by Ollie Hancock and Camille Delany
On Oct. 28, the Humboldt County Human Rights Commission (HCHRC) issued a press release condemning “incidents of hate speech and threats of violence against the LGBTQ community.” This came in response to the disruption of a drag event in Eureka on Oct. 23 and a violently threatening anti-trans sticker placed on a public bench and photographed Oct. 27.
Humboldt is facing an increase in queerphobic hate events. The bubble of progressive attitudes on campus gives a false sense of security to students. Rhetoric condemning queer culture and threatening queer youth is here in Humboldt too.
In recent weeks, local nonprofit Queer Humboldt has seen a spike in reports of hate incidents against LGBTQ community members. The group is a resource center for Queer individuals and groups in Humboldt County. Lark Doolan, a transguy and the executive director of Queer Humboldt, described various acts of queerphobia that have been reported to Queer Humboldt.
“Hate events happen in our county at a far more frequent rate than many of our allies realize,” Doolan said. “There were a couple of weeks in November where we learned of hateful events almost every day.”
A nonbinary Cal Poly Humboldt staff member was verbally harassed about their gender and told they didn’t belong. Queer-affirming churches were vandalized, a local trans support group was ‘zoom bombed.’ Most notably, on Oct. 23 protesters disrupted Redwood Pride Halloween, an all-ages event featuring a drag show among other festivities.
So far in 2022 the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) reported 124 incidents of anti-LGBTQ protests and threats targeting specific drag events. Their analysis draws from news coverage of threats, protests and violent action against drag events nationwide.
GLAAD’s analysis shows increasing violence as the year progresses. In October a Tulsa donut shop was firebombed after holding a drag-themed event, and on Nov. 19 a shooter killed five and injured nineteen others in a mass shooting at an LGBTQ nightclub in Colorado Springs, CO. Across the nation, LGBTQ safety is threatened by proposed legislation and violence that has intensified following Pride celebrations and during campaigning for the midterm elections. Despite being home to a vibrant queer community, Humboldt County is no exception.
Bellamy Devine, a trans student at Cal Poly Humboldt, said that they feel safe in certain areas and circumstances, but threatened by transphobia in others.
“Especially when it comes to events we put on ourselves, like drag shows or themed events, people seem to have a big problem when we come together to have a little fun for once, god forbid,” Devine said.
“It’s spiking. It’s part of a national [movement of] villainization of trans youth and scapegoating strategies,” Doolan said. “It’s a strategy that hurts people.”
Art Wardynski is a volunteer and Resource Director at the Eric Rofes Multicultural Queer Resource Center (ERC) on campus.
“Lots of other queer organizations are having trouble publicizing their events, because if they publicize it, then bigoted communities will show up and protest it,” Wardynski said.
The rhetoric claiming that LGBTQ people are dangerous to children is nothing new, Doolan said. Labelling the queer community as perverse recalls the 1970s, when Anita Bryant was campaigning to ban openly LGBTQ teachers.
“Her argument that queer people are inherent dangers to children is the same false narrative that we are seeing today,” Doolan said.
Despite being home to an active and vocal queer community, Humboldt County lacks any sort of official reporting mechanism to tabulate hate crimes and speech against LGBTQ community members.
Wardynski expressed frustration with finding infrastructural and administrative support and organizing events for queer students on campus.
“From a volunteer and a resource director perspective, I definitely have a lot of problems with our current campus in relation to supporting trans and queer students in general,” Wardynski said.
Queer people live in every stretch of Humboldt. They find love and community in this rural haven. From dive bars to bike shops and bakeries, they occupy space in Humboldt.
“The community off-campus is largely amazing,” Doolan said. “There are so many queer people in our community, people who are really proactive about creating a welcoming space. In recent years, we have seen a shift and progress. So this backlash comes from a small, very vocal, very hateful minority with confusing messaging designed to stoke people’s fear.”
This vocal minority is threatening access to acceptance and culture. With intimidation, they limit queer youth from self discovery and community.
“We know that when youth learn about queer people it’s helpful because it prepares them to live in a world where diversity exists,” Doolan said. “And for queer youth specifically, it helps them see a future for themselves and survive their childhood.”