Conservative talk radio and online show personalities are going all in on the smear by Republicans and others in right-wing media that LGBTQ Americans and others who oppose Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ “Don’t Say Gay” law are “grooming” children to be gay or trans, or promoting sexual activity.
The Tampa Bay Times reported that House Bill 1557, which DeSantis signed into law on March 28, “prohibits instruction related to gender identity or sexual orientation in kindergarten through third grade and potentially restricts such instruction for older kids.” It allows parents to sue a school district for damages plus attorney fees when they think a teacher is violating the law.
Prior to the bill’s passage in the state legislature, DeSantis press secretary Christina Pushaw wrote a tweet characterizing the legislation as “the Anti-Grooming Bill,” and said opponents of it “are probably a groomer or at least you don’t denounce the grooming of 4-8 year old children.”
Right-wing media were quick to adopt Pushaw’s sick messaging. Right-wing websites and Fox News falsely labeled opponents as sexual predators who are “grooming” students. But the hateful comments really picked up after The Walt Disney Company announced on March 28 that “our goal as a company is for this law to be repealed by the legislature or struck down in the courts.” And it’s not just Fox News that has adopted this messaging; conservative radio hosts and podcasters began blasting opponents of the bill as “groomers” the day after Disney’s announcement, with the attacks picking up steam on April 6:
- On March 29, The Daily Wire’s Matt Walsh said: “Now you have these predators, these evil, Satanic, disgusting groomers who are waiting there to pounce as soon as a child begins to have any questions about themselves.”
- On April 6, The Daily Wire’s Candace Owens said that Disney is defending “child groomers” in classrooms and that conservatives have to fight back because “pedophilia is around the corner.”
- On The Buck Sexton Show on April 6, host Buck Sexton blamed the popularity of the term “groomer” on Disney because it is “a company that used to be known for princesses in a cartoon mouse” that is “now inserting gender identity theory and transgenderism and pansexuality into its content.”
- Right-wing talk show host Jesse Kelly claimed on April 6 that the country is run by a cabal of “child groomers” and “communists” that have taken over “every single cultural institution.”
- Kelly also claimed that the usage of the word groomer was accurate: “They are worried about this pedophile groomer accusation because it's true. It's all over the place.”
- On right-wing host Joe Pags’ talk show on April 6 he complained that the left call everyone on the right a “Nazi, and a facist, and a white supremacist” but complain when “we call them a groomer for supporting pedophiles.”
- Right-wing podcaster Liz Wheeler gave her own definition of grooming and said it applies perfectly to describe teachers who mention trans identities. On April 7, she claimed, “When we use the word groomer or groomers to describe, you know, teachers who are teaching kindergarteners that they can be transgender or hiding from parents when sixth-graders transition in public school, that iteration of the word groomer, we're not redefining the word. Really the definition of the word groomer as it applies to these parental rights and education bills or how the left right now is behaving towards children, it’s really the offspring of the original word groomer.”
- Right-wing talk show host Tony Katz said on April 7 that the right was using the term “groomer” as revenge against the left: “The reason the political right uses the term groomer is that they're not going to be told by the political left what they can say. The political left says anything they want, the political right says something, the political left says, ‘How dare you?’ The political right says, ‘We’re sorry.’ Well now the right’s like, ‘No, no, no, no. We don’t care. We’re going doubly. We’re tripling down. We’re just gonna do it.’”
- On his April 8 podcast, Turning Point USA founder Charlie Kirk claimed that gay people are going after children. He told his audience: “We're talking about gay stuff more than any other time. Why? Because they are not happy just having marriage. Instead, they now want to corrupt your children.”