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At the same time that families of victims in the Club Q shooting were being notified about their dead, U.S. Senate candidate Herschel Walker decided to attack transgender people in a bid to lift his troubled campaign. As part of his closing argument to represent Georgia, Walker unleashed an ad on banning transgender people from competing in sports which corresponds to our gender. By doing so he is contributing to the climate of fear which led to the deadly attack on Transgender Day of Remembrance.
Having grown up in Atlanta, and with deep Southern roots, I was told that Georgia was too focused on building our common future to embrace the vilifying of others as a strategy. Clearly this is not a desire shared by Walker. Rather than bring people together, he has chosen demonization as the way to win office. It echoes the worst of the past.
What's surprising about his approach is that trans issues aren't top of mind for mainstream voters across the state. According to recent surveys, they don't register among topics that Georgians headed to the polls on December 6 for the Senate runoff vote care about.
Anti-trans dogma, however, has become orthodoxy among the Republican Party and a frequent talking point for Walker. A key reason is that an entire ecosystem of right-wing politicians, hate groups, think tanks, and Christian Nationalists billionaires have spawned hundreds of anti-trans bills to create a culture of fear. I document this in TransLash Media's investigative podcast series, The Anti-Trans Hate Machine.
The right-wing believes that anti-trans sentiment is a vote getter. Republican Strategist Scott Jennings calls it a way for Walker to "keep Republicans engaged" and Stephen Miller, former senior adviser to former President Donald Trump, just days after the midterm elections, said that the GOP should double down on trans hate.
But their efforts go beyond politics.
This effort is to dehumanize trans people, picked up by anti-trans figures like Matt Walsh, the anti-trans provocateur whose documentaryWhat is a Woman? has become a widespread conservative talking point. As history has proven, such rhetoric creates the conditions where constant dehumanization leads to violence against those dehumanized -- witness the terrorism we saw at Club Q on November 19.
According to the Crowd Counting Consortium, in the past two years there has been a steep and sustained increase in the rate of right-wing demonstrations pushing anti-LGBTQ claims. These protests are increasingly focused on transgender people and drag shows, like the one hosted at Club Q on Saturday night, making them targets of right-wing paramilitary groups like the Proud Boys. And these claims are amplified and championed across right-wing and Christian Nationalist media like Fox News and The Daily Wire in a wave of anti-LGBTQ+ propaganda.
It's no surprise that violence against members of the LGBTQ+ community was up nearly 20 percent in 2020, the most recent year for data. In fact 2020 was the deadliest year on record for the transgender community, topping a surge in LGBTQ+ violence which began with the election of Donald Trump in 2016. This points to the fact that this violence has political dimensions.
That's why what Walker is doing is so disturbing. He is clearly willing to put transgender Georgians at risk of physical attack just to win political office. Sadly, this behavior is consistent with the accusations that he was willing to pressure women into having abortions, comprising their bodily autonomy, whenever it suited him.
Rather than cutthroat political expediency, Walker could use his stature to bring people together. His potential transgender constituents, especially Black transgender Georgians, need politicians who see them as human.
The most marginalized of the marginalized trans people, especially Black trans people, face the highest levels of violence, employment discrimination, homelessness, and lack of health care than almost any of group of people in the United States. Senators have powerful means to affect change in these areas.
Of course on December 6 it will be up to the citizens of Georgia to determine who represents them. In the meantime, Walker should immediately take down his anti-transgender ad. As we have so recently learned from the Club Q tragedy, lives could depend on him doing so.
Imara Jones, Emmy and Peabody Awardee, is the creator of TransLash Media, a cross-platform non-profit journalism and narrative organization that produces content to shift the culture of hostility towards transgender people in the US. Imara hosts the WEBBY-nominated, TransLash Podcast with Imara Jones as well as the investigative series, The Anti-Trans Hate Machine: A Plot Against Equality.
Views expressed in The Advocate's opinion articles are those of the writers and do not necessarily represent the views of The Advocate or our parent company, equalpride.