On Saturday, June 25, a contingent of the fascistic street gang known as the Proud Boys gathered outside of an LGBTQ+ Pride-themed family storytime event at a public library in McKinney, Texas, a suburb just to the north of Dallas.
The Proud Boys’ faces were masked. They were joined by other anti-LGBTQ+ protesters, some with ties to an extremist militia. Many came seemingly prepared for a physical confrontation—at an event for parents and their children. One man openly carried a pistol on his hip, while members of the Proud Boys wore tactical gear and carried bear mace. After the storytime event concluded and the crowd of parents began to leave, one Proud Boy was caught on camera pushing an antifacist activist and issued a citation, but no one was arrested by the police on the scene.
Earlier in the month, similar scenes of far-right intimidation played out in San Francisco, California, and Wilmington, North Carolina. In both instances, Proud Boys stormed into public libraries during Pride-themed storytime events where they menaced and hurled slurs at attendees and their children. Police did not stop the Proud Boys from entering the buildings and no arrests were made in either instance, although the San Francisco incident is being investigated by authorities as a potential hate crime. And on the same weekend as the incident in McKinney, Proud Boys turned out to a drag brunch in Sparks, Nevada, and sent people fleeing when one man approached the library with a gun.
Back in McKinney, Texas, though, the Proud Boys never made it inside the building. Having witnessed failures by authorities to prevent such hateful harassment all throughout Pride month, dozens of parents and antifascist activists formed a wall of bodies to block the facistic gang from entering the library.
“We had seen through social media that hate groups planned to protest and disrupt the event like we’ve seen happen in other areas of North Texas,” said Kathyrn Vargas, a parent who attended with her three kids.
Vargas is also a volunteer group lead for the Collin County chapter of Moms Demand Action, an organization pushing for gun control policies across the country.
“We discussed not attending [the Pride-themed storytime], but after preparing our oldest for what we might see, we ultimately decided that being an ally means showing up,” Vargas told TRNN. “Local groups—LGBTQ community members and allies— had organized and arrived early with signs to take up space at the entrance and block out the hate groups that started showing up. Even as more protesters showed up, those there to spread love and shield kids from any hatred outnumbered them 5 to 1. Story time itself was fun and without incident.”
McKinney is a part of one of the fastest growing metropolitan areas in the country, Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW). By the end of the decade, the DFW “metroplex” is predicted to displace Chicagoland as the third largest metropolitan area in the US. It also stands as a high water mark amid a rising tide of anti-LGTBQ+ extremism that has surged across the country.
According to a June 16 fact sheet from the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project, anti-LGBTQ+ mobilization increased by over four times from 2020 to 2021, and 2022 is already set to outpace prior years. “Far-right militias and MSMs—like the Proud Boys—increased their engagement in anti-LGBT+ demonstrations sevenfold last year, from two events in 2020 to 14 in 2021,” they report. “Incidents of political violence targeting the LGBT+ community this year have already exceeded the total number of attacks reported last year.”
Anti-LGBTQ+ bigotry is perhaps most intensely felt in places like North Texas, where a hateful network of fascists, Christian nationalists, and white supremacists have made themselves increasingly visible. Calls for protests of Pride events on social media have been answered by far-right social media influencers and extremist groups like the Proud Boys, This Is Texas Freedom Force, America First/Groypers, and Three Percenters. During the month of June—Pride month—a statistically significant number of anti-LGBTQ+ incidents have occurred in North Texas alone. At least one such gathering resulted in the filing of police reports alleging terroristic threats.
On June 12, the same group of Proud Boys seen outside the McKinney library over the weekened showed up outside of a 21+ drag brunch event in the nearby suburb of Arlington, Texas, where they were joined by members of an extremist militia and white supremacist livestreamers. One of the militia members was caught on camera hurling homophobic slurs and threatening violence.
Another incident on June 4 outside of a family-friendly drag brunch in Dallas drew Christian nationalists and members of the America First “Groyper” movement—an internet-brewed group of Christian nationalist and far-right activists, provocateurs, and online trolls. One of them, John Doyle, was caught on camera fantasizing about taking away LGBTQ+ civil rights and suggested police should murder LGTBQ+ people.
On June 11, 31 members of a neo-Nazi organization with roots in Texas were arrested on their way to a Pride event in a park in Idaho—where they were charged with conspiracy to riot. The incident shocked the nation and brought their group, Patriot Front, to mainstream awareness. The organization’s members are spread throughout the country, but their founder, Thomas Ryan Rousseau, started the organization out of his parents’ home in Grapevine, Texas, a suburb of Fort Worth that is adjacent to my own hometown. It is not uncommon to see their stickers around North Texas.
This wave of troubling incidents across North Texas has drawn national attention and helped to reveal the interconnected nature of the individuals and groups fueling this wave of bigotry. In an extensive article for Salon, journalist Kathryn Joyce deftly lays out the relationships between local social media influencers, MAGA Republicans, Christian Fascists, and other far-right extremists that I have been helping document for months. As I told Joyce, these people are all connected, they all know each other, they coordinate with each other and show up to events as groups. Many self identify as Christian Nationalists or Christian Fascists.
Gillian Branstetter, a communication strategist with the ACLU, describes this current historical moment as the culmination of years’ worth of anti-LGBTQ+ organizing by people who see homophobia and transphobia as an on-ramp to other extreme viewpoints. She points to examples like a recent incident in Washington state, where high school students walked out in solidarity with a trans classmate and were threatened with being shot, along with other similarly disturbing events that have taken place across the nation in the past few months.
“These are clearly part of a rising tide of hatred,” Branstetter says. “And I’m afraid to say that I don’t know how it ends or where it goes.”
Longtime residents of North Texas fear that the current rash of far-right violence may go beyond a mere resurgence of the old-school bigotry of the past and escalate into even more dangerous territory.
“I see an increasing level of intensity and more of a willingness to use threats of violence, harassment, and intimidation at the physical level,” Robert Moore told TRNN.
Now retired from the news business, Moore was the co-founder and longtime publisher of the Dallas Voice. Founded in 1984, the Dallas Voice was the first newspaper to serve the LGBTQ+ community in Dallas (and the first one to let me write for them).
“We didn’t see that sort of stuff much at the time that the Dallas Voice started,” Moore said. “I mean, surely, somebody would get beat up randomly, and there would be the casual harassment, but there wasn’t a targeting of specific places by people in military attire.”
Rev. Dr. George Mason, founder and president of Dallas-based Faith Commons, sees this rise in anti-LGBTQ+ extremism as a reactionary backlash to progress—a vicious backlash that is often cloaked in Christian rhetoric.
“I think the increase in opposition and bigotry is directly proportional to the growing social acceptance of LGBTQ persons,” Rev. Dr. Mason says. “So I think it’s generally worse now, because it’s generally better now. This is social anxiety being played out. If the Christian culture in which someone was raised says that sexual orientation or non-conforming gender identity is sinful, then any social gains in that area are perceived as a threat to white, straight, conservative Christian hegemony in American culture.”
The evidence of those social gains can be seen all over North Texas, whether it’s the growing number of Pride flags hung outside of businesses and churches, or the shrinking social tolerance for the use of homophobic slurs. Growing up attending public schools in the suburbs of Fort Worth, the use of the word “gay” as a insult was rampant among my peers. These days, kids at a local public school are more likely to conduct a walkout in support of an LGBTQ+ teacher or student.
Still, members of the local LGBTQ+ community understand that those gains have been hard-earned, that advances in the struggle for a more equitable and accepting society can be undone, and that social progress has never been guaranteed. Progress must be continually fought for.
“There used to be 50 to 75 people protesting the Pride Parade every year,” Lee Daugherty, owner of Alexandre’s Bar in the Dallas “gayborhood” of Cedar Springs, told TRNN. “Through the years, it dwindled down to only a handful. But as we’ve learned through other civil rights movements, it takes a long time for the public attitude to change. Every once in a while we see a rash of hateful incidents. This recent wave seems different from what has happened before.”
Moore recalls a conversation he had with former Texas Governor Ann Richards in 1990 that may help explain that difference: “She said, ‘One day your movement is going to score a big victory and you’re going to think you’ve won. You’re going to celebrate and be very proud, and in your jubilation you’re going to sit on your butt. And while you’re sitting and celebrating, the people who don’t believe [in] what you do will be organizing to take that away from you.’”
In the wake of the overturning of Roe v. Wade, as state legislatures continue their attempts to write trans people out of legal existence and Republican politicians and even Supreme Court Justices like Clarence Thomas have already begun to signal their interest in overturning major court decisions protecting rights around birth control, gay marriage, and more, Richards’ message could not be more relevant. And in places like Texas, where anti-sodomy laws have never been officially taken off books, there is real fear that things could quickly and dramatically change for the worse.
In the face of the Texas Republican Party’s embrace of explicitly anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric, accompanied by a perceived lack of urgency from Democrats regarding the rise of anti-LGBTQ+ extremism, Daugherty looks elsewhere for a sense of security and hope.
“The Democrats seem kind of helpless when these things pop up,” Daugherty told TRNN. “It’s kind of frightening that our best defense right now is still community defense.”
“We’re dealing with violent people whose side owns most of the guns in the country,” Daughtery continued. “So, where do we go from here? I think that’s the big question.”
As was the case in McKinney, immediate, community-led mobilizations have so far proven to be the most effective method of countering far-right threats. On June 24, the day before the Proud Boys tried to storm the suburban public library, a few dozen armed LGBTQ+ activists and allies marched through the streets of Dallas. The march was meant to send a direct message to the groups that have fueled the recent wave of anti-LGTBQ+ bigotry in the area.
“We are not afraid. We will not go back,” they chanted. And, in an ode to the Pink Panther Patrol of 1990, they assured would-be aggressors, “We will bash back.”