A gay couple who were riding the train with their 6-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter say they were verbally accosted by a man who accused them of being “rapists” and “pedophiles” who had “stolen” the children.
Robbie Pierce and Neal Broverman say they were embarking on a vacation to Oakland, Ca., from their Los Angeles home via Amtrak with their children. When the train stopped at Diridon Station in San Jose, a man sitting across the aisle turned his rage on the family. Pierce later documented his account of what happened in a Twitter thread.
Pierce claimed the man began yelling “Remember what I told you!” to the couple’s 6-year-old son. He then added, “Marriage is between a man and a woman. They stole you, and they’re pedophiles.”
Pierce and Broverman stood up to the man and told him to get away from their family. But the man continued on his anti-gay rant, capitalizing on the fact that their 6-year-old son is Black and their 5-year-old foster daughter is Asian.
“That’s not a family!” the man allegedly screamed. “You’re rapists and pedophiles. You steal Black and Asian children and you rape them.”
By this time, the couple’s two children were crying, so Pierce took them to another car while Broverman stayed in the car to report the incident to Amtrak staff.
Eventually, the conductor arrived to try and calm down the situation, but the man refused to move to another car, telling the conductor, “You’re going to have to kill me before I get off the train.”
According to NBC News, Amtrak officials called the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office for backup, while the train was stopped for nearly 40 minutes.
Officers eventually were able to escort the instigator off the train. It remains unclear whether the man was arrested, although the sheriff’s office confirmed that “deputies responded as an assisting agency” to an altercation on the train.
Amtrak said in a statement that it “strongly condemns this reprehensible act of hate” and that it is conducting a “full investigation” into the incident. Amtrak also said it is looking into the possibility of banning the man — whose identity has not yet been made public — from Amtrak altogether.
Once the couple arrived at their hotel room, their son told them the man who had harassed them had approached him earlier when he was in the bathroom, telling the child his parents “stole” him.
“These people who are allegedly so concerned about pedophiles and rapists are following children to the restroom and talking to him out of earshot of their parents, telling them about sexual issues,” Pierce said. “It’s just frightening. It’s so hypocritical, and it makes me as a parent feel powerless.”
They noted that the stress of the incident has taken an emotional toll on their kids, with the trauma causing them to occasionally burst into tears and even leading their son to wake up in the middle of the night and throw up.
“Even here in our hotel room he won’t use the bathroom by himself right now,” Pierce added. “He’s so frightened of bathrooms because of what happened.”
Pierce and Broverman blame the incident on the recent uptick in anti-LGBTQ rhetoric stemming from debates over LGBTQ issues in schools, such as Florida’s newly enacted “Parental Rights in Education” bill — dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill by critics — which bans discussions of LGBTQ issues in primary grades. Opponents of the law say that, in being enforced, the law attacks, censors, and places a target on the backs of LGBTQ children and the children of same-sex couples.
Much of the rhetoric surrounding the Florida law or similar debates over LGBTQ content or discussions in schools has led to an increase in attacks accusing LGBTQ people — or even adults, including teachers, who are not outwardly hostile to LGBTQ people — of being “groomers,” of trying to “indoctrinate” children, or of being “pro-pedophile.”
“As soon as he started saying ‘pedophiles’ and things like that, I thought he just seemed like he came preloaded with these statements,” Pierce said. “So, I thought, ‘Ugh, OK, we’re dealing with someone who’s consuming right-wing media.’”
Pierce and Broverman told NBC News that the Amtrak incident is not the first time their family has been attacked.
Strangers have hurled the “f-word” and homophobic slurs at them, and one person rolled down his car window while driving by and asked the couple’s children, “Did they kidnap you?”
Unfortunately, Pierce and Broverman say that, given the heated rhetoric around LGBTQ people or issues and children, they expect similar — or even worse — incidents to occur to both them and other same-sex parents in the future.
“It can feel a little bit harmless to say something like that in passing or in a tweet, but then that message builds and builds and it snowballs and then it gets to someone like the person that we encountered the other night. They buy into it, and it’s taken to a scary new level,” Pierce said. “And the children are the ones who end up suffering.
“I’m done letting these people pretend that they care about protecting children or not harming them,” he added, “because this rhetoric is directly harming my children. So, if you want to talk about who’s endangering children, it’s anybody who’s sharing these lies.”