Robbie Pierce and her husband embarked on a long train ride along the California coast with the couple’s two young children for a spring break trip.
Their six-year-old son was proud to have used the downstairs bathroom by their seats alone, twice, but he refused to go alone a third time.
“He said he was scared,” says Mr Pierce The Independent.
As the Amtrak train pulled into the Diridon station in San Jose on April 12, while the family was playing together and talking in their seats, a man approached and shouted at their son, “Remember this. what I told you. They robbed you. They are pedophiles. They hurt children.
“It took me a minute to figure out what was even going on,” Mr Pierce recalled. “At first I couldn’t tell if he was just a loud, gruff person, so I was waiting to figure out the words he was saying, and it was getting louder and angry and he was completely screaming. Both of my kids got started crying and he kept screaming. I just said, ‘Get away, get away from us, get away from my family.'”
Mr Pierce says the man shouted: ‘This is not a family. You are groomers. You are pedophiles.
He continued to shout, “They raped our people. They will rape you. They robbed you.
There were no Amtrak employees in the car. Passengers watched, seemingly unwilling to get involved.
Mr. Pierce’s husband, Neal Broverman, editor at Pride Media, stood between the man and Mr. Pierce and the children so they could move on to another car, Mr. Pierce said.
Eventually, an Amtrak employee tried to get the man into his seat. About an hour after the man started screaming, the police took him off the train.
In a statement to the independent, an Amtrak spokesperson said the rail service “strongly condemns this reprehensible act of hate.”
“To ensure that our customers feel valued and respected while traveling on our trains, we are conducting a full investigation into this incident,” the statement said. “This includes potentially banning the customer from future Amtrak customer base.”
It was only later that the couple’s son, who is black, said the man told him his adoptive parents had “robbed” him. Mr. Pierce is Hispanic and Mr. Broverman is white.
“Our son is adopted after being in foster care. We also have an adopted daughter. They have very different traumas,” Pierce said. The Independent.
He asked his daughter if the stranger’s screams and anger reminded her of another time when someone was screaming and angry.
“She said yes. We just treated it through that lens,” Mr. Pierce says.
It was not the first time the family had faced anti-gay abuse or accusations that the couple had ‘stolen’ their son. But this was the first time these attacks had included the words “paedophile” and “groomer”.
The rekindled weaponization of the word – along with baseless accusations of “paedophilia” among LGBT+ people – has followed a wave of laws restricting classroom discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity as well as care policies. transgender health.
Homophobic and transphobic smears, characterizing LGBT+ people as sexual predators and threats to children, swept through social media in the first months of 2022 and increasingly materialized into in-person abuse and physical violence .
LGBT+ advocates have warned that targeted legislation and the volatile rhetoric promoting it endangers already vulnerable LGBT+ families and their children, as well as students, teachers and school staff, and transgender Americans seeking care.
After the attack, Mr Pierce said their son asked: ‘What if this happens again in my life?’
“And I said, ‘Well, it probably will be, little man, and we just have to get stronger, and we can’t just listen to people who are scared of our family,'” Mr. Pierce. “‘Our family is normal and happy and some people aren’t happy and don’t know how to control our feelings, so they mean things to others, and it’s not our fault.'”
Mr Pierce shared what happened on the train in a Twitter thread that has been shared thousands of times, ending with a request to help protect ‘outnumbered and tired’ families like theirs.
“What we need are people who stand up for us when we’re not around,” he says The Independent.
“We need people to never allow this kind of rhetoric to spread and always point out how absurd and harmful it is,” he says, adding that hate messages – whether they come from Online or elected “trolls” – must not be allowed to infect themselves unchecked.
“We just have to…expose it how foul and toxic it is, and don’t let it spread,” he says. “This is what will lead to tragedy, if this rhetoric is allowed to spread.”