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Killed for a Rainbow Flag: Are Critics of Trans Ideology Responsible?

The inflammatory rhetoric that attempts to link hideous crimes like the recent shooting with legitimate concerns is misleading and misguided.

· 6 min read
Killed for a Rainbow Flag: Are Critics of Trans Ideology Responsible?

Sixty-six-year-old store owner Laura Ann Carleton was tragically killed in Cedar Glen, California last Friday, 26 August 2023. Before firing the shots that killed Carleton, 27-year-old Travis Ikeguchi was allegedly heard making several disparaging remarks about a rainbow flag that was hanging outside the victim’s store. After fleeing the scene, Ikeguchi was shot and killed in a stand-off with police. The media have seized upon the tragic killing as an opportunity to vilify critics of transgender activism.

The NBC News coverage is typical of how this story has been transformed into a pretext for censoring online criticism of trans activism. The media could have used the occasion to argue in favour of free speech by pointing out that the killing was a shameful attack on the victim’s right to display the flag of her choice in front of her own shop. Instead, many have argued that it simply shows that anti-trans speech is so dangerous that it needs to be censored. Civil rights attorney Alejandra Caraballo singled out two of the most popular, controversial and outspoken critics of trans issues, Chaya Raichik, whose “Libs of TikTok” Twitter account has 2.4 million followers, and the Daily Wire’s Matt Walsh, presenter of the 2022 documentary What Is a Woman?, commenting that, “They have blood on their hands for inciting violence against the community.” Media pundits like Kimberly Adams and Jesus Alvarado have joined experts like Caraballo to insinuate without evidence that online anti-trans speech was the cause of Ikeguchi’s violent actions. If this were the case, then there would be no sense in punishing the individuals who commit violent acts, since they are not causally responsible for their own choices and behaviour.

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Nevertheless, most left-leaning commentary on the incident has assumed that correlation is cause. This is a post-hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy that would suggest that every time event B follows event A, the only possible explanation is that event A caused event B.  If that were true, brushing one’s teeth could make one fall asleep, a crowing rooster could cause the sun to rise, and orgasms would cause cigarette smoking.

Flying the Rainbow Pride flag is a legitimate form of protected speech, so long as the flag is not displayed on public property. However, many of the same people who want free speech for themselves—even when it oversteps that legal boundary by involving the politicisation of public buildings and spaces—will smear those who peacefully object to that speech.

The new LGBTQI+ flag, known as the “progress Pride flag,” is often conflated with the historical rainbow flag. The original flag was first flown in 1978, while the progress flag only emerged in around 2015, with the launch of the transgender movement, and is thus not yet a decade old.  A significant minority of LGB individuals do not think that it represents them. They do not view it as a legitimate symbol of gay and lesbian rights and they object to the way in which it has supplanted the original rainbow flag. Opinions about the new flag have also divided society at large, since many conservatives have expressed civil disagreement with the new understanding of gender and sex that transgender activists have promoted under this ballet pink and baby blue banner.

Conservatives are thus placed in a double bind: they must either comply with the new rainbow lexicon and allow their children to be taught its corresponding concepts at school or submit to being smeared as bigots.

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But banning the new LGBTQ symbol in public schools is consistent with the liberal principle of secular education enshrined in the US Constitution. Within America’s taxpayer-funded schools, no ideological flag should be flown, since no specific political ideology should be taken to represent official school values. The best way to ensure that schools are not using taxpayer money to promote any particular religious or secular belief system is to ban all symbolic flags in public education venues. The one exception to this rule should be the Stars and Stripes, which unifies students around the constitutionally-inscribed goal of reciprocal tolerance for all beliefs, and state neutrality between them—and hence, state sponsorship for none of them.

The left campaigned relentlessly—and with some justification—to disentangle criticism of terrorists from the demonisation of Muslims per se. When Muslims committed acts of violence, they have often been described in the media as “mentally ill” or as “lone wolves”—rarely is it acknowledged that they might have been motivated by ideology or religion. Many reports have even concealed the religious and national affiliations of attackers, even in cases of inter-Muslim violence, such as honour killings—presumably to avoid smearing Muslims as a group. The desire to distinguish a few violent Muslim individuals from Muslims in general is motivated by the belief that it is unjust to transfer the crimes of an individual to an entire group. Yet, since Ikeguchi is perceived to be right wing, many have tarred all conservative commentators who criticise trans ideology with the suggestion that they're responsible for his actions—even when they have never committed or threatened violence. Some reports have identified Ikeguchi’s hatred as stemming from his Christianity. There may be truth in this—but it says nothing about the violence or extremism of Christians as such.

The concerned parents who object to the promotion of highly controversial ideas associated with transgender ideology in schools are very different from the homophobes of the past, who accused gay men of paedophilia, feared that gay rights might lead to the sexualisation of children, or worried that gay rights activists were grooming young people for molestation. Today’s criticisms of trans ideology spring from a completely different source: they are not rooted in past homophobia. Indeed, some of the fiercest critics of introducing transgender ideology into pre-school and grade school settings are themselves homosexuals and many are left-wing. The claim that children are being sexualised by the transgender movement is not a resurgence of old bigotry. LGB individuals in the past were harmed by exactly the kinds of gender stereotypes that are today pushed by transgender activists, some of whom encourage impressionable minors to identify in ways that will lead to medical interventions. Many of these minors would otherwise grow up to be cisgender but gay. Some homosexuals therefore regard this practice as tantamount to gay conversion therapy.

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The inflammatory rhetoric that attempts to link hideous crimes like the recent shooting with legitimate concerns is misleading and misguided—not least because its activists tend to see dangerous and harmful ideas everywhere, except in their own propaganda.

T.M. Murray

T. M. Murray is an American essayist, author and educator. She is a regular contributor to Philosophy Now and The New Humanist, and the author of "Identity, Islam, and the Twilight of Liberal Values."

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