Two weeks ago, on March 27, an active shooter broke into the Covenant Elementary School in Nashville, Tennessee. The shooter wielded three weapons: a 9mm pistol, a KelTec SUB2000 Foldable Carbine chambered in 9mm, and a Grunt .300 Blackout Rifle. Upon breaking a window in the school entrance, the shooter searched the halls and classrooms for potential victims, ultimately taking six lives, among which were three nine year old students and three faculty and staff members.
The children’s names are Evelyn Dieckhaus, Hallie Scruggs, and William Kinney.
The adult’s names are Cynthia Peak, 61, Katherine Koonce, 60, and Mike Hill, 61.
After police terminated the shooter, they identified him as a transgender man by the name of Aiden Hale, later finding he was a former student of the Presbyterian-affiliated school. While police found a “manifesto” written by Hale containing a map of the school and information about the security of the building, they have yet to declare a motive. The FBI plans to release this manifesto to the public after an extensive analysis of what was written. This massacre marks the 130th mass shooting this year.
What happened at the Covenant School was an inexcusable tragedy, and anything that can be done should be done to prevent future occurrences. Gun violence is an epidemic sweeping the American nation with no simple cause and certainly no simple solution. I can say with certainty, however, that the actions of one person do not reflect the actions of an entire group of people. Additionally, these actions should not be used as a distraction or convenient scapegoat for underlying issues within American society.
Many prominent conservative news outlets such as Fox news and Newsmax, are taking advantage of the fact that the shooter was transgender and using his identity as a way to condemn the entire transgender community. Conservative media personalities with a large and loyal following are using this shooting as an excuse to incite hate and spread false information about the transgender community, as well as the LGBTQIA+ community as a whole, effectively marginalizing, according to a poll from Gallup.com, almost 10% of the american population, or 33.5 million people.
Many right-leaning news stations viewed Hale’s transgender identity as an opportunity to equate transgenderism to mental illness, claiming that all people who identify as transgender are persons experiencing psychological distress and need to be fixed. In one conservative TV segment, Greg Kelly, the host of Greg Kelly Reports on Newsmax TV, claims transgender people are mentally ill and are inclined to act in a way that reflects this distress. Kelly equates gender dysphoria to transgenderism and classifies it as a disorder. He cites a very conveniently selected section of the DSM-5 definition of gender dysphoria. Kelly’s citation defines gender dysphoria as, “the psychological distress that results from an incongruence between one’s sex assigned at birth and one’s gender identity.” The entire quote from the DSM-5 reads, “Some people who are transgender will experience ‘gender dysphoria,’ which refers to psychological distress that results from an incongruence between one’s sex assigned at birth and one’s gender identity.”
The actual definition implies two things that invalidate Kelly’s (and many others’) claim. First, while it is true that gender dysphoria is a disorder, the definition implies that not all transgender people experience gender dysphoria; therefore, the two terms cannot be equated and transgenderism cannot be classified as a disorder. Secondly, it implies that this dysphoria can be remedied through the alignment of one’s sex with their preferred gender identity.
Take into consideration why gender dysphoria even exists in the first place. It is due to strict and unnecessary gender roles embedded within society that cause an incongruence with one’s perception of themselves and their biological anatomy. Basic early psychological theories state that discrepancies within the self result in psychological distress and, in this case, gender dysphoria. Perhaps it is not the identities of the people that need to be fixed but the outdated notions of the society surrounding them that inevitably put them at a disadvantage.
It is vital to understand what drives people to become killers like Hale. According to the National Institute of Justice, the influence of mental illness in the motivations of mass shooters is “complicated and not clear-cut,” and almost all mass shooters “were commonly troubled by personal trauma before their shooting incidents.” It is not known for sure if this is the case with Hale, but in an interview with Police Chief John Drake, he states that Hale was under “a doctor’s care for an emotional disorder.” Police found a “manifesto” that contained detailed maps of the school and its security system, so it is reasonably assumed that the school was targeted, but as of right now, Hale’s actions are not believed to be targeted toward specific individuals.
The problem lies in the ever growing, false, notion that the transgender movement as a whole is violent and dangerous and specifically targeting Christians. On Tucker Carlson Tonight on Fox News, Carlson uses Hale’s actions as proof that “the transgender movement seems to be getting militant and possibly dangerous.” He goes on to provide two examples of other shootings committed by nonbinary individuals and uses those examples to justify his claim that “we seem to be watching the rise of trans terrorism.” Carlson conveniently seems to ignore the hundreds of violent shootings amongst those specific two that were all done by cisgendered individuals. Because Hale targeted a Christian school, Carlson, along with Republican congress members have assumed that the entire transgender movement contains a “deranged ideology” or as Republican Senator from Missouri Josh Hawley puts it, “a hateful rhetoric,” against Christians, making transgender individuals violent and dangerous, and criminalizing the entirety of the community in America.
Hale’s motives are still unknown. It is possible that he could have felt abused by the Christian church (which is the case in many LGBTQIA+ experiences) and resorted to extreme violence. Some parts of Christianity are known to be dismissive and biased toward members of the community, increasing the risk of later mental illness. According to a study conducted by Univeristy of Georgia Ph.D. student Jeremy Gibbs, “Data indicated that identity conflict that comes from dissonance felt between religious beliefs and LGBT identity was associated with higher risk of suicide,” meaning that a large percent of LGBT people experience some extent of mental illness due to the teachings of some Christian doctrines, causing some to act violently later in life. But again, if this is the case, the problem should be eliminated at its roots. In order to stop the supposed (and entirely untrue) “epidemic of trans/nonbinary mass shooters,” in the words of Donald Trump Jr. on Twitter, perhaps the segments of Christianity correlated with discrimination should cease in deprecating a significant community in the American population.
There have been four shootings involving a transgender or nonbinary person since 2018. If Republican leaders believe four shootings in five years is proof of an epidemic, wait until they hear about how many shootings have involved cisgendered males. According to the Associated Press, the four examples commonly used to justify the idea of trans violence include a killing of five at a gay nightclub this past November, a Denver-area school shooting killing one and wounding eight in 2019, a shooting at a warehouse in Maryland killing four in 2018, and the shooting in Nashville a couple of weeks ago.
Since 2016, there have been 3,561 shootings, of which only less than 0.2% were committed by transgender or nonbinary individuals. Professor of criminology, law, and public policy at Northeastern University James Alan Fox emphasizes the idea that, “One should not conclude that being trans or nonbinary, they should be more likely to commit a crime like this.” In fact, a report by the Williams Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles proved that, “Trans[gender] people are four times more likely than cisgender people to be victims of violent crime.” With this, nearly 5% of young Americans do not identify as cisgender, meaning transgender people are statistically less likely to commit a mass shooting than a cisgender person. In light of the recent surge of the marginalizing of the queer community, especially in Tennessee with the recent Drag Ban, it only makes sense that some Republican lawmakers are using the horrific actions of one individual to spread false information and fuel their anti-queer ideologies.
Aiden Hale committed a horrific and violent crime against the Covenant School community that will not be easily forgotten. No amount of personal trauma will ever be able to justify his actions. Hale was clearly in a state of severe emotional turmoil and was willing to lose his life to vengeance. However, Hale does not speak for an entire group of people, and the rest of the transgender and nonbinary community should not be stereotyped according to the actions of one troubled individual. Instead, American society should be reformed in a way that will prevent this type of behavior going forward in the future.