Robbie Pierce, his husband and their two young children enjoyed a scenic train ride along the Pacific coast, which was a peaceful introduction to their spring break. But at the end of their journey from home in Los Angeles to Oakland, California, the couple said a man sitting across the aisle turned their family vacation into a nightmare.
“He started yelling over me and yelling,‘ Remember what I told you! ’” Pierce recalled, saying the men’s remarks were directed at his 6-year-old son. The next thing he said was, ‘Marriage is between a man and a woman. They stole you and they’re pedophiles. “
The screaming began when the Amtrak train was stopped at Diridon Station in San Jose, Pierce said. Immediately he and his husband Neal Broverman got up and stood up among the unknown man and their children who started crying.
“I’m not a big guy, but I wasn’t nervous,” Broverman said. “When you’re dealing with your kids and you feel like they’re threatened, you’re kind of fearless. It’s kind of like Mom picking up the car script, but it was awful and didn’t stop. “
The man continued to yell at the family of four and yell, “This is not a family! You are rapists and pedophiles. You steal black and Asian children and rape them, ”Pierce and Broverman said. The couple has an adopted son, Black, and a 5-year-old Asian-American foster mother.
Before talking to NBC News about the incident Tuesday night, the couple documented the event in a now-viral thread on Twitter. Along with details of the meeting, the couple blamed the recent rise in rhetoric on LGBTQ issues for the incident.
In recent weeks, conservative politicians and experts have called opponents of the newly passed Florida Parental Rights Education Act – dubbed “Don’t Speak Gay” by critics – an attempt to “adapt” or “indoctrinate” children, and some they are accused of being “pro-pedophile”.
Legislation prohibits teaching about sexual orientation or gender identity “in kindergarten up to 3rd grade or in a way that is not appropriate for the age or development of students in accordance with state standards.”
Opponents of the measure say it could prevent young people and teachers from speaking openly about themselves and their families, and that it is “aimed at attacks on LGBTQI + children”.
At a signing ceremony in Florida in late March, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is believed to be considering a Republican presidential nomination in 2024, sparked criticism of the law, saying it “supports the sexualization of children in kindergarten” and camouflages their true intentions. ” He added that the law will ensure “that parents can send their children to school for education, not indoctrination.”
Last week, Majorie spokeswoman Taylor Greene, R-Ga., Tweeted that “the Democrats are a party to the killing of babies, the regulation and transition of children, and a policy that supports pedophiles,” under Florida law. And from March 17 to April 6, Fox News aired 170 segments on transgender issues and regularly labeled opponents of the law as “hairdressers” and “predators,” according to a report by Media Matters for America, a liberal nonprofit media supervisor.
The word “nurturing” has long been associated with the mislabeling of LGBTQ people, especially gays and transgender women, as child sexual abusers, and for at least the last decade it has seemed to have been pushed to the margins of the far-right movement.
Pierce and Broverman said this is not the first time their family has been hated in public. They said that sometimes strangers insult them with “the word f” and other homophobic insults. Broverman also recalled an episode when the driver turned away a window and asked the couple’s children, “Did they kidnap you?”
But Pierce and Broverman described the latest incident as more “aggressive” and “stunning” than past cases, adding that it was the first time the verbal attack had been “intertwined with the speech of right-wing media and lawmakers.”
“As soon as he started saying‘ pedophiles ’and things like that, I thought he felt like he was preloaded with those statements,” Pierce said. “So I thought, ‘Ugh, okay, we’re dealing with someone who enjoys right-wing media.'”
A few minutes after the screaming erupted, Amtrak employees arrived at the situation. Pierce took his children to another car, and Broverman stayed behind to discuss the situation with Amtrak staff.
The conductor demanded that an unnamed man leave the train, but he refused, Broverman said.
“He said,‘ I’m not going. You’re going to have to kill me before I get off the train, ”Broverman recalled. “It used to be very serious and then even more so.”
Amtrak officials then called the Santa Clara sheriff’s office for help. The train was at Diridon station for about 40 minutes before police escorted an unnamed man off the train, Broverman said.
Santa Clara police and Amtrak officials did not address an NBC News question about whether the man had been arrested.
The Santa Clara Sheriff’s Office confirmed in a statement that “MPs responded as an auxiliary agency,” but directed NBC News to Amtrak police officers for more information.
Amtrak said in a statement that he “strongly condemns this worthy act of hatred” and that he is “conducting a full investigation into this incident”. She added that she was examining a possible ban on an unidentified man from Amtrak.
It was only when the couple returned to the hotel room that their son told them that the man who was harassing them had previously approached him in the bathroom, which was just below the parents’ seats on the double-decker train, and told him that his parents had “Stolen.”
“These people, who are supposedly so concerned about pedophiles and rapists, follow children to the toilet and talk to him without their parents hearing them and telling them about sexual issues,” Pierce said. “It simply came to our notice then. It’s so hypocritical and it makes me feel helpless as a parent. “
“Even here in our hotel room, he won’t be using the bathroom alone at the moment,” Pierce added. “Because of what happened, he’s so scared of bathrooms.”
The couple said the incident weighed on their children throughout the trip, with both of them bursting into tears from time to time. Their son woke up in the middle of Wednesday night and vomited, they said, adding that he had done so in the past after previous traumas.
Pierce and Broverman said that according to recent rhetoric, they expect similar incidents to happen to them as well as other same-sex parents. But they hope to be able to help prevent the “normalization” of the language by sharing their story, they said.
“It may seem a little harmless to say something like that by the way or in a tweet, but then that message builds and builds and snowballs, and then it comes to someone like the person we met the other night. They agree with that, and it’s taken to a terribly new level, “Pierce said.” And kids are the ones who end up suffering. “
“I ended up pretending to be these people that they care about protecting children or not harming them because that rhetoric directly harms my children,” Pierce added. “So if you want to talk about who is endangering children, it’s anyone who shares those lies.”
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