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GOP redeploys "groomer" smear against gay men -- and everyone
From Fox News to Twitter, an old and ugly stereotype now used casually to tar anyone who supports equality
photo: Hunter Crenian, Shutterstock
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Last week, after tweeting about the harms caused to LGBTQ students and teachers by Florida’s “don’t say gay” law — vaguely worded to ban discussion of “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” in schools — someone responded to me with: “Ok, groomer.” And that wasn’t the only response equating homosexuality with child predation.
“Ok, groomer” is of course a play on the “Ok, boomer” meme from a couple of years back, which caused a bit of friction but was mostly light-hearted. It was a Millennial and Gen Z retort, a dismissal of ideas or actions thought to be retrograde and which were often (though not always) coming from Baby Boomers.
But “Ok, groomer” is far more sinister.
I’ve been been swarmed by trolls on social media over the years utilizing every homophobic slur imaginable, which almost always invoke sexual acts or effeminacy. Queer people are used to these kinds of attacks by anonymous cowards online. Most of these come from men engaging in juvenile ugliness and homophobia, insecure about their own masculinity, and the attacks are rooted in misogyny.
But I’d not seen the common and casual use of the old pedophile smear quite like this. And it’s being deployed more systematically, not just by random, insecure male trolls, but also by women, some organized in right-wing groups, as well as by Trumpist politicians and their aides, and Fox News pundits.
Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern noted this reemergence in a Twitter thread last week — and discussed how he’s received many replies calling him a “groomer” in recent days — and focused in on the casual homophobia more generally, as we saw in social media mockery when Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg announced he and his husband had become parents recently.
Mark, a Slate legal analyst who comes on my SiriusXM show every Tuesday to discuss legal issues, noted in his Twitter thread that this casual homophobia had seemed to be waning, but is now escalating dramatically:
It seems to me that casual mockery of gay people and their families is on the rise among the conservative media figures whose job is to restore a cultural environment in which anti-gay legislation is deemed acceptable. We are backsliding on gay rights with truly shocking speed.
On “All in With Chris Hayes” on MSNBC, Mark discussed how the far-right has become intoxicated with power, seeing its success in pushing bills attacking transgender people, and believes it can now go back and strip rights of gay and lesbian people which it might have thought it had lost the war over.
It’s absolutely true that Christian nationalists saw wins against transgender people and believed they could roll back further rights that affected gay, lesbian and bisexual people. This should be a warning to those gay people who believed that marriage equality was safe, or who became complacent or saw trans issues as not their own.
Republicans are in fact getting cover for moving against trans people — and then pushing the “don’t say gay” bills — by gay Trump loyalists, some in groups like the Log Cabin Republicans, who’ve deluded themselves into thinking they wouldn’t be harmed, and who’ve helped sell the idea that this attack on their own kind was actually about “parental rights.” Fox News has now hired Caitlyn Jenner as a contributor, a move that is all about giving the network cover, and using her to bash gay and transgender people.
But I believe another reason why we’re seeing the “groomer” smear surface strongly again after all these years is that it neatly dovetails with QAnon conspiracies, harkening back to Pizzagate and a vast liberal network of pedophile rings. The GOP knows that the smear plays into this conspiracy and gins up their base, which is now dominated by extremists and dangerous crackpots.
They’e calling anyone who is opposed to the “Don’t say gay” law a “groomer” — insinuating that anyone who wants discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity in schools is trying to allow for children to be preyed upon sexually. Florida governor Ron DeSantis’s press secretary even suggested it should be called an “anti-grooming bill.” On Fox News, Tucker Carlson, like Laura Ingraham and others, has radically distorted the law. This week Carlson claimed the law prohibits teaching about “sex” — when in fact, it’s not about sex, but sexual orientation — and indoctrinates kids into using harmful drugs. He called it “child abuse,” and ran a clip of DeSantis saying Democrats want to “sexualize” kids in kindergarten. Carlsons’s fans tweeted out the clip from his show, calling the “don’t say gay law” an “anti-grooming” law.
Carlson’s discussion of the law — like his attacks on those who are rightly describing it as anti-gay — is pure disinformation. The goal here is to cast Democratic efforts to make schools comfortable places for LGBTQ students, faculty and staff as a nefarious scam to “groom” kids sexually.
It sounds insane — but not if you’re marinating in QAnon conspiracies about child pedophile rings run by prominent Democrats. To the cultists, it’s pure validation. To the rest of us it’s not only an attack on LGBTQ people for political gain but further evidence that the GOP is itself obsessed with sex, believing that fear-mongering about it will win them votes.
That’s why it was delicious when it blew up in their faces after GOP Congressman Madison Cawthorn, a white supremacist and QAnon cultist — in addition to a serial liar — claimed it was Republicans in Washington who invited him to sex orgies and who did cocaine right in front of him.
Stunned GOP leaders are lashing out at him, horrified by the depictions and trying to stop Cawthorn:
[House Minority Leader Kevin] McCarthy met with Cawthorn in his office on Wednesday morning for roughly 30 minutes…
…The sit-down followed complaints among colleagues that Cawthorn unfairly maligned the entire conference as sexual deviants after making his wild claims of witnessing cocaine use and getting orgy invitations.
Now they’re claiming they’re the innocent victims of a vile, terrible sexual smear campaign. Exactly what they’ve been engaged in for months now against Democrats.
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