cw: mentions of CSA, transphobic & racist violence, anti-trans and antisemitic conspiracy theories
Visitors to St Paul public libraries in recent weeks may have found an atmosphere quite different from the usual quiet and calm among the bookshelves. On two separate occasions since September, our libraries have played host to competing rallies - on the one hand, members of a hate mob gathered to oppose queer cultural events, particularly Drag Queen Story Hour. On the other hand, antifascists and other community members there to defend queer people and freedom of expression.
Although the far right street presence in the Twin Cities has been beaten back multiple times in the last five years, it is undergoing a resurgence - and its target is the queer community, through a manufactured outrage around drag events.
Behind the Moral Panic
Over the last several weeks, the group “Humans Against Groomers” has targeted drag and queer events at Saint Paul public libraries, and in greater Minnesota, including St Cloud and Rochester. These rallies use the same rhetoric we’ve seen cropping up in anti-queer campaigns all over the country: the claim that drag performers and trans people are “groomers” who are targeting children. This is a recurring theme for the far right; we have seen it before in the “adrenochrome” conspiracy theory, which claimed that liberal political figures were involved in trafficking children to harvest hormones from them in a form of ritual Satanic abuse.
These outrageous claims are not actually motivated by concern for the safety of children. Advocates against and survivors of child sexual abuse have done their own work, diligently, for years, against the institutions in our society which enable that abuse. For example, churches and sports programs have both been recurring sites of abuse and cover ups. Poverty rooted in racism and colonialism make young people of color, especially black, brown, and indigenous girls, particularly vulnerable to sexual trafficking. Above all else, the institution that enables child sexual abuse is the patriarchal authority of men in power to harm and silence children over whom they have authority. The hate coalition gathered against the queer community is silent on all of these real drivers of childhood sexual violence. Meanwhile, the activists and survivors of child sex abuse include many queer and trans people - the same people now being demonized and targeted by the reactionary right.
The labeling of the queer community as “groomers” is in fact about justifying violence against queer people. As with the classic “blood libel” - the claim that Jewish people were using the blood of Christian children to make matzo - the strategy is to accuse a marginalized group of harming children. Once that claim has been made, then persecution of and violence against that group can be normalized, in the name of “defending the children.”
Go to any rally by Humans Against Groomers, and you’ll run into the usual suspects of the Minnesota far right: members and associates of the Proud Boys, Bikers for Trump, and Hold the Line Minnesota. Core organizers of this new hate campaign, such as Becky Strohmeier, have been a feature of far right street politics in Minnesota since the beginning of the pandemic. They’ve organized events such as “Operation Gridlock,” which involved an attempted blockade of the COVID hospital in St Paul and was opposed by community self defense volunteers in partnership with health care workers. The Humans Against Groomers crowd is a network of people with no history of advocacy for sexual abuse survivors or for children, but with a long history of jumping from one far right cause to the next. Their slander and attacks against the trans community reflects the local far right jumping on an anti-trans hate bandwagon that has been sweeping the US in recent months.
Defend Queer People, Free Expression, and Workers
Against the moral panic that these reactionaries are whipping up, antifascist community members - spearheaded by queer antifascists - have turned out over and over, and are continuing to turn out, to defend queer events from hate rallies. There are three clear reasons why we as a community need to mobilize to support them.
First, because queer and trans people are under attack. The far right’s slander against queer people is meant to prepare the way for action against queer people - the taking of queer books out of publication and circulation, the firing of queer teachers, bills limiting access to gender-affirming medical care, and banning trans athletes from school sports. Six separate anti-trans bills have been introduced in Minnesota’s state legislature in 2022 alone. Beyond the pushing of anti-trans laws, though, hate rallies and slander against queer people lay the groundwork for physical violence. According to data kept by the FBI, hate crimes against trans people rose by 41% between 2019 and 2020, a trend which has only accelerated since. This statistic likely under-reports the problem, as most violence against trans and queer people is not reported to the police, due to the police not helping and often harming trans and queer people themselves. According to a study by the UCLA, trans people are more than four times as likely to be victims of violent crime than cisgender people. Of fatal attacks against trans people, 85% of victims recorded by the Human Rights Campaign since 2013 have been trans women, and 84% have been people of color. The far right’s slander against drag performers - drag being an art form pioneered by gay men and trans people of color - directly fuels both state policies of marginalization, and physical violence.
Second, because the attack on drag performers is an attack on free expression. Although the far right has always talked a big game about free speech in relation to their own hateful rhetoric, the attack on queer performances shows the truth: they are the same advocates of censorship and repression that they have always been. We cannot allow a coalition of religious fundamentalists, Proud Boy goons, and hatemongers to dictate what cultural events libraries, bars, churches, or any other establishment puts on. If you turn your back now as they attack queer speech, because you are not queer, you will find that tomorrow, it is your freedom of expression that they are coming for.
Third, the attack on drag performances is an attack on the workers at every venue that these performances take place at. Library workers have been filmed and photographed by the far right, and accused of being accomplices to “grooming”. Now they are going after local bars and restaurants. Every worker, from a server or cook, to a library clerk, to the drag performers themselves, has the right to a safe workplace. A workplace under threats by a hate mob is not safe. As workers who fight for safety from all conditions in our jobs, across every industry, we stand in solidarity with workers facing harassment and violence for the performances that they are in or which happen at their workplace.
Fighting fascism is something each one of us can do - and it is something we all have to do, together, if we want to see it buried. Here in the Twin Cities, local antifascists have driven out successive waves of far-right extremists time and time again since the 1990s, when our metro was the birthplace of Anti Racist Action. We can, and will, drive them out again.
What hard experience has taught us is that the more people show up to confront fascists, the safer we all are. Fascists are, first and foremost, cowards. They are so afraid of anyone being different from themselves that they feel they have to attack them - and they prefer to attack when they think they can win easily. When they are shown a display of force and public resistance, they back down and slink into the political margins.
The more overwhelming the turnout in defense of the queer community, the more completely we can rout the fascists, and the safer our whole community will be. There are many ways to turn up and defend the community: as a front line defender, in a support role, or as a completely nonviolent presence simply swelling the ranks of the community standing between the fascists and their intended victims.
Each of us can be brave and show up to any mobilizations in the coming weeks, against fascist attacks on the queer community. Each of us can invite our family and friends, and make a plan to go together and keep each other safe.
Time after time, fascists have grown their movements and normalized their violence by picking on communities they think they can get away with targeting. It’s up to all of us, together, to show them that they can’t get away with targeting anyone. We stand in solidarity with the queer community.
Afterword: At the time of publishing, the local far right’s most recent target was a drag brunch at a local pub. A call to protest from Humans Against Groomers claimed the show was an “all ages drag show.” HAG also claimed, bizarrely and against the clearly posted drink prices for the event, that the show featured “bottomless mimosas.” Both claims were false, and on the day of the show, neither the children at the pub nor the much-feared champagne cocktails were to be found. Also absent were the far right activists themselves, having apparently lost their nerve. We applaud this latest turn towards cowardice on their part, and encourage them to continue staying home.