In 2021, the Republican operatives made critical race theory into their go-to bogeyman in order to push their agenda into our schools. Now, we’re seeing an increase in perverted, homophobic, and anti-trans smears being deployed by the right in a similar pattern. Is this QAnon 2.0, or something new? We’re going to dig into what’s behind the GOP’s weird obsession with “grooming.”
The GOP's "Grooming" Obsession
Content warning: this resource is a frank explanation of homophobic and anti-trans tactics and goals pursued by Republicans. It contains references to sexual assault, child endangerment, and more.
What You Need to Know
- Republicans are talking a lot about pedophilia. Over the past year, GOP candidates, elected officials, and media influencers have been increasingly obsessed with conversations about childrens’ sexuality. Tucker Carlson, Donald Trump Jr., Josh Hawley, and Majorie Taylor Greene have all been referencing pedophilia on television and social media—and Republican voters are listening.
- GOP officials across the country are using state governments to exercise this obsession. MAGA republican governors across the country have implemented new policies that punish teachers and parents for protecting, supporting, and educating students as it relates to their gender identity and orientation – Florida is even stripping the teaching license of some educators who mention gender in class. And red state legislatures are pushing a wave of new bills targeting student athletes, medical professionals, and families.
- This is an old tactic with terrifying new implications. The right wing has a history of accusing queer people of harming children, but their recent use of this tactic is specifically targeting and punishing children. Republicans are working hard to depict support and care for kids as acts of predation—or “grooming,” as they like to call it. This strategy subjects loving families and dedicated teachers to surveillance, investigation, and violence while leaving kids isolated, afraid, and vulnerable.
- This anti-LGBTQ bullshit is unpopular, but it’s at the center of the right wing’s multifront culture war. In addition to their ongoing CRT panic, bans on books, and harsh restrictions on abortion, Republicans are using perverted fictions about LGBTQ people to advance a bleak political and social agenda. If successful, they’ll restrict the teaching of American history, end same-sex marriage, ban abortion nationwide, and create a country that’s inhospitable for transgender people (and, of course, take control of Congress while they’re at it). The good news? A majority of Americans disagree with it.
Fake Accusations Lead to Real Violence
Conservative political operatives are targeting children in this new wave of restrictive laws and pedophile narrative-building. The weaponization of kids and schools means that educators and families are also in their crosshairs—but the potential implications of this campaign are even wider-reaching.
Associating LGBTQ people with predation opens the door to violence and targeting that goes far beyond the classroom. Queer youth are particularly susceptible to these messages—in the first half of 2021 alone, 1 in 4 LGBTQ youth attempted suicide (yes, you read that right). Transgender people are among the most vulnerable groups, and they are bearing the brunt of this assault today. In city after city, MAGA extremists and Proud Boys are waging a campaign of intimidation against all-ages events like drag brunches and story hours, showing up at child-friendly events to shout slurs and violent threats. Social media is often driving the attacks, with accounts like Libs of TikTok posting the names and details of LGBTQ-friendly events in an attempt to force the event organizers to cancel due to the (very justified) fear of violence. In the week before the 2022 elections, a donut shop in Tulsa, OK was firebombed by a man in a distinctive red hat after hosting an LGBTQ-themed art event – and it’s not even the first time they’ve been targeted.
What's Behind the Scenes
There’s a lot going on behind the Republican grooming obsession, but the simplest explanation is usually the right one: they think it will help them win. Yes, that means winning elections, but beyond that, they’re hoping this will solidify a regressive and energized minority coalition and pave the way for a huge rollback of civil rights.
- Electoral aspirations of Republican operatives mean that any tactic, no matter how gross, is worth engaging to win elections. Republicans like Greg Abbott and Ron DeSantis are focused on energizing their conservative base ahead of the midterms (and 2024 presidential primaries) and see these narratives and proposed laws as an easy way to do that. And it’s become a central plank of the MAGA republican platform in 2022: candidates across the country are using trans people as rhetorical punching bags.
- QAnon-style conspiracy has gripped the Republican party since Trump came to prominence, and the “groomer” approach has similar origins. Right wing trolls on 4chan (the message board where QAnon was born) and their GOP-aligned boosters on Twitter (like Jack Posobiec, Libs of TikTok, and Chris Rufo) have promoted the effort to refer to any LGBTQ content, or support of LGBTQ people, as grooming. Sexual conspiracy and the GOP go together like peanut butter and jelly, it seems.
- Old-school social conservatism is underpinning all of this. Rolling back public acceptance of transgender people and repealing same-sex marriage has been a long-term goal of the Republican party, even if they stopped talking about it for several years while public opinion turned against them. Now, they see an opportunity to revive those goals and punish the LGBTQ community for simply existing.
Why It's Important
The endgame here is much bigger than a weird and gross line of attack against political opponents: Republicans are trying to associate all of their targets with pedophilia in order to justify any measures against them. Meanwhile, it’s GOP officials who are pushing laws that would abolish age requirements for marriage and obsess over the genitals of student athletes.
How We Talk About It
- Republicans are sacrificing children at the altar of electoral strategy. None of this is about protectings kids or families—it’s about winning. The people pushing these perverted smears are willing to go to any lengths to achieve their goals. This is beyond “owning the libs”; it’s about eliminating opposition.
- Hate speech leads to real violence, and it has to stop. Across the country, we’re seeing a shocking increase in real attacks on LGBTQ+ communities and events. MAGA Republicans have spent years vilifying specific groups, then act surprised when their followers act on their hateful words.
- The GOP should be worried about their own pedophile problems. For a party that includes Rep. Matt Gaetz (who is being investigated for sex trafficking a minor), Rep. John Rose (who literally “groomed” his eventual wife from the age of 17 while he was 41), and former Speaker Dennis Hastert (a convicted child molester), Republicans sure do seem uninterested in cleaning their own house. Instead, they tried to make it easier to marry kids in Tennessee and continue their unwavering support for Donald Trump, who has his own *bonkers* history of comments about attraction to children.
- This is just a new flavor of socially conservative McCarthyism. Republicans are using this “groomer” campaign to target same-sex marriage, equal employment, and the right to privacy. This has nothing to do with protecting children—they’ve simply latched onto the most politically-charged and potent line of attack they can launch at their opponents.
- Most people find this repulsive; we need more of them to vote. A majority of adults are against banning LGBTQ existence from schools, and most people agree with doctors that gender-affirming care should be accessible to transgender kids with the support of their parents and medical professionals. Everyone who cares about the safety and well-being of children should vote like it this year.
- Yes, this is an emergency. No, we’re not overreacting. We’re seeing a coordinated GOP effort to mainstream old-school homophobia and anti-trans rhetoric. With Republican state legislatures across the country pushing over 200 anti-LGBTQ bills and a firm 6-3 right-wing majority on the Supreme Court, we’re on the precipice of a major roll-back of our civil rights (that means the time to fight is now!)
What Else Can We Do
Don’t concede the conversation. If they want to talk about child endangerment, we should talk about the dangers the GOP poses to children:
- A longtime RNC staffer who worked to reelect Trump was convicted on child pornography charges, and specifically “requested videos of babies”.
- A staff attorney for GOP Governor Kay Ivey was arrested for child solicitation earlier this year.
- Donald Trump himself has admitted to intentionally barging into contestant dressing rooms while he was the owner of the Miss Teen USA pageant, specifically to see the undressed girls (including girls as young as 15).
- Tennessee Republicans pushed a bill earlier this year that would have legalized child marriage. Disgusting on its own, but also likely part of a ploy to undermine same-sex marriage by eliminating licensing protections.
A record 155 anti-trans bills have been proposed so far in 2022. Here are just a few examples of how these attacks are translating into real, life-altering laws:
- Texas officially names trans-affirming care for minors “child abuse,” meriting investigation and possible removal from their home
- Florida bans coverage of gender-affirming care for Medicaid recipients
- Florida medical board proceeds with total ban of gender-affirming care, including hormone blockers, for anyone under 18. Arkansas was the first state in the U.S. to pass such legislation.
- Tennessee and Mississippi ban certain trans people from changing gender on ID
- Idaho bans trans women and girls from participating in sports at any publicly-funding school
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