Opinion | The groomer moral panic has fatal consequences


Image via Wikimedia Commons, by user Coastal Elite

A memorial in Montréal for the victims of Orlando’s Pulse nightclub shooting in 2016.

By Grant Van Robays, Staff Columnist

A 19-year-old gunman opened fire outside of a LGBTQ+ bar in Bratislava, Slovakia’s capital city, on the evening of Oct. 12. The shooter killed two people and wounded a third before leaving the scene. Local police found him the next morning dead from an apparent suicide. 

It’s easy for us as Americans to look at this tragedy and think that this act of terror has no connection to us. We have our own daily mass shootings to worry about, too, so why should we care about this seemingly random crime halfway across the world?

This line of thinking is agreeable because it gives us a pass to not think about our potential culpability for crimes abroad. 

Peeling back the curtain on this anti-LGBTQ+ shooting and the perpetrator reveals that we don’t deserve such a pass. In fact, this shooting reminds us that our rhetoric at home has real world, even fatal, consequences. The perverse and misguided moral panic over so-called LGBTQ+ friendly “groomers” and its relation to the Slovakia shooting crystalizes these consequences. 

The shooter made his ideology quite clear in his manifesto and his social media footprint. He was a hardcore white supremacist with deep-seated Islamophobia, antisemitism and homophobia. He idolized the white supremacist terrorists responsible for Christchurch, El Paso, Charleston and Buffalo shootings. He believed a “Zionist Occupied Government” run secretly by Jewish people controlled and corrupted every major world institution. Per the shooter’s perspective, this alleged cabal includes the media, immigrants, COVID-19 vaccine providers, “race mixers’‘ and the LGBTQ+ community. 

Unsurprisingly, he promotes another white supremcamist mainstay — the Great Replacement Theory. This perverse theory, a personal favorite of Tucker Carlson and inspiration for the Tree of Life synagogue shooter, contends that shadowy elites are covertly trying to replace warm-blooded white Americans through immigration and other liberal policies. 

In short, the shooter’s statement of beliefs reads like most of the racist ramblings of those who came before him. What’s unique, though, is his explicit mention of groomers and LGBTQ+ hatred. 

The groomer moral panic is unavoidable in present-day American society. This moral panic involves the association of gay and transgender indivduals, as well as their allies, with so-called “groomers” intent on coercing children into sex. States have passed a wave a legislation restricting or banning conversations about sexuality and gender identity in schools and have banned transgender students from participating in school sports

The common rationale behind such discriminatory laws is that they supposedly protect children from groomers. The theory is that people who allow children to express their sexual or gender identity are enabling the sexual abuse of such children. Under this line of reasoning, parents and teachers who are allies of the LGBTQ+ community are all pedophiles or pedophile-enablers. Fox News anchors, far-right politicians and their extreme constituents stoke the flames of this panic even though it is an outright lie. 

There is no evidence that members of the LGBTQ+ community molest or abuse children at higher rates than non-LGBTQ+ people. Accusations of grooming is just a falsehood that bigots use to demonize the community and resist equal rights for LGBTQ+ people. The groomer panic doesn’t make rational sense, either. If a teacher provides a lesson on gender identity or sexuality, this doesn’t make them a pedophile or member of a secret sex cult that preys on children. Yet accusations of grooming lump all such teachers or LGBTQ+ allies into this category of pedophilia. 

This irrationality is no surprise. Moral panics aren’t based on rationality. They are based on hysteria, fear and, well, panic. But this panic has severe consequences that right wing pundits and politicians seem to not care or think about. 

Targeting anyone or any organization that supports gender affirming care or education about sexual identity is becoming a dangerous trend. Online spaces have seen a spike in violent rhetoric and threats against specific teachers, Disney employees and lawmakers. Employees at Boston Children’s Hospital faced a torrent of threats and harassment after right wing social media accounts doxxed staffers who treat transgender patients. 

In Connecticut, a school nurse revealed information online about an LGBTQ+ student who she claimed was on puberty blockers. Conservative news outlets misreported that the school provided puberty blockers without parental consent, but the violent forums were already aflame. One user said that the judicial system needs to execute the superintendent. Another said the groomers at this school should go “straight to the woodchipper.”

The false narrative that people enabling children to live their lives and be their true selves are grooming them to be sex slaves is abjectly reckless. Further, it’s preventing people from doing their jobs and is putting their life in serious danger. The assertion from the above user, that nothing will change until there are body bags, is a clear foreshadow of what happened in Slovakia. 

Perhaps it’s unfair to fully blame the Slovakian terror attack against the LGBTQ+ community on American pundits who spread the bogus groomer panic. The shooter already held deeply antisemitic and white supremacist beliefs and was predisposed to anti-gay attitudes in his own country, which still has laws against gay marriage

A few years ago, Slovakian bishops turned heads when they publicly declared gender and sexual equality as a “culture of death.” Conservative Slovakian politicians have also been called out for stoking anti-LGBTQ+ panic in the wake of the Oct. 12 shooting. The mass shooting is a reflection of the anti-LGBTQ+ culture in Slovakia as well as the worldwide spread of the far-right hysteria over sexual and gender equality. 

Americans need to look at the Slovakia hate crime as an omen of tragedies to come. With the surge in the U.S. of anti-gay and transgender legislation, violent online rhetoric and rise in anti-LGBTQ+ hate speech and hate crime, it’s only a matter of time before a Bratislava-type horror hits home. One could argue the 2016 Pulse nightclub massacre qualifies as a similar anti-gay terror attack, though questions remain unanswered regarding the shooter’s motives

What is clear, however, is that if we fail to cultivate a culture of equality and acceptance for all people, LGBTQ+ people in particular, we marginalize one of the most vulnerable populations in our country. This is the real culture of death for which we should be afraid. 

When we fail to provide the help and resources to LGBTQ+ youth, we don’t protect them from grooming. We only nudge them further along the path of depression, self-harm and suicidal ideation, which they already experience at higher rates than straight and cisgender kids. In reality, the groomer moral panic only hurts the children for which proponents aim to protect.

Pushing anti-gay falsehoods spreads dangerous ideas that can influence those thousands of miles away and inspire senseless violence. Our rhetoric can have fatal consequences. It’s time to stop acting like it doesn’t. 

Grant Van Robays writes primarily about international affairs, social issues and basic human rights. Write to him at [email protected].