Gay hiking

Right-wing groomer panic and Ron DeSantis Florida’s Don’t Say Gay are disguises for homophobia


This is how my brain assembled words when I heard them thrown at me or others in the playground at my elementary school in Missouri. My mind has combined them into one word, one name. One thing you might be, like a nerd or a loser. A queerbat.

Of course, the actual insult thrown between the kids in my 1980s memories was “queer bait,” a quality one was meant to possess. I certainly didn’t understand what those words actually meant, and I doubt most young children who used them did either. But that’s what they meant, understood or not.

Queer bait. The kind of homosexual child predators targeted. Because that’s what we homosexuals were taught. In the schoolyard, it was implied, but in the church where I grew up, it was clearly stated. Homosexuals preyed on children. This is one of the many painful lessons it took me years to unlearn as a gay man myself. (A more recent definition of “queerbait,” where heterosexual celebrities or programs tease affinities or storylines that might appeal to LGBTQ+ fans, is an unrelated concept.)

It’s easy to look at all the progress LGBTQ+ people have made in the decades since, from open military service to marriage equality to 14 seasons of RuPaul’s Drag Race, and locate these lies about us strictly in the past. It is comforting to think that this hateful and bigoted slander has been abandoned.

Florida’s loathsome new law, the so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill signed into law by Governor Ron DeSantis earlier this week, has shattered that false comfort.

Most of the well-deserved blowback has centered either on right-wing bluster itself or on the failure of business — and especially Disney — to effectively resist its bigotry.

But the debate over the law has also once again brought the false concept of gay people ‘grooming’ children into the conservative mainstream – and is part of an insidious push to curb LGBTQ+ rights at scale. national. Similar rhetoric about protecting children from the malevolent influence of gay adults has led to a catastrophic threat to medical care for trans youth in Texas and the banning of trans athletes from competing alongside other people in their sex in Utah.

The Florida law, which supporters say is about parents’ right to choose when their children learn about gender and sexual minorities, prohibits classroom discussion at certain levels about these people. Rather than gender, it’s about whether people like me, my brothers and sisters in the LGBTQ+ community, and our families can be recognized in schools for existing.

The word its proponents have seized upon to attack those of us who oppose it is “groomer.” It was used in articles to attack Disney for its (better late than never) opposition to the bill, and by no less than DeSantis’ own spokesperson against anyone who disagreed with his boss. The Conservatives used it as a simple and seemingly infallible defense against my community.

Grooming is something sexual abusers do. It is the process by which predators insinuate themselves into the lives of their potential targets and lower their defenses against exploitation. To say that the opponents of this bill are groomers is to say that what we want is to make children more vulnerable to sexual victimization.

By seeking the language of sexual predation to be used against LGBTQ+ people and our supporters to speak out against this law, people calling us healers make it clear that the hate never really went away. The same hideous lies that informed the taunts of my childhood bullies are at hand to use today.

Of course, what we really want has nothing to do with the vicious lie we are being told. I don’t want my own young children to learn about sex, whether they’re straight, gay or otherwise, until it’s developmentally appropriate, any more than any other parent.

What I want is for them to be able to talk about both of their fathers in the same simple way that their peers with straight parents talk about their family, and for their teachers to be able to help guide those discussions if necessary. I want families like ours to appear in the books available in the classroom, so that my children and other students can see that we exist alongside them. I want children who don’t conform to others’ gender expectations to be safe and supported in their classrooms just the way they are.

I don’t want the existence of LGBTQ+ people to be erased from the classroom. It has nothing to do with grooming anyone for sexual exploitation, and it is despicable for anyone to say otherwise. But it increasingly seems that the Florida law, as part of a larger cultural panic over the myth of critical race theory and other boogeymen, reflects and invigorates the modern right.

Some of America’s most notorious homophobes used the lie that gay people keep our ranks up by recruiting children to fight gay rights measures in my lifetime. Measures to prevent homosexuals from teaching were based on this calumny. I have no doubt that people who continue to advocate and promote these views would ban my own work as an openly gay pediatrician if they had what they wanted.

Whether out of sheer cynicism or mistaken belief in a poisonous lie, those who frame their sectarian agenda as protecting children make it clear that no progress can be taken for granted. Despite all our successes in legislatures and courtrooms across the country, and all the portrayal we may see in the media, the undercurrent of hatred for us can never be given an expiration date. .

As we see all too well, if we forget the insults that have worked to hurt us before, there are people who are more than happy to remind us.