HIGH POINT, N.C. (WGHP) — Overpasses and signs in the eastern part of North Carolina were adorned with the blue, white and pink of trans pride flags during the first week of Pride, but not in celebration of LGBTQ rights.

The banners, splattered with red paint, contained messages about “trans shooters” and accusations of local healthcare organizations “mutilating children.”

They started appearing during the first days of June, which is Pride Month. Photos of the banners were shared on the Cape Fear Proud Boys Telegram channel and provided by a representative of the group when requested.

While no one specifically took credit for the creation and posting of the banners, messages on the Telegram channel did declare June “Proud Month” with messages reading “It’s going to be wild!”

The banners covered two subjects: trans mass shooters and trans healthcare.

“Trans shooters”

After the Covenant School shooting in Tennessee, there have been three confirmed transgender mass shooters since 2018, among hundreds of incidents perpetrated by shooters who are not transgender. While the motivation for the Covenant school shooting has not been released, law enforcement has said that the shooter was a former student of the school.

In 2019, a 16-year-old transgender boy in Denver was one of two students to carry out a school shooting, who cited bullying as an issue. In 2018, a transgender woman shot several of her coworkers at a Rite Aid warehouse in Aberdeen, Maryland. Workplace conflicts and school issues are common motivators for mass shootings.

The defense for Anderson Arlich, who allegedly shot dozens of people at a Colorado Springs gay club in late 2022, has claimed that Arlich is non-binary, but critics have called it a vain attempt to avoid hate crime charges for the shooting, and neighbors reported Arlich had vocal anti-LGBTQ beliefs. Arlich is included in some counts of transgender shooters, bringing the number to four.

The Gun Violence Archive lists 280 mass shooting incidents in 2023 as of June 7, with Nashville marking the only incident reported to involve a transgender suspect this year.

At the same time, violence against the transgender community has been steadily increasing, year over year, with at least 34 transgender or gender non-conforming people killed in 2022, and at least 45 killed in 2021, the Human Rights Campaign reports.

There have been at least 12 deaths of transgender or gender non-conforming people reported in 2023, including a trans woman who was killed in Wilmington, North Carolina, her body later found in Georgia.

Trans health care

“Gender dysphoria is a mental illness,” a banner read. The American Psychiatry Association defines gender dysphoria as the psychological distress caused by “an incongruence between one’s sex assigned at birth and one’s gender identity.” Treatments are varied and individual, the APA writes.

Other banners accuse UNC and ECU healthcare systems of gender-affirming care for children as young as two, claiming they’re “mutilating” children.

The APA notes that gender dysphoria often presents in childhood. An American Academy of Pediatrics table shares guidelines for gender-affirming care divided by age range. Medical treatment for transgender youth isn’t recommended until the onset of puberty, with younger children socially transitioning only. Social transition involves allowing a child to change their name, pronouns or other elements of gender expression such as their hair and clothes.

The Associated Press released a fact check about the claims that healthcare providers such as Duke and UNC were “transitioning” toddlers, finding there is no evidence that young children are receiving anything other than counseling related to gender-affirming care. As noted by the AAP table, gender-affirming medical care does not start until the onset of puberty, with younger children transitioning socially and working with counselors.

FOX8 reached out to UNC Health and ECU Health for comment on specific claims written on the banners that the healthcare systems are “mutilating” children as young as two and four by providing gender-affirming care.

In response, ECU Health provided the following statement:

“ECU Health does not offer gender surgery to minors nor does the health system offer any gender transition care of any kind to toddlers.

“We are deeply concerned by the intentional spreading of dangerous misinformation resulting in violent threats against our health system, team members and providers. Our primary concern is the safety of our team members and those we are honored to serve.

“As a mission-driven organization, ECU Health cares for all community members regardless of beliefs or identifications. ECU Health offers interdisciplinary primary care, which includes access to both physicians and behavioral health therapists, for LGBTQ+ patients. Primary care includes important services like mental health care, nutrition and social work, all aimed at ensuring LGTBQ+ patients and their guardians have access to the care, information and resources required to make decisions that fit their unique needs.

“ECU Health does not offer puberty blockers. Hormone therapy is only offered after puberty and in limited cases under national guidelines that include extensive mental health evaluations and done in consultation with, and with consent from, the parent or guardian.

“As a leading academic health system, it is important to note that ECU Health encourages academic discussion and deliberation that is often expressed in various forums including email. Any comments and opinions expressed, including those published, do not necessarily reflect policies or services provided by the organization.”

ECU Health

Who are the Proud Boys?

The Proud Boys is a self-described “Western chauvinist” organization founded by former VICE Media co-founder Gavin McInnes. They claim to stand for “anti-white guilt” and “anti-political correctness,” according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which designates them as a hate group associated with white nationalism.

They have been visible at events like the deadly “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville in 2017, organized by then-Proud Boy Jason Kessler and the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol. Multiple Proud Boys were found guilty of seditious conspiracy in connection to that riot.

In North Carolina, “high-ranking” Proud Boy and Kernersville native Charles Donohue pleaded guilty to conspiracy for his role in Jan. 6 and was tapped to testify in the seditious conspiracy trial of the Proud Boy leadership, though he never took the stand.

The Cape Fear chapter of the Proud Boys has been highly visible at several family-friendly drag events across the eastern part of the state in the past year.

National State of Emergency

The Human Rights Campaign issued a first-of-its-kind national state of emergency for the LGBTQ community on Tuesday, “following an unprecedented and dangerous spike in anti-LGBTQ+ legislative assaults sweeping state houses this year.”

HRC released the “LGBTQ Guidebook for Action” in addition to the emergency declaration, writing that “this guide is designed to support all individuals and families regardless of their choices or options” with regard to the various types of anti-trans and LGBTQ legislation being signed into law or proposed across the nation.

In the guidebook, North Carolina ranks moderately well. While the state has not made conversion therapy illegal or implemented statewide non-discrimination policies, none of the currently proposed legislation that could impact the LGBTQ community has been passed or signed into law, though Republicans, who proposed the legislation, do have a veto-proof majority due to the party switch of Rep. Tricia Cotham.

2023 is described by the HRC as the “worst year on record” for the LGBTQ community based on the volume of legislation that impacts the community. Over 500 bills have been introduced nationwide, with 220 of them directly impacting transgender people and 76 of them have been signed into law as of June 5.