How the term ‘groomer’ got weaponised by the anti-LGBTQ community

By Harriet Piercy

Published May 2, 2022 at 09:00 AM

Reading time: 3 minutes

The internet has become an integral source of LGBTQ+ education for young individuals as well as a vital gateway to connection between people needing these communities in the first place. But online abuse is rising, especially amid the wave of legislation to limit classroom instruction of LGBTQ+ issues. Prominently, and historically, the bigoted slurs thrown at queer people and their allies accuse them of being ‘paedophiles’ who are perpetuating their ‘homosexual agenda’ by “grooming” children.

Such a clearly unsubstantiated, homophobic and transphobic statement has yet to dissipate, actually growing in use just this year—a terrifying and worrying emblem of an increasingly dangerous society for LGBTQ+ people everywhere. The term “groomer” is now the latest anti-queer slur being used among the right-wing crowd but what exactly is grooming, and how are culture wars snowballing within LGBTQ+ communities?

What is a groomer?

The term grooming, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children defines, is when “someone builds a relationship, trust, and emotional connection with a child or young person so they can manipulate, exploit and abuse them.” Though it typically, and correctly, has been used to describe how sex offenders initiate contact with their victims, it has since become a weaponised buzzword used to target trans kids.

The violent verbal onslaught attacking queer youth was in part ignited by the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill, whereby teachers have since been forbidden to give sexual orientation and gender identity lessons to children under the age of nine in Florida. The legislation received immense national (and international) backlash from critics who argued that it undoubtedly contributes to the marginalisation of LGBTQ+ people in the state.

Since then, the culture war has only amplified, with continuing efforts from the right to spark stereotyped and baseless claims that LGBTQ+ people are sympathetic with, or even endorsing, child predators. Though such accusations are hardly new in the US, it’s getting much, much worse.

According to NBC News, data from the social media platform Reddit that was analysed by an assistant professor of computer science at Binghamton University in New York, Jeremy Blackburn (who studies extremism), showed that there has been a 100 per cent increase since the beginning of 2022 in the discussion of “grooming.” Blackburn told the publication that the “majority of subreddits that are adopting the rhetoric have a pretty long history of content moderation concerns and are definitely not what I would consider LGBTQ friendly. While it is not exactly surprising to me that this rhetoric has been adopted, I am somewhat surprised the rhetoric was so quickly adopted.”

The groomer rhetoric is causing real harm among LGBTQ+ youth, becoming increasingly difficult for teens to avoid. Though there are arguments to be had about the positive functions of the internet for the queer community to utilise: to learn, connect and socialise—it is most definitely a double-edged sword.

A 2021 survey which gathered data from LGBTQ+ youth, conducted by The Trevor Project, revealed that 42 per cent of respondents had been bullied electronically, both online and even via text message. That being said, 62 per cent also reported having access to online spaces helped the affirmation of their sexual orientations and gender identities or expressions.

How is groomer being used nowadays?

Conservatives online have run with the term to malign the LGBTQ+ community as much as possible as highlighted by 17-year-old Will Larkins who told NBC News that he receives the comment “OK, groomer” on a daily basis. The sentence is a play on the phrase “OK, boomer” which gained popularity on TikTok in late 2020 to disparage middle-aged people. Larkins stated, “That’s the number one thing I get, I could post about anything and they’d be like ‘OK, groomer’.”

Other LGBTQ+ teens went on to explain to the US publication that “groomer” isn’t the only word that they have been targeted with—14-year-old M, a nonbinary eighth-grader who uses the pronouns “they” and “them,” revealed they suffer unprovoked and random homophobic attacks constantly. “Maybe I just said a single word and they’ll go ‘Shut up, gay slur’.”

The rhetoric of LGBTQ+ ‘grooming’ has long existed among fringe conspiracy theorists and extremists, but it’s quickly becoming a mainstream (read, right-wing) twisted response that is based on decades of moral panic equating homosexuality to paedophilia. Conservatives are even using the term to mean left-wing indoctrination in general, suggesting that educating children on certain political issues, like the struggle for gay and trans equality, is just as dangerous as ‘grooming’ in the old sense—like a paedophile would to its victims. Unbelievable.

As Vox reported, “That’s not to say that organized child abuse and systems of trafficking don’t exist, but trying to make a causative link between liberalism and paedophilia requires intentional reality distortion by the lawmakers and media voices making these claims.” Continuing that “grooming accusations aren’t concerned with making sense; they’re about stirring up fear, anger, and hysteria—which is why they sound exactly like the kinds of fringe conspiracy theories that have been around for centuries. The new paedophile conspiracy rhetoric is essentially the same as all the old paedophile conspiracy rhetoric, but with an added layer of wrongness.”

While it is impossibly easy for us in our safe, progressive echo chambers to believe that those of our gen Z age group are like-minded, it is, sadly, not the reality. On one side of the culture war, you have the ‘OK, boomer’ group—critical gen Zers aiming to challenge the ancient dinosaurs in our institutions, championing the downfall of capitalism and advocating for equality for all. On the other hand, you have the same youthful humour, only this time it’s baked in all the -isms you can possibly think of—the ‘OK, groomer’ group. Yet another epithet of the fringe, incel-like communities setting up more roadblocks on the road to progression.

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