Say It Ain't So

“Grooming” Is Now an Alarmingly Common Anti-LGBTQ Slur, Thanks to the “Don’t Say Gay” Bill

· Updated on March 23, 2023

With Florida’s introduction of the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, the GOP has adopted a strategy to equate the basic acknowledgment of LGBTQ people with grooming children for pedophila. The consequences of such a characterization were always predictable enough, but now there is hard data that demonstrates the harm. A new report has found that the term “grooming” has exploded as an anti-LGBTQ slur, with its usage rising as high as 400% on social media.

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The joint report was conducted by the Human Rights Campaign and the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH). Researchers used BrandWatch to examine tweets between January 1, 2022 and July 27, 2022 and paired LGBTQ search terms with slurs like “groomer,” “predator,” and “pedophile.” For context, “Don’t Say Gay” was introduced in late January of this year and passed on March 28.

The report found that in the month following the bill’s passage, usage of the aforementioned slurs rose 406%. The main drivers of this anti-LGBTQ rhetoric came from a handful of right-wing influencers, most notably Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’s press secretary Christina Pushaw, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, Rep. Lauren Boebert, and Libs of TikTok founder Chaya Raicheck. Posts from these accounts generated the highest volume of impressions, receiving more than 48 million views between them. The top performing tweets were viewed more than 70 million times.

Twitter updated its community policies on July 21, 2022 to state that referring to queer people as “groomers” is considered hate speech. However, the report found that Twitter failed to take action against 99% of the reported tweets. This is especially troubling given that Twitter’s announcement created a retaliatory spike in the slur’s usage, a weekly average of around 8,000 tweets.

Not only did social media giants fail to enforce their own policies, the report also found that these companies profited from what they themselves have identified as hate speech. Meta accepted $24,987 in anti-LGBTQ ads that mention grooming after updating their policies on July 20, 2022. These ads were shown to users on Facebook and Instagram over 2.1 million times.

The report reinforces the results of GLAAD’s recent Social Media Safety Index. In that audit, all of the major social media companies scored below 50% on the safety of their digital environments for LGBTQ users, despite their stated policies. Similarly, the Anti-Defamation League conducted a survey of LGBTQ+ social media users, with 66% of respondents reporting that they had experienced harassment online.

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“The rise of this online vitriol doesn’t just have political implications — there are deadly, real world consequences as violent rhetoric leads to stigma, radicalization, and ultimately violence,” said HRC interim President Joni Madison in a press release. “Nearly one-in-five of any type of hate crime is now motivated by anti-LGBTQ+ bias, and the last two years have been the deadliest for transgender people, particularly Black transgender women.”

“The clear message from social media giants is that they are willing to turn a blind eye,” added CCDH CEO Imran Ahmed. “LGTBQ rights have been transformed after decades of hard-won progress, but progress is fragile unless you continue to defend it.”

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