A trans high schooler in Missouri who was elected homecoming queen received widespread harassment and violent threats following viral posts from Libs of TikTok’s Chaya Raichik and former college swimmer Riley Gaines, who represent a growing industry of right-wing influencers whose notoriety hinges on their ability to make controversy out of the daily existence of queer and trans people. As is the case in Missouri, a growing number of those they target are underage.
In mid-September, a school district in Kansas City shared pictures from the homecoming ceremony at one of its high schools on X (formerly Twitter), congratulating the young woman who had been voted homecoming queen by the other seniors at her school. She was not the first trans girl to win the title at her school, with another trans student having been voted into the ceremonial role eight years earlier.
It was enough, however, to attract the attention of smaller profile online trolls, who started reposting images of the teenager from the district’s social media paired with transphobic rhetoric. When Raichik posted her take on the story on September 18 — in which she misgendered the student, mocked her appearance and tagged the school’s X account — the student and school began receiving threats and widespread harassment.
By the next evening, threats began appearing on social media. One user on X wrote, “Everyone who attends this school and voted for this nonsense are sheep that need to be slaughtered.” Another commenter called for the homecoming queen to be “dragged off the field by [her] hair and beaten up.”
Fox News followed this increasingly familiar pattern of threats and harassment with its own coverage targeting the high schooler. A September 22 Fox News @ Night segment featuring Parents Defending Education fellow Alex Nester and Virginia state Senate candidate Julie Perry identified and misgendered the 17-year-old. (Last year, Fox News likewise responded to violent threats against childrens’ hospitals — prompted by right-wing media outrage over gender-affirming care — by giving a platform to those who helped drive the hate.)
This incident echoes myriad other recent cases of right-wing media outrage preceding significant disruptions as schools respond to bomb threats following weeks of attention from anti-trans obsessives, harming students and teachers alike. After students at an Ohio high school voted two nonbinary students prom queen and king in May, one local adult man was arrested for threatening to harm all LGBTQ students who attend the school. That same month, two trans high school runners in California were targeted with protests, threats, and days of right-wing media coverage for competing in races they did not win.
Other campaigners against trans equality have picked up the tactic of targeting specific trans youth for harassment online. Genspect, an anti-trans group spreading medical disinformation with ties to religiously based conversion therapy groups, earlier this month targeted an 11-year-old girl who spoke in front of her state legislature.
Figures like Raichik and Gaines have built careers targeting LGBTQ people, and they now appear to be reaping the financial rewards — Gaines collects speaking fees and solicits donations through her eponymous center backed by the Leadership Institute, a national training program for conservative students, and Raichik is currently registered as the manager of a corporation appearing in her social media handle’s name. The fact that they are willing to turn their apparatus of anger against children, who then face escalating threats and violence, raises questions about whether their measures will grow in desperation as their grift grows thin.