By ANDREW DeMILLO Associated Press
Anti-transgender rhetoric and disinformation in the days following the shooting at a Nashville
Christian school that killed six people have heightened the fears of a community already on edge amid a
historic push for more restrictions on trans people’s rights this year.
Authorities haven’t shared any evidence linking Audrey Hale’s gender identity to the motive for the
attack, which killed three children and three adults at The Covenant School last week.
Yet right-wing commentators, politicians and other figures have cited the shooting as they’ve shared
false claims of a rise in transgender mass shooters and suggested that the fight for trans rights is
Advocates worry the comments are further jeopardizing transgender people by turning them into
scapegoats, at a time when they’re speaking out against a wave of bills focused on trans people in
statehouses across the country.
“We’ve certainly seen the uptick in transphobic rhetoric in the past week, even directed towards our
own public platforms, and there have absolutely been community members that are wearier of being in the
public eye,” the Trans Empowerment Project, an advocacy and support group based in Tennessee, said in a
The rhetoric has come even from members of Congress, with Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene
questioning whether the shooter was on hormone replacement therapy or medications to treat mental
Donald Trump Jr., the former president’s son, suggested the FBI and Justice Department monitor “violent
factions within the trans community.” In Idaho, the head of the state Republican Party invoked the
shooting as she called for the governor to sign legislation banning gender affirming medical care for
For hours Monday, police identified the shooter as a woman. Later in the day, the police chief said
Hale was transgender. In an email Tuesday, a police spokesperson said Hale “was assigned female at
birth” but used masculine pronouns on a social media profile.
Police have said Hale was under a doctor’s care for an undisclosed emotional disorder and was not on
the radar of police before the attack. Hale was fatally shot by police at the school Monday.
The disinformation surrounding the shooting doesn’t surprise Imara Jones, a transgender woman and
creator of “The Anti-Trans Hate Machine,” a podcast that focuses on the spread of disinformation about
Jones noted how quickly false posts spread online falsely identifying a transgender woman as the
shooter who killed 19 children and two teachers at a school in Uvalde, Texas last year.
“This disinformation, one of the things that it is doing is further isolating, stigmatizing and
demonizing trans people, allowing us to be targeted by all forms of violence, both from the state and
from individuals,” Jones said. “That’s what the disinformation is doing.”
Several hundred bills restricting transgender people’s rights have been introduced in statehouses this
year, including a resurgence of bathroom bills and bans on gender affirming care for minors.
Transgender people have also faced increasingly hostile rhetoric from lawmakers who are considering
Some of the most stringent measures have been enacted in Tennessee, where the Republican governor has
signed into law restrictions on drag show performances and a ban on gender affirming care for minors. A
federal judge on Friday blocked the drag show ban from taking effect.
Many of the restrictions are being advanced by Republican lawmakers who say they’re protecting
A large number of transgender people say they regularly face verbal and physical abuse. A Washington
Post-KFF survey of transgender adults conducted late last year showed that 64% of trans adults say they
have been verbally attacked because of their gender identity, gender expression or sexual identity, and
25% say they have been physically attacked.
“There is a vocal minority of people who try to stoke fear of what they don’t understand, who label
trans people as ‘other’ and tell us we don’t belong,” the National Center for Transgender Equality said
in a statement. “Because of this, trans people, especially trans women of color, face very real threats
The climate has already been fraught for trans people like Jessica Disney, who’s appeared regularly at
Arkansas’ Capitol to testify against anti-transgender measures.
“Anytime there’s a spike in the rhetoric for whatever thing that is latched onto, it is immediately
more taxing and truly terrifying about living here in the South, living here in Arkansas and what has
already happened to me and other people being encouraged to act out,” Disney said.
Advocates say the disinformation and focus on the shooter’s gender are distracting from needed
discussions about how to prevent mass shootings.
“Extremist politicians and pundits are focusing on speculations about the shooter and fear-mongering
about transgender people because they have no interest or willpower to offer real commonsense solutions
to America’s gun problem,” Jay Brown, the Human Rights Campaign’s senior vice president for programs,
research and training, said in a statement.
Despite the fear, the Trans Empowerment Project said it’s seen an “amazing push to act” on addressing
gun violence and building allies with the community.
“More than anything, we’re amazed by the resilience of our community,” the group said.
Sami Morris, a nonbinary resident of Durham, North Carolina, said the anti-trans “finger pointing” that
followed the shooting in their home state of Tennessee made them feel “more unwelcome in the South”
than they did already. They criticized North Carolina Republicans Wednesday for overriding the
Democratic governor’s veto of legislation loosening gun access just two days after the Nashville
“The anti-trans rhetoric has become so pronounced that it’s drowning out mourning the victims,” Morris
said. “It’s drowning out necessary calls for gun control and important conversations about what might
actually make schools safer.”
The anti-trans rhetoric was on display as Dylan Michael Turner, 27, stood at a Transgender Day of
Visibility event Friday outside the South Carolina State House.
“Terrorist attack!” a passenger in a car passing by yelled at Turner, a transgender man from Columbia,
holding a sign that said “TRANS RIGHTS ARE HUMAN RIGHTS.”
Turner said he had received six or seven such comments, but said the supportive messages he got far
outweighed the hateful ones.
“I wish that (cisgender heterosexual) people would have a chance to get to know trans people and that
would sway their view of things,” he said.
Associated Press writers Hannah Schoenbaum in Raleigh, North Carolina and James Pollard in Columbia,
South Carolina contributed to this report.