Two dads took their children on a trip. A stranger called them “paedophiles”.

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On Tuesday morning, Robbie Pierce and his family boarded a train in Los Angeles and cruised around the California coast, his favorite way to travel.

It was the start of spring break for Pierce, a substitute teacher at Los Angeles Unified School District, and was thrilled to spend it in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband, 6-year-old son, and 5-year-old daughter.

Throughout the 10-hour journey, the children watched the ocean and farmland speed past, marveling at the sunset over the Pacific Ocean.

“It was such a peaceful experience,” Pierce, 41, said. “Everything was fair picturesque.”

But her evening was quickly derailed, she said, when her family was accosted by another train passenger.

“All of a sudden there was a man standing next to me talking to my son,” Pierce said. “The first thing he said was, ‘Marriage is between a man and a woman.’ ”

Pierce was stunned, he said, when the unidentified man began shouting homophobic attacks, accusing the couple of stealing their children and calling them “paedophiles” and “rapists”. When her children started crying, Pierce said she grabbed them and moved them to another car while her husband, Neal Broverman, yelled at the stalker to get away.

The incident happened on an Amtrak train around 8 p.m. Tuesday when it stopped at Diridon Station in San Jose, according to Pierce. Eventually Amtrak workers arrived and ordered the man off the train. When he refused, Pierce said, the workers he called the police, who arrived after about 45 minutes and removed the man from the train.

In a statement to The Washington Post, Amtrak condemned the incident as an “act of hate”.

“To ensure that our customers feel valued and respected when traveling on our trains, we are conducting a thorough investigation into this incident,” the statement said. “This includes the ability to bar the customer from future Amtrak customer base.”

Pierce said a driver asked him and Broverman to file a police report, but as of Thursday afternoon the family had not heard from police or any charges against the stalker. . Amtrak said it contacted the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office. In a statement Friday, the sheriff’s office said the deputies responded as the assisting agency, but Amtrak police were the lead agency in the incident.

Moments after the ordeal, Pierce said she tried to calm her children, who had suffered past trauma in the foster care system, she said. “They cried for an hour…so I just worked with them…and talked to each of them differently.”

Later that night, Pierce also detailed the incident in a Twitter feed which has amassed over 150,000 likes and retweets.

“We’ve dealt with this kind of creepy homophobic stranger before with our son,” Pierce wrote. “But ‘paedophiles’ and ‘rapists’ were new to the mix, at least out loud.”

Pierce said he thought the rhetoric was leaking from conservatives. As Republicans have introduced a wave of anti-LGBTQ bills across the United States, some have attached specific messages to justify the legislation, even suggesting that discussing LGBTQ issues constitutes “preparing” children for sexual abuse.

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“It was clear that he picked up those ideas somewhere else, and now those things were bleeding,” Pierce said. “Not just news and social media, but our real lives and my son’s bubble.”

Tori Cooper, director of community engagement for the Human Rights Campaign’s Transgender Justice Initiative, believes there is a connection between this rhetoric and the rise in murders of transgender people her organization is monitoring.

“In recent years, we have had to endure the most vitriolic and dehumanizing rhetoric from elected officials, we have seen a more anti-trans legislature, and we have sadly seen record numbers of trans and non-binary deaths from lethal violence,” said she declared.

In an attack last week in DC, a trans woman was harassed as she took public transportation. A viral video he posted Twitter on Saturday shows another passenger hurling a barrage of transphobic words as he approaches her.

In Vermont, a transgender woman was found stabbed to death along a highway in Morristown on Tuesday morning. According to the HRC, this is at least the 12th violent murder of a transgender or gender non-conforming person this year.

Many of these attacks happen in public, Cooper said, but many are in private: “Sometimes the public perception escalates the violence.”

Amid heightened fears and concerns about public safety across the country, Pierce said she was in “crisis management mode,” scheduling therapy appointments and trying to help her children understand what what happened and why.

“It’s still very present for them,” he said. “They didn’t sleep well at night, waking up crying; my son won’t go to the bathroom alone anymore.

What also weighs on him is what an attack like this in a solid blue state like California means for LGBTQ families living in Republican-run states, he said, “The fact That it could even come here worries me even more for people who are in the parts of the country where their rights are under attack.

Nationally, Republicans have introduced nearly 200 state bills this year that remove protections for transgender minors or restrict discussion of LGBTQ issues in public schools.

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“I have the privilege of living in Los Angeles and working in the Los Angeles School District where, at least for the foreseeable future, these laws will not apply here,” said Pierce, adding that other teachers were flying pride flags and speaking out about their same-sex partners.

Pierce said he and Broverman often have conversations with their children about gender and sexuality when questions arise.

“We treat this topic the same way we treat topics like death and sex. We answer their questions honestly and don’t provide more information than they ask for,” he said. “And we think when they process that information and have more questions, they’ll come back to us, and that seems to be working pretty well so far.”

In the days since Pierce posted his Twitter feed, he said his family had seen an outpouring of love and support online. “It just helped that feeling of being alone and seeing how many people care,” he said.

But what moved him the most was seeing his children persevere.

“Even though they’re dealing with something really scary that happened to them…they still have this great love of adventure and seeing new things,” Pierce said, “and they can’t wait to get back to the train moving.”

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