Several survivors of mass shootings against the LGBTQ+ community gave powerful testimony to Congress about anti-LGBTQ+ violence amid a wave of right-wing extremism.
Their appearance comes as many on the left continue to excoriate conservative politicians and media for creating an environment where attacks against the LGBTQ+ community are more commonplace.
Indeed, Club Q shooting survivor Michael Anderson and Pulse shooting survivor Brandon Wolf both spoke about how the GOP's anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric stoked the flames of violence against LGBTQ+ people.
Anderson said he is "embarrassed" by the United States' "international reputation of inaction on gun reform" and noted every American, particuarly elected officials, "has a responsibility and a choice to use their words consciously."
He also took Republicans to task for the "groomer" rhetoric currently gripping the GOP, who've accused LGBTQ+ people of building relationships, trust and emotional connections with children so they can manipulate, exploit and abuse them.
You can hear what Anderson said in the video below.
"Not only am I am embarrassed by our country's international reputation of inaction on gun reform but I am frankly disgusted. Between 1994 and 2004, America's mass shooting incidents dropped dramatically."
"Following the expiration of the assault weapons ban, which the Republican Party allowed to expire under President [George W.] Bush, we have an epidemic of domestic terrorism and violence. The time to do something is now."
"What needs to be done is placing the lives of children and adults above our unhealthy obsession with assault rifles and you are some of the ones who can make a difference. Many in our government say nothing can be done. This epidemic of violence is just the price we must pay for freedom in this country."
"That is a lie. The facts speak for themselves and your denial of this gun violence reality is not a policy proposal. I encourage you all to work together to save our children and adults and, in turn, save ourselves and the soul of our nation."
"To the politicians and activists who accuse LGBTQ people of being groomers and being abusers: Shame on you. As leaders of our country, it is your obligation to represent all of us, not just the ones you happen to agree with. Hate speech turns into hate action and actions based on hate almost took my life from me at 25 years old.
"I beg you all to consider your words before you speak them for someone may use those words to justify action, action that may take someone's life."
"To my fellow LGBTQ community: events like this are designed to discourage us from speaking and living our truth. They are designed to scare us from living openly, courageously, and proudly. We must not succumb to fear. We must live prouder and louder than ever before."
"We must continue to be who we are for who we are is exactly who we are meant to be. And to the children watching this who may feel you might not be like the other kids: I understand and I see you."
"You deserve to be exactly who you are no matter what anyone else has to say."
Wolf—whose two best friends were among the 49 people killed during the 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting—harshly criticized Florida Republican Governor Ron DeSantis and politicians who align themselves with right-wing extremists who "terrorize our community."
You can hear what Wolf said in the video below.
“For years, cynical politicians and greedy grifters have joined forces with right-wing extremists to pour gasoline on anti-LGBTQ hysteria and terrorize our community. My own governor, Ron DeSantis, has trafficked in that bigotry to feed his insatiable political ambition and propel himself toward the White House."
“We have been smeared and defamed. Hundreds of bills have been filed in order to erase us. Powerful figures have insisted that the greatest threats this country face are a teacher with they/them pronouns or someone in a wig reading ‘Red Fish, Blue Fish.’”
"And all along, we warned that these short-sighted political manuevers would come with a human cost but they've continued anyway."
"Even as queer kids told us that they were scared, that life was getting less safe for them; even as hate violence has escalated; as children's hospitals have faced mounting bomb threats; as armed protesters started showing up at Pride festivals and brunches; as a donut shop in Oklahoma was firebombed for daring to host a drag show; even as five innocent people in Colorado Springs went into a space that was supposed to be safe for them and came out in body bags; the attacks have continued."
"We can be better than that. We have to be better than that. Right-wing extremism relies on this manufactured belief that its poison is inevitable, that resistance is hopeless, but I contend that taking a stand is necessary, that it is our duty."
"We need to say without apology that people who endanger entire marginalized communities for social media content and fundraising fodder have no place in our politics. We need to hold accountable those who traffick in venomous bigotry to score cheap political points."
"We need to address how our obsession with easy access to guns takes dangerous hatred and makes it fatal, and we need to say unequivocally right here, right now that LGBTQ lives matter, that trans lives matter, and that in this country, that is not up for debate."
Many have praised the two men for their powerful and eloquent testimony.
In June 2016, the nationwide community was devastated by a mass shooting at the Pulse Nightclub in which 49 people—many of whom were Hispanic people of color who had gathered for a "Latin Night" of music and dancing—were senselessly murdered.
The shooting was the deadliest mass shooting by a single shooter in the United States until it was surpassed the following year by the 2017 Las Vegas shooting, which resulted in 58 deaths. It was also the bloodiest incidence of violence against the LGBTQ+ community since the UpStairs Lounge arson attack of 1973.
Pride Month festivities that year were noticeably more somber though nonetheless more needed than ever, galvanizing a new generation of LGBTQ+ activists into action, a development that has proven indispensable in years since, particularly as Republican legislators have launched a wave of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation nationwide.
Sadly, attacks against LGBTQ+ people have continued—particularly at Club Q in Colorado Springs, Colorado, where five people were gunned down last month.
The alleged shooter was charged with ten felony counts—five counts of murder and five counts of committing a bias-motivated crime causing bodily injury.
News outlets reported shortly after the shooting he is the grandson of outgoing California Republican State Assemblymember Randy Voepel, the former mayor of Santee, California who once compared the January 6 insurrection to the Revolutionary War.
This information has only amplified concerns about far-right radicalization and how being raised in an environment where hate and political violence are tolerated or even encouraged can lead people to commit horrific acts like mass murder.