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HELLER: The Republicans’ grooming panic is a lie

The Republican Party is re-embracing homophobia, threatening the lives of gay Americans who want to lives their lives in peace

<p>Yet despite all of this, the Republican Party is actively working to undermine gay rights over asinine fears that children are being “<a href="https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/why-so-many-conservatives-are-talking-about-grooming-all-of-a-sudden/"><u>groomed</u></a>” to become gay.&nbsp;</p>

Yet despite all of this, the Republican Party is actively working to undermine gay rights over asinine fears that children are being “groomed” to become gay. 

For gay Americans like myself who have largely grown up after the Supreme Court’s ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges that legalized same-sex marriage, it was hard to imagine that we would ever have to live through the struggles that countless gay Americans once did. Since 2015, increasingly large majorities of Americans — and majorities of both Democrats and Republicans — have supported issues like same-sex marriage and LGBTQ nondiscrimination protections. In 2020, over three-quarters of all Americans supported equal rights for gay people in housing, work and public life. Yet despite all of this, the Republican Party is actively working to undermine gay rights over asinine fears that children are being “groomed” to become gay. 

This past March, Florida enacted the “Parental Rights in Education” bill, perhaps better recognized as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. Ostensibly, the law is designed to let parents protect their children from age-inappropriate discussions of sex and sexuality. When signing the bill into law, Governor Ron DeSantis argued the law would protect kids from “indoctrination.” 

Unfortunately, the vague wording of the law opens the door for lawsuits against teachers for even mentioning gay people in the most banal of ways — such as by sharing a story featuring a gay couple. With no definitions in the legal text, there is nothing to stop parents from suing teachers who even incorporate LGBTQ issues into a sex education class — which is a public health duty schools should fulfill. The law also encourages schools to “out” gay students to their parents, which potentially exposes them to abuse if they live in unaccepting homes. In some cases, gay Florida educators are quitting their jobs out of fear that they could run afoul of the law by merely mentioning in class that they are in a same-sex relationship. 

Disgusting pieces of legislation such as this are not isolated to Florida, and over a dozen Republican-led states are in the process of implementing similar laws. Some states are going even further than just restricting the ability of teachers to discuss issues of sexual orientation in the classroom. Missouri is on the cusp of banning sexual diversity training, Oklahoma would ban books that discuss LGBTQ issues and a bill in Tennessee could potentially ban any material that “normalizes” or “supports” an LGBTQ lifestyle. 

In some instances, Republicans are going even further and working to roll back civil rights for gay people that have already been affirmed by the courts. Recent uproar emerged with a proposed bill in Tennessee that would undermine the ability of people to enter into same-sex marriages by defining marriage at the state level to be between one man and one woman. Other laws are being passed which enable publicly-funded adoption agencies to refuse services to same-sex couples — effectively banning those who cannot afford a surrogate parent or sperm donor from starting a family. 

All of these measures constitute clear examples of government overreach. States are trying to dictate how gay Americans choose to live their lives and raise their families. In the process, their right to privacy is being disregarded and they are denied the legal protections that heterosexual people receive. Some Republicans justify these measures by outright denying that gay people are entitled to civil rights because their sexuality is not an identity — an outlandish claim given the fact that no one chooses to be gay, nor can anyone truly change their sexuality. 

Other Republicans, however, deny having an anti-gay agenda and frame their policies as protecting their children from being coaxed into a sexual orientation without the knowledge of their parents — or as they call it, being “groomed.” This term alludes to child sex trafficking and pedophelia and projects the connotation that these laws protect kids — when in reality these laws just attack the rights of gay Americans and marginalize gay students. The anti-gay laws being enacted by Republicans do nothing to keep pedophiles out of the classroom — they just make it impossible for gay kids to feel supported coming out as an identity that they have no choice over. 

Yet unhinged concerns by Republicans over “grooming” are real cause for alarm, as they have permeated our politics to redefine what was finally becoming a largely settled issue of gay rights with one that completely obscures what is really going on. The rights of gay Americans are coming under fire, and Republicans are levying false attacks on gay people that bring about real danger to their lives. After all, if someone whose media diet consists solely of right-wing outlets truly believes that schools are turning their kids gay, they will take extreme measures to stop it — potentially risking the lives of the gay Americans who come into their crossfire. 

This is not hyperbole. The Republican base — influenced by the ludicrous QAnon conspiracy theory many have come to embrace — now believe there to be pedophiles supported by liberal policymakers. Ridiculous beliefs like this have already encouraged one shooting — I fear they may now lead to a literal assault on the lives of LGBTQ people. 

Gay people in America want just one thing — to live their lives and raise their families just like anyone else. No one wants special treatment, just a government that respects our right to privacy and to openly embrace our identity rather than be forced to live under the moral dictates of another. Republicans in office must respect that and cannot be allowed to continue down this path of homophobia and obtrusion. 

Matt Heller is an Opinion Writer for The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at opinion@cavalierdaily.com.

The opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Cavalier Daily. Columns represent the views of the authors alone.

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