It Was Never About 'Grooming'
The right's moral panic over gay and trans kids is purely designed to erase their existence.
Apropos of “nothing,” here’s a Twitter conversation from last summer, between some random user and Christopher Rufo, the conservative activist and anti-anti-racism writer who advocated for nationwide “critical race theory” state bills as a backlash to the Black Lives Matter uprising of 2020.
Apropos of more “nothing,” here are a few more tweets of Rufo’s on the subject of “grooming.” Let me be clear again, this is the guy who has had at least somewhat of a hand in successfully making “critical race theory,” a legal theory not taught in public schools, synonymous with “teaching kids that being white is a sin that must be apologized for,” leading many states, including my own state of Texas, to pass bills that amorphously ban critical race theory in public schools without defining what that even means, aside from making white students feel uncomfortable during history lessons.
Ahh, yes. The old “we have to win the language war on public school indoctrination” to “I’m just looking into cases of gender ideology training and/or instances of grooming in public schools” to “oh wow look at all these cases of grooming and sexual abuse that I learned about and am connecting to the introduction of lessons on gender and sexuality, without any evidence to actually base that connection” pipeline.
Here’s even more of Rufo’s tweets on the subject of grooming, if you care to watch the construction of this pipeline in real time, including a reply to Andrew Sullivan (ugh) where Rufo says he “absolutely opposes” the suggestion that gay teachers are pedophiles, despite less than a month later insisting in the “essay” he references in the tweet above that “teaching gender identity and sexual orientation” to young kids is somehow an inciting factor in future instances of “grooming” in public schools.
I point to Rufo because his insistence on revving up a newfound war against grooming is an example of the wider hysteria spreading in so many other places — a sudden conservative murmuring, to outright frothing at the mouth, about instances of teachers grooming students. Predation against children is obviously a problem that deserves attention, but it should go without saying that that is not what the newfound conservative concern is actually about.
From Vice, on what this attention to “grooming” looks like in the context of Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law:
When LGBTQ activists effectively branded Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis’ Parental Rights in Education bill the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, DeSantis’ allies fired back by accusing them of supporting “grooming.”
“The bill that liberals inaccurately call 'Don't Say Gay' would be more accurately described as an Anti-Grooming Bill,” DeSantis Press Secretary Christina Pushaw tweeted in March. “If you’re against the Anti-Grooming Bill, you are probably a groomer or at least you don’t denounce the grooming of 4-8 year old children.”
Here’s just two of the many ways that Fox News has taken this concept of “grooming” and applied it to other instances of lessons on gender and sexuality nationwide, from Media Matters:
During the April 8 edition of America Reports, guest and Washington Times opinion editor Charlie Hurt reacted to the story by claiming instruction on gender identity “goes beyond just predatory grooming. This goes to the point of really psychological torture of children,” and saying that “nobody wants their children to be preyed upon by really sick demented people like this.”
On the April 9 edition of Fox & Friends Weekend, Campos-Duffy falsely claimed that “kids in second grade in New Jersey will get lessons on gender identity thanks to new education guidelines.” Campos-Duffy then brought on Kristen Sinclair, who was identified as a “New Jersey mom of two.” Not mentioned was the fact that Sinclair is also the founder of Child Advocate Coalition, an organization in New Jersey that advocates against COVID-19 health measures in schools. They fearmongered about the sample lesson plan’s inclusion of links to Amaze – an organization that provides videos on age-appropriate sex education – and Sinclair suggested children were being taught about pornography and were “being ripened for grooming for sexual abuse by adults.”
And as Vox pointed out, Florida is just the beginning (just wait ‘til I get to Texas down below):
Legislatures in Alabama, Ohio, and Louisiana have since advanced similar proposals [to Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” education law]; Texas’s lieutenant governor is looking at introducing a bill when its next legislative session starts, and lawmakers in six other states, mostly in the South, have supported iterations of restrictions on LGBTQ identity in schools.
So much of this framing very strongly reminds me of the framing of “critical race theory” and the bills passed against it.
Many of the new “anti-anti-racism” laws, such as Tennessee’s, banned classroom discussions of ideas such as “one race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex” or that “an individual should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or another form of psychological distress solely because of the individual's race or sex.” Out of the context of the Republican general assembly’s agenda, these things are actually perfectly normal to ban from a classroom — absolutely, too many Black students and students of color have been made to feel that white people are superior and feel uncomfortable because they are not white. Good, banish those ideas to hell!
But in the wider context of what exactly is happening — educators making a greater effort to make their lessons on history and race more honest and inclusive, and state legislators and even President Trump trying to stamp out so-called anti-American rhetoric — that isn’t at all what these laws are trying to do. Instead, they are an appeal to toxic patriotism and to the fears of white parents, and have banned honest conversations about racism and depictions of American history.
That’s exactly how they’re selling this idea that lessons on gender identity and sexual orientation will directly lead to grooming in schools. Because grooming is actually something that parents and teachers and school officials and elected officials should care about. Anecdotally, from my own experience as a public school system graduate a decade removed, my sense is that schools don’t investigate teachers grooming students nearly enough.
But stamping out grooming is not at all what people like Rufo or Pushaw or Sinclair care about. Take their hatred of LGBTQ children and their fear of lessons on gender identity “indoctrinating” or “turning” kids gay or trans into account and you immediately see the connection that all of these people are attempting to make between teaching about gender identity and sexual orientation and abusing children. This is what they want parents to hear: with CRT, teachers will turn your kids woke, but with lessons on gender and sexuality, teachers will sexually abuse them.
As has been pointed out before, this is a tried and true moral panic trope used to discriminate against gays and lesbians in the 1970s. And of course, conservatives know that that kind of blatant positioning is likely beyond the pale, which is why they’re so careful not to say anything about the gender identity or sexuality of the teachers who may groom students (seriously, check the Media Matters blog and Rufo’s blog if you really care to — there’s nothing). They can’t even specify what specifically about these lessons will lead to sexual abuse, because there’s no evidence pointing to anything of the sort. But as long as they can make the connection between “lessons on gender identity” and “sexual abuse,” critics and fearful parents can fill the rest in.
Which is all to say that none of these people care about child abuse. At least, not genuinely, and not for the reasons they claim. They don’t care that their kids could be targets of sexual abuse by the teachers in charge of their after-school extracurricular activities. No, they care that the state-mandated health teacher might be making their week-long abstinence-only sex education course inclusive to trans students. They simply care that their kids might be normalized to the existence of people who aren’t straight and/or cis, and are using the threat of possible sexual abuse as a weapon against that normalization. Shame on them for making such an argument and shame on the Democrats for letting them get away with it.
If you really want to know how much these people care about child abuse, let’s check on Texas’ latest effort to prevent the existence of trans children by reporting their parents to the Department of Family Protective Services for alleged child abuse in an effort to get their kids taken away. From the Texas Tribune, on what they’re calling a “mass employee exodus” at Texas Child Protective Services, the agency charged with investigating these allegations, emphasis mine:
The employees, most of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity to protect their jobs, said they feel conflicted — unwilling to undertake what they see as discriminatory investigations and critical of the agency’s internal response to requests for guidance, but haunted by what a mass exodus of experienced child abuse investigators would mean for the state’s most vulnerable children.
“Things are already slipping through the cracks. … We will see investigations that get closed where intervention could have occurred,” one supervisor said. “And children will die in Texas.”
I mean, yeah. Children will die because Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and Governor Greg Abbott wanted to secure their Republican primaries. But at least we’ll know the kids (immediately) dying weren’t trans.