From the last federal election to American policies creeping north, the trope of 2SLGBTQ+ persons targeting children continues to permeate the worst spaces online.
“OK Groomer”: Hate Tropes Fueling Opposition to 2SLGBTQ+ Rights in Canada
Canadian Anti-Hate Network
Amidst a renewed moral panic, laws and bills prohibiting teachers from discussing sexuality and gender issues with young students have been passed in several US states. Meanwhile, the opponents of this legislation are being labelled as “groomers” and “pro-pedophile” by anti-2SLGBTQ+ activists.
This debate is seeping into Canada’s political discourse, thanks in part to far-right media outlets keen on importing American culture war items for clicks.
Tropes accusing 2SLGBTQ+ people of posing a risk to young people, however, are by no means new.
During the 2021 Canadian federal election, Maxime Bernier made protecting women and children from the “predatory doctors” and “radical trans activists” part of the People’s Party platform.
Other versions of these tropes have also been vehiculated by hateful actors online for years, remaining one of the most prominent tropes in Canadian online hate.
Dozens of memes leaked from a Discord server used by supporters of the white nationalist Canada First movement depict 2SLGBTQ+ individuals as potential abusers. Transgender women, particularly, are depicted as predators whose only motivation for transitioning is to access women’s spaces in order to victimize young girls.
One such meme shows a depiction of Spongebob Squarepants character Squidward, looking dishevelled and sporting brittle, long hair. Above the image, white text reads, “Please let me in the girl’s bathroom. I am a real women (sic) and can be trusted with female minors.”
Anti-transgender meme found on the Canada First Discord server.
Content depicting 2SLGBTQ+ individuals as abusers is not limited to private online spaces associated with extremism and can be found on all major social media platforms. One video originally published by ex-PPC candidate Greg Wycliffe on TikTok and reshared on Twitter shows him arguing that terms like “LGBTQ youth” and “trans youth” are “pedophile dog whistles'' used to mark young people for grooming.
Though transgender women are the most frequent target of these tropes, gay men are also a target, particularly in the context of discussions regarding gay couples’ right to adopt children.
One meme, published by a Canadian white nationalist account on Instagram, calls out those who oppose slavery but also celebrated US secretary of transportation Pete Buttigieg adopting a child, likening the former to the latter.
Homophobic meme found on a Canadian white nationalist Instagram account,
boasting over 1.6K followers at the time the picture was retrieved.
These depictions of 2SLGBTQ+ individuals as predators are most evident in memes that present civil rights achievements as part of a slippery slope leading to the normalization of pedophilia, which is perceived by some hate peddlers are the ultimate aim of the so-called “LGBT agenda.”
Meme found on a Calgarian Instagram page affiliated to the Rightwingism community.
In some cases, the role of some theorists in “inventing” gender theory, for example, is overemphasized to create the impression that concepts like the separation of gender and sex were fabricated by individuals seeking to harm children.
These conspiracy theories often take an antisemitic bent, with many targeting Jewish sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld, credited as a pioneering advocate for gay and transgender rights. The Berlin Institut für Sexualwissenschaft (Institute for Sexology), which he ran from 1919 to 1933, was shut down following Adolf Hitler’s rise to power, and the contents of its library were burned.
Meme found in a neo-Nazi Telegram chat room.
Memes referencing these antisemitic and anti-2SLGBTQ+ tropes typically blame Jews for “creating” transgender identities as a means of weakening Western societies. This is not dissimilar to antisemitic interpretations of the Great Replacement conspiracy theory, according to which Jews use immigration as a means of replacing white populations.
The “Bathrooms Bills” That Weren’t
Far from being limited to social media, these tropes often shape the way 2SLGBTQ+ issues are discussed in Canada.
Negative depictions of early advocates for the recognition of 2SLGBTQ+ identities, for example, mirror ongoing attacks against professionals who provide affirming care. This is most notable in the depiction of so-called “puberty blockers” as a form of medical child abuse.
Anti-transgender activist Chris Elston (right). Source: Twitter.
During the 2018 Ontario provincial elections, social conservatives also sought to discredit the provinces’ sexual education curriculum, by alleging that it was drafted by a convicted pedophile. Though there was no substance to these claims, the curriculum was then scrapped by the Ford government, who had described it as “teaching Liberal ideology.”
The effects of these tropes can even be felt in the debates around landmark civil rights bills in the House of Commons.
Opponents of Bill C-4, a law banning the abusive practice of conversion therapy in Canada, argued the ban would directly harm children. In an op-ed published on the organization’s site following the bill’s passing, Jack Fonseca of the ultra-conservative Campaign Life Coalition wrote of a fictitious scenario in which the parents of a six-year-old child are sentenced to five years in prison after their child is “indoctrinated” by his progressive teacher through “gender identity lessons.”
“Bill C-4 will make it illegal for mothers and fathers to prevent their underage daughters from taking puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones,” wrote Fonseca.
Nonetheless, Bill C-4 received royal assent on December 8, 2021.
Too often, however, concerns rooted in the belief that 2SLGBTQ+ individuals pose a danger to others have been used to derail or stall landmark legislation.
In the lead up to its passage, Bill C-16, which added gender identity and expression as protected grounds in the Human Rights Act and the criminal code, came to be instead a focus on transgender people’s access to bathrooms in Canadian media, despite there being no mention of washrooms in its text. This framing plays off fears that dishonest cisgender men could pass themselves off as transgender to access women’s private spaces, like washrooms.
These misrepresentations of the law’s intent, peddled by individuals like Lindsay Shepherd and Jordan Peterson, quickly caught the attention of lawmakers. Some Conservative politicians, including Member of Parliament Cathay Wagantall and Senator Lynn Beyak, cited these concerns in speeches outlining their reasoning for opposing the bill.
“This will allow men to go into women’s change rooms and bathrooms across the country,” said Beyak in 2017.
Shepherd and Peterson would also be invited to the House of Commons and the Senate respectively to testify in opposition of Bill C-16.
Bill C-16 did eventually become law, unlike previous versions of the bill, presented by NDP MPs Bill Siksay and Randall Garrison, failed after being stalled by voting procedures, attempts to gut the bill, and last-minute amendments to address transphobic concerns.
Harmful myths about the law continue to frame public discussions of 2SLGBTQ+ rights.
After a father objecting to his child’s gender transition was jailed for six months for violating a publication ban intending to protect the child’s privacy during a trial, politicians like Derek Sloan and outlets like The Post Millennial promoted the idea that aspects of Bill C-16 led to the sentence.
In spite of the fact that the individual in question exposed their child’s private and medical information, he was repeatedly praised in right-wing media for “protecting” them.
“We watch this case develop with interest,” Post Millennial wrote in an article on the case in March 2021, “and hope that his arrest and imprisonment may precipitate a watershed moment in calling national attention to the atrocity of pediatric transitioning.”