everyone the right accused of grooming
Andrea Austria / Media Matters

A non-exhaustive list of everything and everyone the right accused of grooming

From Joe Biden to Fox News, no one was safe from the right’s bigoted smear campaign

Content warning: This article includes extended discussion of sexual violence and LGBTQ hate. The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) operates the National Sexual Assault Hotline, which can be reached at 800-656-4673 or online via hotline.rainn.org. Trans lifeline, a hotline staffed by and created for transgender and nonbinary people, can be reached at 1-877-565-8860 or translifeline.org. The Trevor Project’s crisis intervention and suicide prevention hotline for LGBTQ youth can be reached at 866-488-7386 or through thetrevorproject.org/get-help/

Last year, no one — not even Elmo — dodged the right’s bigoted groomer smear campaign. Accusations that individual people, organizations, and companies were engaged in widespread attempts to groom children (either sexually or into a so-called LGBTQ lifestyle) reached staggering levels in 2022, spreading from social media platforms and conservative cable all the way to representatives in Washington.

Grooming is a set of manipulative behaviors abusers use for the explicit purpose of forming a sexual relationship with minors. Right-wing media outlets and figures misappropriated the term, drawing on old and bigoted stereotypes that LGBTQ people are a sexual threat to minors in order to perpetuate hate — turning a once useful term into a de facto anti-LGBTQ slur.

This rhetoric supported dangerous bans on life-saving trans healthcare, a directive investigating parents who support their trans children, legislation revoking the parental rights of LGBTQ allies, and vague laws restricting any mention of LGBTQ people in the classroom. The smear has also contributed to a wave of anti-LGBTQ violence — including armed terrorists storming drag queen story hours and family-friendly pride events, death threats against gay politicians, and bomb threats against Children’s Hospitals.

Mainstream press perpetuated the smear by platforming its architects in puff-piece profiles and articles framing LGBTQ rights as a political debate. By the time the Associated Press had officially released guidance against uncritically repeating the slur, groomer was already the right’s catchall for the LGBTQ community.

  • Transgender People

    The use of the word groomer to refer to transgender people echoes a tactic utilized in the early 2000s against gay people. Grooming was already misappropriated when applied to LGBTQ acceptance or same-sex marriage and now the right has expanded the definition even further in an effort to frame the existence of trans people as an encouragement of sexual acts. Hate spread by Rep. Marjorie Taylor Green (R-GA), right-wing influencer Will Witt, conspiracy theorist James Lindsay, and Gays Against Groomers founder Jaimee Michell, was buoyed by anti-trans coverage on Fox News that fearmongered around trans representation, healthcare, and the notion of transness.  

  • Drag Queens

    Referring to drag performers as groomers has created the false impression that drag performance is inherently sexual or that it encourages gender dysphoria. Right-wing media figures, such as conservative podcasters Owen Shroyer and Steve Bannon, Fox News hosts Jesse Watters and Sean Hannity, and former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson claimed that drag performers were intentionally sexualizing children. Other figures, including OAN host Dan Ball and right-wing commentator Dominique Samuels, claimed that this alleged sexualization is an effort to indoctrinate children into leftism. In even more extreme cases, the Daily Wire’s Matt Walsh encouraged or excused direct violence against drag performers. These smears have fueled a violent political atmosphere and targeted attacks. Mainstream media has noted the uptick in the presence of Proud Boys and other violent protesters outside of drag events across the country, individual drag queens have expressed concern for their own safety, and some performers have been the victims of online harassment campaigns.

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    Citation From the October 19, 2022, edition of The Daily Wire's The Matt Walsh Show

  • Pride Parades

    During Pride Month, right-wing media utilized the groomer slur to fearmonger around pride events, going so far as to doctor footage of drag performances in an effort to mobilize extremist reactions. Right-wing influencers such as Chaya Raichik, creator of Libs of TikTok, and avowed Christian fascist Kelly Neidert, targeted specific gatherings. Meanwhile, OAN’s In Focus, Real America and Tipping Point segments waged a more generalized campaign of hate against pride events.  

    Extremism researchers and LGBTQ activists drew a direct connection between this bigoted smear campaign and the far-right extremists who protested pride parades, including the highly publicized arrest of white nationalist group Patriot Front, in which police charged dozens of members with conspiracy to riot. 

  • The Entire LGBTQ Community

    In addition to targeting specific LGBTQ people or groups, right-wing media accounts such as Libs of TikTok, OAN personalities Landon Starbuck and Alison Steinberg, Fox News host Tucker Carlson, right-wing podcasters Tim Pool, Allie Beth Stuckey, Matt Walsh, and Freddy Silva, and conservative commentators Christopher Rufo and Dave Rubin made generalized claims against the entire LGBTQ community. Following a severe uptick in the use of the word groomer on right-wing social media accounts, evidence that the slur contributed to real-world violence against LGBTQ people, and calls for guidance from organizations, including Media Matters, some social media outlets incorporated the slur into their hate speech policies. The Associated Press eventually cautioned against uncritical use of the slur, but on social media, regulation and enforcement remain varied. 

  • Club Q

    After the mass shooting at Club Q in Colorado Springs, right-wing figures blamed the LGBTQ community for motivating violence against themselves. They weaponized the groomer slur in a confusing response that oscillated between excusing anti-LGBTQ violence and denying any culpability right-wing media bore in stoking anti-LGBTQ sentiment. Far-right trolls subsequently harassed Club Q survivors both on and offline — dubbing the man who disarmed the shooter a groomer. The House Oversight Committee held a hearing on the rise in anti-LGBTQ extremism following the shooting, during which Republican representatives claimed that their Democratic colleagues were using the tragedy as a means of smearing the right. The hearing was followed by GAG founder Jaimee Michell slandering one witness who had appeared before the representatives as a groomer.

  • Teachers, Schools, School Districts, and School Boards

    Right-wing media figures Libs of TikTok, Tucker Carlson, Jesse Watters, James Lindsay, Christopher Rufo, OAN’s Kara McKinney, and the Daily Wire’s Candace Owens contributed to the false claims that inclusive curriculum, the teachers who support it, and the school boards that fund it were all guilty of sexually grooming children. As a result, multiple teachers and school board members were harassed, threatened, and doxxed after becoming the right’s target of the week. Meanwhile conservative educational organizations who oppose LGBTQ representation in schools began to plan their own counter-curriculums at the state and federal level. Nevertheless, a record number of LGBTQ people ran for school board positions in 2022. 

  • High School GSA’s

    Gay/Straight Alliance organizations and clubs have existed for over thirty years as a means of providing community to LGBTQ students. In 2022, they faced new scrutiny under the gaze of figures such as Christopher Rufo and OAN hosts Dan Ball and Addison Smith, who accused the clubs of grooming children and keeping information from parents.

  • Librarians and Libraries

    Far-right outlets like OAN and activists like Chistopher Rufo gave voice to a broad campaign of hate that accused libraries and librarians of grooming children by including LGBTQ materials or hosting drag queen story hours. Many local libraries and librarians faced censorship, funding complications, and counter protests. In response, some libraries have considered privatizing while others remain public and committed to a pro-LGBTQ stance. 

  • Elmo

    BlazeTV host Chad Prather told OAN that Sesame Street character Elmo was a groomer after the beloved puppet received his COVID-19 vaccine. “I've always said that Elmo is a groomer anyway. They use these puppets to try to influence kids with their agenda.” Prather continued, “This actually should be illegal. You are pushing — I mean, what happens in a month? Is Elmo going to get a vasectomy? How much can we continue to push on this medical tyranny on our kids using a puppet?”

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    Citation From the July 1, 2022, edition of OAN's Real America with Dan Ball

  • Books

    Alongside right-wing legislative efforts aimed at schools and libraries, 2022 saw a concerted effort to ban LGBTQ books under the guise of protecting children from grooming. Many of these policies were successfully implemented.

  • American Girl

    American Girl released “A Smart Girl’s Guide: Body Image,” discussing practical and intersectional advice about body image and gender identity — which Jaimee Michell called the “definition of grooming.” Others called for a boycott of American Girl for promoting “transgender ideology” to kids — or as one right-wing commentator put it, “using girls’ love of dolls as a Trojan horse to teach them to destroy their bodies.” American Girl stood by the book, emphasizing: 

    “The content in this book was developed in partnership with medical and adolescent care professionals and consistently emphasizes the importance of having conversations and discussing any feelings with parents or trusted adults. … We are committed to delivering content that leaves our readers feeling informed, confident, and positive about themselves.”

  • Hospitals and Doctors

    Libs of TikTok instigated a series of online harassment campaigns against specific hospitals and doctors, falsely conflating gender-affirming care to mutilation, child abuse, and grooming. The effort was later amplified by other media figures such as Jesse Kelly, Matt Walsh, and Terry Schilling. Enraged followers left online comments and voicemails labeling health care providers groomers. This led to a series of bomb threats. As a result, some facilities limited either their care or the information on their websites, making it more difficult for trans people to access gender-affirming care.

  • Parents

    Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, conservative “parody” site Babylon Bee’s CEO Seth Dillon, conservative commentators Steven Crowder and Tim Young, Fox News guest Jimmy Failla, and Candace Owens contributed to claims that parents who expose their children to LGBTQ themes or supported their LGBTQ children were themselves groomers. This trend continues to fuel new legislative efforts. Gov. Abbott directed Texas state agencies to investigate parents and medical caregivers of trans youth. Florida Republicans proposed legislation criminalizing adults taking children to drag shows while Republicans in Idaho, Alabama, and Michigan proposed legislation criminalizing guardians providing gender-affirming care to their children. 

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    Citation From the November 17, 2022, edition of Louder with Crowder, streamed on Rumble

  • Democrats

    Leading up to the 2022 midterm elections, Republicans and right-wing media figures spread anti-LGBTQ rhetoric in an effort to rally their base. Fox News host Laura Ingraham, conservative podcaster Liz Wheeler and Jesse Kelly, Steve Bannon, and Matt Walsh associated grooming with the Democratic party or the left more broadly. After the election, Media Matters noted that political attacks on LGBTQ people and supporters failed to produce the victory Republicans had promised.

  • President Joe Biden

    In addition to the Democratic party, some right-wing media figures turned the groomer slur against individual politicians. OAN’s Chanel Rion accused President Joe Biden of being the “groomer-in-chief” during a rant against gender-affirming health care. In her segment, Rion claimed that grooming was the first step in a top-down leftist strategy to “sterilize your children, abort your babies, discourage nuclear families, and encourage non-reproducing unions.” 

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    Citation From the April 9, 2022, edition of OAN's Weekly Briefing

  • U.S. Assistant Secretary of Health Admiral Rachel Levine

    On Transgender day of Visibility, Tucker Carlson claimed that “No one's attacking transgender kids, young people,” denying evidence that shows “transgender people are four times more likely than cisgender people to be the victims of violent crime.” Carlson falsely claimed that most trans youth “have been led to where they are by adult predators,” a statement which he then used to introduce a segment on the U.S. Assistant Secretary of Health Adm. Rachel Levine.   

  • The Proposed U.S. Budget

    The groomer slur reached such prevalence that it became a go-to smear for Democratic policies and agendas. In an extreme example, The Blaze’s Daniel Horowitz claimed that Democrats were promoting “grooming throughout the federal budget and international relations budget.” Horowitz did not elaborate. 

  • Title IX and the U.S. Department of Agriculture

    Steve Bannon claimed the Biden administration was “going to hold back the school lunch program … until they fully implement the grooming project.” Bannon’s claim reflected a right-wing media lie that the Biden administration was withholding funds for meal programs from schools that did not comply with proposed rule changes to Title IX and USDA policy, which prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Conservatives slammed the recommendations, with Florida Education Commissioner promising Florida’s education department “will not stand idly by as federal agencies attempt to impose a sexual ideology on Florida schools” last July.  The Advocate reported on the link between these smears and a wave of threats to schools last June. 

  • Fox News

    After Fox News ran a positive segment with a trans teenager, anti-trans activists and other right-wing media members lost their minds — most notably Terry Schilling. Schilling told OAN he “felt really betrayed” by Fox News for participating in what host Chanel Rion called a “concerted effort to normalize the transgender agenda in conservative circles.” Schilling then expressed doubt about whether Fox News shared his deep concern with children’s ability to orgasm. Fox, for its part, remains deeply committed to their anti-trans ethos. 

  • Obergefell and the Respect for Marriage Act

    Fearing that the Supreme Court would overturn Obergefell v. Hodges and end national marriage equality, Congress passed the Respect for Marriage Act, which affirmed a federal recognition of same-sex and interracial marriage. As the act made its way through Congress, right-wing figures including Alex Breusewitz, Lauren Chen, James Lindsay, and Kelly Neidert turned to old, slippery-slope claims that protecting same-sex marriage would normalize grooming and pedophilia. Right-wing media continued spiraling after Biden signed the bill into law in December, with Daniel Horowitz telling OAN the act is “about reinforcing a national grooming.” 

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    Citation From the December 17, 2022 edition of MSNBC's Symone

  • California State Sen. Scott Wiener

    State Senator Scott Wiener was doxxed and received multiple bomb and death threats for his work protecting LGBTQ civil rights, which he connected to “extreme homophobic and transphobic” rhetoric from right-wing media and lawmakers. One email called the openly gay lawmaker a “pedophile” and “groomer” and threatened to “fucking kill” him. 

  • The Proposed Transgender Bill of Rights

    Terry Schilling dubbed a House resolution to create a Transgender Bill of Rights “a groomer manifesto because it goes into education and healthcare.” Despite support by more than 30 organizations, including the National Center for Transgender Equality and National Education association, the bill has yet to advance. 

  • Dylan Mulvaney and Ulta Beauty

    Last October, Meta largely ignored OAN host Alison Steinberg’s harassment campaign against TikTok influencer and Broadway actor Dylan Mulvaney. After Mulvaney interviewed Biden about anti-trans legislation and hate, Steinberg suggested Mulvaney is “a government plant” and compared Mulvaney’s content celebrating her journey as a transgender woman to sexual indoctrination. That same month, the right launched the #BoycottUlta campaign after Ulta interviewed Mulvaney for their YouTube series “The Beauty of…” — which one OAN host likened to watching “the bones of our once great civilization” get “picked clean by vultures.” Mulvaney discussed the emotional toll of the hate and harassment with Today and continues using her platform of over eight million subscribers to stand up for the trans community.

  • Jeffrey Marsh

    The right turned TikTok influencer and nonbinary activist Jeffrey Marsh into the target of an online harassment campaign by equating their uplifting videos preaching self-acceptance with grooming. Marsh and their partner addressed the hate and death threats in a Tiktok video in May:

    @thejeffreymarsh those pesky little death threats!💅💅🥰💛 #relationships #lgbt #happy #truelove #nonbinary #rainbow #mentalhealth ♬ original sound - Jeffrey Marsh
  • Yoel Roth

    Twitter CEO Elon Musk smeared former Twitter Head of Trust & Safety Yoel Roth by implying Roth wanted to expose children to explicit material. The allegation prompted responses from a range of right-wing commentators, including Tim Pool, who tweeted: “This tweet just clarified why the term 'groomer' was considered 'hate speech' on Twitter.” The smear campaign and ensuing threats forced Roth to flee his home.

  • Pizza Hut

    Right-wing media and hate groups accused Pizza Hut of “exploiting America’s children to be ‘groomed’ by wokeness” and pushingthe indoctrination agenda” by adding LGBTQ inclusive books to their BOOK IT! Program. The BOOK IT! Program has incentivized reading in elementary aged kids nationwide since 1984. A book about finding acceptance as a member of the LGBTQ community proved too much for conservative media, as pundits promptly called for a Pizza Hut boycott, which did not materialize. 

  • State Farm Insurance

    State Farm faced widespread backlash after backing out of plans to fund the GenderCool Project’s LGBTQ books program following a coordinated, right-wing media harassment campaign, which falsely equated the program with grooming and child indoctrination. The program would have provided age-appropriate LGBTQ books to schools who voluntarily sign up. 

  • Oreos

    Conservatives demanded Oreo “stop sexualizing children” and vowed to boycott their “gay cookies” after Oreo released a two-minute short film about coming out. The film accompanied a $500,000 donation to PFLAG — the nation’s first and largest organization supporting LGBTQ people and their families through advocacy, education, and community support.

  • Target

    Last May, conservative media accused Target of going “all in on gender grooming” after the retailer rolled out Pride-themed and transgender-inclusive clothing lines. They characterized Target’s products, which ranged from chest binders to to kids’ tees saying “trans rights are human rights,” as an inappropriate attempt at “indoctrinating the youth into the transgender ideology.” Target stood by the LGBTQ community despite boycott calls from hate groups like the Family Research Council.

  • World Aquatics: the International Swimming Federation (formerly known as FINA)

    OAN host Addison Smith claimed World Aquatics’ (formerly known as FINA) ban on transfeminine athletes who transitioned after age 12 would “promote child transgenderism.” A spokesperson for World Aquatics had already dismissed this characterization as “ridiculous.” World Aquatics received more criticism for an exclusionary policy that amounted to discrimination against transgender athletes.

  • The state of New Jersey

    As MMFA’s Mia Gingerich noted, Fox News falsely claimed New Jersey subjected first and second graders to “predatory grooming” and “psychological torture” after the state implemented new, LGBTQ-inclusive student health and physical education standards. The network misleadingly conflated one sample lesson plan from one school district, which was not implemented, with the 2020 state standards in order to malign trans people and rekindle their attacks on comprehensive and inclusive sex education. 

  • Disney

    After Disney came out against Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill (following a walkout by Disney employees), right-wing activist Rufo accused Disney of trying to sexualize children. Fox News and right-wing pundits followed and whined about “woke-ism” poisoning Disney. Months later, cartoon robot Baymax was a part of a nefarious “plan to re-engineer the discourse around kids and sexuality” and proof Disney went “full throttle with this agenda of indoctrination” — because a man wearing a shirt with trans pride colors helped the robot buy tampons. All that whining resulted in an ineffective boycott campaign and limp protests outside Disney World. 

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    Citation From the June 30, 2022, edition of OAN's In Focus

  • Hollywood

    Claims of Hollywood pedophile rings preying on children have been a central part of right-wing conspiracy theories for decades, including the 1980’s Satanic Panic and more recent QAnon conspiracy. Last year, conspiracy theorists and pundits — notably Candace Owens —  twisted Disney’s opposition to homophobic legislation, Balenciaga’s PR scandal, and legitimate discussions of sexual abuse from former child stars into further proof Hollywood was uniquely full of groomers among our cultural and political institutions. 

    By hijacking the conversation around grooming with conspiracy theories, the right has turned child abuse into a demeaning moral crusade that obscures legitimate concerns about predators with flashy fiction. Child sexual abuse is a problem outside of Hollywood, and most abusers aren’t executive producers or directors — they’re the acquaintances, family friends, and family members of their victims. While pretending this isn’t the case may earn Owens views, it makes it harder for victims and survivors — especially queer victims and survivors — to share their story, seek justice, and heal.