrect comparison to make.

“If I may, there has been an equivalency made here in this hearing between attacks on LGBTQ people and of course horrible attacks on Christians or other people who are attacked violently, but they’re not equivalent,” Meyer said. “Not to say that one is better or worse than the other, but when you’re attacking a group of people in a sense that is embedding and reverberating hatred and stigma that has been going on for decades and are part of the American system, you are creating damages above and beyond just the attack that the person experiences.

Photographs of victims of the Club Q mass shooting are seen at a memorial.
Photographs of victims of the Club Q mass shooting at a memorial on Nov. 23. (RJ Sangosti/MediaNews Group/the Denver Post via Getty Images)

“Being Christian is not a stigmatized position in American society, it is very valued, and it’s a good thing, but to be attacked for being Christian has a different nature — not that I’m supporting any kind of attack or discrimination,” he added.

The GOP won a House majority in last month’s midterms and will assume control of committee leadership when the new Congress is seated next month. It was the final hearing for Maloney, who lost a Democratic primary to Rep. Jerry Nadler following the most recent redistricting in New York.