Anti-transgender sentiment follows Nashville shooting

Conservative political figures focused on the shooter's reported trans identity.

March 28, 2023, 5:30 PM

After authorities said the Nashville school shooter identified as transgender, anti-trans sentiment about the community surged from far-right political figures.

Gun reform advocates and LGBTQ activists say the transgender community is being used as a “scapegoat” and that focusing on the shooter's reported trans identity is a distraction from what they say is the root of the issue: guns.

"Despite what the gun industry and their political allies want, attempting to find a scapegoat isn’t going to take away from the fact that what is causing gun violence in America is our easy access to firearms,” said Kris Brown, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.

PHOTO: A woman places flowers at a makeshift memorial where balloons and Teddy bears are left on the outside the Covenant School building at the Covenant Presbyterian Church, in Nashville, Tenn., March 27, 2023.
A woman places flowers at a makeshift memorial where balloons and Teddy bears are left on the outside the Covenant School building at the Covenant Presbyterian Church, in Nashville, Tenn., March 27, 2023. A heavily armed former student killed three young children and three staff in what appeared to be a carefully planned attack at a private elementary school before being shot dead by police.
Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images

Advocates say transgender people have historically and falsely been categorized as violent or dangerous – perpetuating anti-transgender sentiment and further ostracizing a vulnerable and small population.

“Every study available shows that transgender and non-binary people are much more likely to be victims of violence, rather than the perpetrator of it,” the Human Rights Campaign said in a statement following the shooting.

“Regardless of the reason for this shooting, the use of violence is reprehensible and we renew our call for common-sense gun safety.”

Three students and three staff members were shot and killed at the Covenant School in Nashville on Monday morning. The Metropolitan Nashville Police Department identified the victims as Evelyn Dieckhaus, 9; Mike Hill, 61; William Kinney, 9; Katherine Koonce, 60; Cynthia Peak, 61; and Hallie Scruggs, 9.

Several conservative political figures, including Sen. J.D. Vance, Rep. Marjorie Taylor-Greene, and Donald Trump Jr., were among the personalities on social media who implicated the role of the shooter's transgender identity in the shooting. The motive for the shooting remains unknown, according to authorities.

Transgender people are more than four times more likely than cisgender people to experience violent victimization, according to a study by the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law. Because of this, activists fear anti-trans sentiment will only lead to more violence against transgender people in a time when state legislators across the country have been targeting this community through legislation, restricting access to gender-affirming care and spaces.

James Alan Fox, a professor of criminology at Northeastern University, maintains a database on shootings dating back 17 years. He said he’s been studying the topic of shootings for 41 years, and defines a mass shooting as four or more killed in a single event, not including the shooter.

He says he has not seen another case of a mass shooter being transgender in that time. The overwhelming majority of mass shootings are committed by cisgender men.

“I’m not aware of other cases like that,” Fox said. “Unless it was not reported, I would have known about it.”

"When you talk about mass killing it's even more of a male activity,” Fox told ABC News.

He told ABC News that, according to his database, there have only been four female mass shooters who have killed four or more people in a single event in the United States since 2006.

Anti-gun violence activists are instead turning their attention to the national debate around guns and gun violence.

“I am devastated and angry," said former Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot in the head in 2011 while meeting with constituents and now runs the gun violence prevention organization GIFFORDS.

"At least three innocent children and three adults lost their lives to another incident of senseless gun violence. Countless people, including young kids, will be left traumatized by this tragedy. No parent, student, or teacher should live in fear of a mass murder at school. Enough is enough. Our leaders need to act. We stand with the Nashville community and remain committed to fighting gun violence. We owe it to our children and future generations.”

ABC News reporter Bill Hutchinson contributed to this report.