Anti-LGBTQ hate groups have been planning a comeback for years –– they succeeded. From their new “groomer” language, COVID conspiracies, to death threats, they are back in full force across the country and here in Rhode Island.
Jeffrey Marsh makes TikTok videos about Queer and Trans love and acceptance for young people. Their videos are kind and sweet, yet scrolling one morning, this writer came upon a video where Marsh discussed the reactions to their work. In one reaction video, a woman quietly watches Marsh while she loads a gun. Her video’s caption read “no mercy for child groomers and pedos.”
The hate and death threats Marsh has faced are not new for LGBTQ people, but what is new is how sophisticated targeting Queer and Trans people has become. One of the newest and loudest bullhorns of the far-right is a Twitter account called Libs of TikTok. This account specializes in reposting videos and social media made by Queer and Trans people – especially out teachers – and claiming the content creators are grooming and molesting children. It is common for these creators to be doxxed, get death threats, and some have even been fired from their teaching jobs.
Libs of TikTok is part of a right-wing pipeline to target Queer and Trans people. The account picks victims as a signal to their base to attack assigned targets. What happened to Marsh is an example of this. Libs of TikTok targeted Marsh multiple times. After Libs of TikTok targeted Marsh, Tucker Carlson went after Marsh on Fox News.
Marsh responded to everything faced by them with a simple request: “Please humanize us.”
This spring, Florida passed legislation to ban discussion of LGBTQ peoples in education –– the first time a Don’t Say Gay bill was signed into law in the United States in over 20 years. Alabama quickly followed in passing similar legislation. There are now similar bills in at least 20 states, including Rhode Island, along with bills to curb the rights of transgender students.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’s spokesperson claimed opponents of Don’t Say Gay bills are “groomers” or the supporters of “groomers.” Claims of the sexualization of school curriculum has become a common anti-LGBTQ dog-whistle. Yet, the term groomer is a recent phenomenon and its use comes after the conspiracy movement Q-Anon gained popularity with claims that 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton led a child molestation ring out of the basement of a Washington, D.C. pizza parlor, also known as PizzaGate. The conspiracy galvanized extremists, leading to a gunman invading the establishment. This writer spoke to the waitstaff of the pizza parlor in question in December of 2016. The staff explained how the conspiracy theorists used pictures of the staff’s young children they found on social media and distributed them claiming the children were enslaved.
Q-Anon conspiracy theorists are also involved in anti-vaccine and anti-mask harassment. Since openly bisexual Rhode Island Senator Sam Bell and his wife welcomed a son this spring, they’ve had to take extra COVID precautions because he was born with lung issues and has been on oxygen. Bell told Options that any respiratory illness could be life-threatening to their infant. This has led to anti-vaxxers and Q-Anon extremists harassing him, with almost all of their calls and texts including homophobic slurs.
Bell explained that both he and his wife are bisexual, and while “there was a time when bisexuals faced all sorts of biphobia,” over time that had subsided until recently. “That has changed in the last year or so … It has been concerning to me to see the rise of homophobia coming back, and that scares the sh-t out of us. What we get is pretty disgusting, but other members get it much worse. We are a straight-presenting white cis couple, and my colleague Senator Tiara Mack gets way worse hate messages.”
A leaked draft of a U.S. Supreme Court opinion that would end the constitutional protection of privacy for abortion rights does so in a way that would almost certainly lead to the invalidation of marriage rights, and even allow states to once again criminalize same-sex relationships. Anti-LGBTQ crusaders are also actively working to get the courts to ban LGBTQ content on television, and a Virginia lawmaker is attempting to put a restraining order on Barnes & Noble to stop it from selling LGBTQ books to minors.
In May, the Rhode Island town of Little Compton’s council voted to no longer raise the rainbow flag for Pride month.
Hate Hid In Plain Sight
This writer has studied and researched anti-LGBTQ hate groups for the last six years, both as a researcher at Media Matters for America and while the media director of the National LGBTQ Task Force. While Q-Anon extremists and right-wing social media attacks on LGBTQ people appear to have sprouted on their own, they are the product of years of quiet work from well-funded extremist groups that have been documented by researchers and writers at Right Wing Watch, the Southern Poverty Law Center, and Media Matters.
Anti-LGBTQ hate groups have been slowly regrouping for years and did so carefully to avoid a coordinated response by national advocacy groups for Queer and Trans communities. The Southern Poverty Law Center labels organizations that peddle falsehoods that equate LGBTQ people with child sexual abuse, such as the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), as anti-LGBTQ hate groups. Before the term groomer, ADF had long been involved in pushing the myth that LGBTQ people were molesting children.
ADF, the Family Research Council, and other extremist anti-LGBTQ organizations have intentionally avoided attention so they could get to where we are today. A main source of their funding comes from the shadowy Christian Foundation –– they don’t need to court public attention to raise funds. These groups carefully pick their battles, finding fights that are hard to see coming, and claim they have nothing to do with LGBTQ rights. When they do occasionally decide to pick a public fight, they select talking points designed to make LGBTQ advocates uncomfortable with confronting them –– allowing these groups to spread their lies unchecked.
The potential repeal of Roe v. Wade and its ramifications for LGBTQ people is the culmination of years of cases launched by ADF, as well as the right’s work in packing the courts. For many years ADF has used cases around minor issues such as wedding cakes to slowly move legal precedents on marriage rights and abortion.
Opponents of ADF face an uphill battle because the hate group will claim it is discussing the particular details of a minor issue, such as how wedding cakes are a form of art, and it has nothing to do with LGBTQ rights. In reality, they are trying to use that, along with the culmination of many other minor cases, to say everyone has a right to discriminate against Queer and Trans people.
They also laid this foundation by taking roles in the Trump administration. This gave ADF access to the federal rule-making process, including an attempt to allow doctors to seek a moral exemption from treating LGBTQ patients, and the ability to make additional legal challenges representing the U.S. government.
When anti-LGBTQ hate groups go unchallenged they are able to build their case and quietly attract more supporters. In 2018, when Massachusetts had a ballot initiative about transgender rights, the local ADF lawyer would debate LGBTQ advocates and frequently referenced a case in which a transgender woman in Canada didn’t want a man to give her a bikini wax. LGBTQ rights advocates wouldn’t respond to the issue or defend the woman’s decision. ADF has used similar tactics when discussing transgender students across the country.
Anti-LGBTQ hate groups hid in plain sight for years. Their hard work has paid off in what seems to be a new anti-LGBTQ hate movement. This neo-homophobia is well organized, well funded, and ready to end LGBTQ rights if left unchecked.