Following the news that multiple major platforms including Reddit, Twitter, TikTok, and Meta — parent company to Facebook and Instagram — consider the use of the word “groomer” against LGBTQ people to be a violation of existing terms of service, The Associated Press added a note to its style guide suggesting that reporters “not quote people using the term … without clearly stating it is untrue.” A review by Media Matters of recent mainstream media coverage of the term shows that this guidance is much-needed and long-overdue.
One such article in The Washington Post sought to place the “groomer” accusation in a historical context, saying that “the term ‘groomer’ has become a catchall epithet hurled by the right wing against the left, particularly against advocates for LGBT people, who have become the target of a recent surge in violent threats and attacks.” Although the article stated that many of the people behind the term’s spread “acknowledged to The Post that there is no scientific body of research that shows” lessons on sexual orientation and gender identity makes children more vulnerable to predation, the authors do not flatly state that the epithet is untrue. Instead they settle for a framing that pits current medical experts in the field against anti-gay activists like Judith Reisman, whose views are summarized in the article even though she is literally dead.
Another July article, this time in The New York Times, described the ways in which right-wing figures are doubling down on their opposition to LGBTQ equality after the fall of Roe v. Wade, restating a pronoun joke by a far-right candidate along with a line about the “woke groomer mafia” without acknowledging that none of those words make any sense together in that context. The next paragraph of the article suggests that “some Democrats and advocates for L.G.B.T.Q. communities say” that the attacks have “deepened their concerns,” framing the groomer libel as a legitimate topic of political discussion rather than a dangerous and untrue accusation.
The Hill also picked up the framing of the “groomer” slur as a matter of political left-and-right debate in a recent article, leading with a line saying “California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) called out a spokesperson for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) in a speech” and following it with a comment from that spokesperson, Twitter enthusiast Christina Pushaw, doubling down on the rhetoric while falsely conflating sexual and gender identity with sexual activity. Given that the majority of Americans still do not know someone who is transgender or uses pronouns other than “she” and “he,” responsible reporting should acknowledge that there is absolutely nothing inherently sexual about being trans — just as there is nothing inherently sexual about being a cisgender person.
In Politico, an article about the Miami-Dade school board rejecting two sex education textbooks for middle and high school students quoted a speaker at the public meeting as saying that if the books were adopted, he would “consider all of you groomers.” The article did not specify that grooming is a term meant to describe the survivors of child sexual abuse and their experiences or that right-wing activists have attempted to change its meaning to conflate sexual violence with exposure to the fact that some people are gay or trans. Florida officials had originally promoted the so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill as protecting students in kindergarten through grade three, but it has been applied at all age levels after Pushaw falsely portrayed it as an “anti-grooming” bill.
Although the AP’s new guidance was predictably panned by some members of the right-wing media — the Daily Wire accused the bureau of going “woke” — accusing LGBTQ people of grooming children without evidence has a long and dangerous history and can motivate violence. Two separate events this year that the anti-LGBTQ Twitter account Libs of TikTok highlighted by using such rhetoric were later targeted by members of the Proud Boys, a white supremacist group linked to the January 6 insurrection. Another group showed up at a drag event with a gun after Twitter user James Lindsay implied that grooming might take place there.
Following the guidance of the AP and major social media platforms is an important step in helping ensure that these troubling incidents do not turn even more frequent or dangerous.