It didn’t take long after an 18-year-old brutally murdered 19 schoolchildren and two teachers at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, before the internet misinformation machine cranked into action. Starting on 4chan, a false rumor began to spread that the school shooter was a trans woman named Sam. Right-wing troll Candace Owens continued to push the false narrative long after it had been disproved. The online chatter even grew to the point where far-right Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona claimed the shooter was trans in a since-deleted tweet.
A teenage trans girl in El Paso was accosted by a group of men who taunted her with the internet rumor, insisting the Uvalde shooter was one of her “sisters.”
The woman targeted by the false accusation eventually had to post a photo of herself holding a sign with the date, which was after the shooter had died by police fire during the attack, to prove she was not the shooter. Later that evening, a teenage trans girl in El Paso was accosted by a group of men who taunted her with the internet rumor, insisting the Uvalde shooter was one of her “sisters.”
This is not the first time a false narrative that a shooter was a trans woman has quickly taken hold following a mass murder. In 2015, a Planned Parenthood facility in Colorado Springs, Colorado, was shot up by a gunman who killed three people and injured nine. Not long after the shooting, the far right Gateway Pundit reported that the shooter was registered as female on his voter registration card, and an internet conspiracy theory was born. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz repeated the rumor in a statement to the press, claiming the shooter was a “transgendered leftist.”
In 2018, a cisgender woman carried out a shooting at YouTube’s headquarters in San Bruno, California, wounding three people before dying by suicide. The internet transphobia mob quickly sprang into action, falsely claiming that cis women aren’t capable of perpetrating violence on that scale and concluding that the shooter must have been trans.
They pored over hours of her videos, picking apart her Persian appearance and voice and deeming both to be inadequately feminine to belong to someone born female. This conspiracy theory gained much traction on gender-critical and far-right Twitter, reaching higher profile figures like far-right activist Laura Loomer, who then spread the false rumor to their followers. After a deep investigation that involved speaking with San Bernardino police and the coroner’s office, and obtaining the shooter’s immigration documents, I could conclude that she was not transgender at all.
And now the Uvalde school shooting can be added to a — growing, if we are to be realistic — list of gun atrocities falsely attributed to a trans person.
This keeps happening over and over again because of the larger project of monstering trans people, particularly trans women, that much of the far right and its gender-critical allies have engaged in for the past several years.
You don’t get to this place where trans people are consistently falsely slandered and denied legal and emotional support through civilized or informed debate.
There’s a large segment of society, including many in positions of power, who have engaged in an extended effort to villainize trans women and turn them into socially unacceptable beings. Part of this project involves highlighting individual bad actors who happen to be trans. Common examples of this include the British convicted rapist Karen White and Canadian transgender activist Jessica Yaniv, both individuals who did awful or gross things, and whose behavior has been projected as that of all other trans women everywhere. The resulting larger argument becomes that trans women do not deserve safety or comfort in society.
The rhetoric has only increased over the past several years. In 2018, gender-critical feminist Sheila Jeffreys told a U.K. Parliament panel that trans women were “parasites.” As the outrageous claims built, some American conservative politicians decided to take action. In Texas, where this week’s shooting occurred, Gov. Gregg Abbott and his attorney general Ken Paxton have sought to essentially make it illegal to be a trans kid or teenager. They’ve deemed providing a trans minor with trans health care a form of child abuse, meaning loving parents who support their children’s well-being can have their kids taken from their homes by the state as a result.
The El Paso teen trans girl who was assaulted by a group of grown men on Tuesday tried to report the incident to her local police department, but the police refused to file an assault report. The 17-year-old tried to contact a local LGBTQ support center but was turned away because the center had stopped providing services to trans people; it became too risky after Abbott’s bill went into effect. She was eventually forced to contact an Indiana-based LGBTQ support line, which also tried to help her report the assault to the police, who again declined to take a report.
The hostile environment against trans people, so often fostered in far-right chat rooms and social media platforms, is amplified largely by right-wing and centrist media. It’s helped create fertile ground for open transphobia, where trans people are easily blamed for every societal ill, even a deadly school shooting. You don’t get to this place where trans people are consistently falsely slandered and denied legal and emotional support through civilized or informed debate. You get here by demonizing a tiny, near powerless minority.
That’s been the endgame for most of the media makers who push these ridiculous transphobic narratives. Let’s keep that in mind the next time you hear some outrageous story about something a trans person allegedly did.