LGBTQ Agenda: Use of 'grooming' slur up 400% on social media, pro-LGBTQ groups say

  • by Eric Burkett, Assistant Editor
  • Tuesday August 30, 2022
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The Human Rights Campaign and Center for Countering Digital Hate have released a report showing that use of the anti-LGBTQ term "groomer" has increased more than 400% on social media. Illustration: Courtesy HRC/CCDH<br>
The Human Rights Campaign and Center for Countering Digital Hate have released a report showing that use of the anti-LGBTQ term "groomer" has increased more than 400% on social media. Illustration: Courtesy HRC/CCDH

Grooming, the practice by pedophiles of prepping a child for an eventual sexual connection, has been an accusation long lobbed at LGBTQ people by those who hate them. With the latest round of grooming accusations now being hurled against transgender people, and being used as the basis for much of the proposed - and passed - anti-trans and anti-LGBTQ legislation in statehouses around the country, it's clearly made a comeback.

According to a study by the Human Rights Campaign and the Center for Countering Digital Hate, accusations against trans people and their supporters using the slur have increased more than 400%, appearing on social media sites that, the study also notes, "not only failed to crack down on, but also profited from" posts using the term.

The study, "Digital Hate: Social Media's Role in Amplifying Dangerous Lies about LGBTQ+ People," was released August 10.

"I think this report is the tip of the iceberg with anti-LGBTQ rhetoric online and our concerns there are really real-world consequences," said Jay Brown, a trans man and senior vice president of programs, research and training at Human Rights Campaign, a national LGBTQ advocacy organization.

The report calls on Twitter and Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram, to do more to stop the spread of hate. Specifically, the companies must act on hashtags promoting LGBTQ+ hate and close user accounts that publish LGBTQ+ hate on social media platforms, the report stated. (Some users have had accounts suspended, as noted below.)

The report also calls on companies to enforce their Community Standards - and when they fail to do so they should be liable for harm caused as a result.

Twitter and Meta did not respond to requests for comment.

Long-standing trope

Accusing LGBTQ people of being pedophiles and groomers is a long-standing trope by those who have sought to curtail or undermine LGBTQ rights. Back in 1977, singer Anita Bryant came to national prominence with her Save Our Children campaign, which demonized gays and lesbians with the notion that, since they couldn't reproduce, they needed to recruit. (Of course, today, LGBTQ people have formed all sorts of families, from giving birth to adoption to foster care to surrogacy.) In 1978, conservative California state legislator John Briggs launched Proposition 6, which became known as the Briggs initiative. Inspired by Bryant's campaign, the proposition sought to ban gays and lesbians from working in the state's public schools. It failed.

Both efforts capitalized on the idea that children were vulnerable to attack by immoral gays who wanted access to people's children. Much like the blood libel frequently hurled at Jews throughout history, accusing them of sacrificing Christian children in secret rituals, it found deep traction among conservative Christians.

"As a mother, I know that homosexuals cannot biologically reproduce children; therefore, they must recruit our children," said Bryant at a news conference in 1977, when she launched her campaign to overturn Dade County, Florida's law prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation.

And, while the term "groomer" wasn't exactly being bandied about by Bryant, or others like her at the time, its definition certainly was. And now, it's evidently back in full force, thanks in part - once again - to forces in Florida.

As its supporters were pushing to make Florida's notorious "Don't Say Gay" bill - House Bill 1557 - into law earlier this year, accusations of grooming were bandied about much more freely at opponents of the bill. Once the bill was signed by Republican Governor Ron DeSantis, on March 28, use of slurs such as "groomer" and "pedophile" increased online over the next month by 406%, according to the report.

It would appear that people such as DeSantis know full well the impact of laws such as HB 1557 if the statement attributed to him in a news release from his office touting the passage of the law is any indication. His insistence that the law, titled Parental Rights in Education, only "reinforces parents' fundamental rights to make decisions regarding the upbringing of their children" is belied by his accusation that schools are attempting to "sexualize" their students.

"Parents' rights have been increasingly under assault around the nation, but in Florida we stand up for the rights of parents and the fundamental role they play in the education of their children," DeSantis stated in a March 28 release. "Parents have every right to be informed about services offered to their child at school, and should be protected from schools using classroom instruction to sexualize their kids as young as 5 years old."

The HRC and CCDH report goes on to point out, however, that the majority of the posts were done by extremists and their allies, in an effort to demonize LGBTQ kids and rile up their bases ahead of November's midterm elections. In fact, it pinpoints much of the rise to just 10 individuals, most notably Congressmember Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Georgia), a leading proponent of the stolen election conspiracy, positing that former President Donald Trump won the 2020 election.

The rest of the list reads like a who's who of the American right-wing: James Lindsay, credited with popularizing the term "OK groomer" which has become, evidently, the favorite retort of the right-wing and who was banned by Twitter earlier this month; Congressmember Lauren Boebert (R-Colorado); Chaya Raichik, who runs a Twitter group calls "Libs of TikTok;" comedian Tim Young; Christina Pushaw, press secretary to DeSantis who called for HB 1557 to be renamed the Anti-Grooming Bill, and who called anyone who opposed the legislation a groomer; Frank "Drew" Hernandez, who, in addition to calling Pride Month, "groomer month," served as a defense witness of then 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse who shot three men, killing two, in Kenosha, Wisconsin; Chad Prather, a right-wing internet personality who brands everyone opposing HB 1557 groomers; Jack Posobiec, who once held a sign reading "Rape Melania" at an anti-Trump rally to discredit protesters; and Matt's Idea Shop, a right-wing personality who promotes disinformation on conservative websites.

And while the above-listed 10 might be responsible for the bulk of the effort in promoting the groomer narrative, others are pushing it, as well, including LGBTQ people.

Jaimee Michell, a self-identified lesbian who runs the group Gays Against Groomers, routinely accuses those who oppose banning discussions of sexual orientation or gender identity of being groomers, and has been suspended from Twitter three times as a result. Twitter stated in July that use of the term groomer was enough to be suspended.

Her organization has its own plans for putting an end to what she apparently believes is a threat to the country's children.

"We are planning on working toward a federal ban on the medicalization of minors when it comes to transition, you know, being transgender," she told a One America Network anchor on an interview August 19, explaining her group's plans.

A few moments later, the anchor asked her about another strategy GAG is employing to avoid detection on Twitter: substituting the word "broomer" for "groomer."

"It'll be interesting to see if Twitter wants to ban the word 'broom' or 'broomers,'" she told the anchor.

Michell declined repeated requests for an interview from the B.A.R.

Organizations like Human Rights Campaign and the Center for Countering Digital Hate continue to call for social media platforms like Meta and Twitter to do more to curb the presence of hate speech. But it's a challenge for the social media giants, too, acknowledged Brown.

The damage such speech inflicts on the community is immense, said Brown. Pointing to COVID, and the level of discourse that dominated social media in the pandemic's earlier days, he said one way to battle the misinformation is to, essentially, flood social media with positive, truthful information.

"I think we need to make sure we're sharing the truth on content and sharing our stories," he said, and not forget the importance of seeing content about yourself and your community that is positive.

People are often too busy with their own lives to be able to navigate the barrage of information that floods social media, Brown said.

"I appreciate companies reacting and putting an end to the bad actors but there's still a whole lot more that needs to be done," he said.

"They definitely don't have the mechanisms to stop it in the way it should be stopped. They need to figure out how to enforce them and put an end to these things before they go viral," he said.

LGBTQ Agenda is an online column that appears weekly. Got a tip on queer news? Contact Eric Burkett at [email protected]

The column will be off next week in observance of Labor Day and return September 13.

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