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The Student News Site of Colorado State University

The Rocky Mountain Collegian

The Student News Site of Colorado State University

The Rocky Mountain Collegian

Tusinski: The debate about classroom ‘grooming’ is just homophobia

Conservatives are using a cheap moral panic to disguise their thinly veiled homophobia, and it’s not the first time.

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Collegian | Brooke Beresford

(Graphic illustration by Brooke Beresford | The Collegian)

Dylan Tusinski, Collegian Columnist

Editor’s Note: All opinion section content reflects the views of the individual author only and does not represent a stance taken by The Collegian or its editorial board.

You’ve almost certainly heard of the controversial Parental Rights in Education bill that was recently signed into law in Florida. The bill has been dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill by its opponents due to the fact it restricts discussion of LGBTQ+ topics like gender and sexuality in schools — particularly in kindergarten through third grade.

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The bill’s supporters have made a myriad of homophobic defenses of the legislation, but one of the most prominently — and flagrantly — homophobic arguments is the bill prevents elementary schoolers from being “groomed” by LGBTQ+ teachers and the community.

For those who don’t know, according to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, a nonprofit that seeks to end sexual abuse and assault nationwide, grooming is defined as “manipulative behaviors that the abuser uses to gain access to a potential victim, coerce them to agree to the abuse and reduce the risk of being caught.”

Grooming is disgusting and so are the people who utilize it to abuse children. There are no two ways about it. Unfortunately, misunderstanding this term has enabled supporters of the bill nationwide to weaponize it in order to target LGBTQ+ people of all ages.

“Since the bill’s introduction to the state legislature, there’s been a dramatic increase in homophobic legislation nationwide, a spike in online harassment of the LGBTQ+ community and an even further widespread cultural embrace of homophobia.”

Laura Ingraham, one of Fox News’ most recognizable white supremacist sympathizers, recently took to the airwaves claiming Democrats against the bill are engaging in an effort to turn schools into “grooming centers” by using “sexual brainwashing.”

No, I didn’t make that up. And no, it obviously isn’t true. Conservatives and supporters of the bill are misconstruing the acknowledgment of LGBTQ+ existence as some sort of embrace of child abuse. It’s a tactic that’s been used before, mainly in the 1970-80s, in an attempt to cause moral panic around issues of queer representation and protection.

Even though the “Don’t Say Gay” bill has been mostly restricted to Florida, the patently false, hateful and dangerous rhetoric used by the bill’s supporters has had nationwide ripple effects. Since the bill’s introduction to the state legislature, there’s been a dramatic increase in homophobic legislation nationwide, a spike in online harassment of the LGBTQ+ community and an even further widespread cultural embrace of homophobia.

That national wave of homophobia has begun to seep into Colorado politics too. Earlier this month, a statewide committee tasked with instituting more inclusive education policies in Colorado decided to follow in Florida’s footsteps, abruptly dropping any and all mentions of LGBTQ+ people, history or culture from its recommendations for early elementary schoolers.

“The inclusion of LGBTQ+ people, history and existence in schools isn’t child abuse. Acknowledging the fact that queer people are, in fact, real people is not grooming. Anyone who claims the opposite is using a cheap, dated moral panic to disguise their not-so-subtle homophobia.”

The policy seems to contradict the mission of the committee and mirrors the language of Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill almost exactly. The only saving grace, though, is the committee is more or less powerless to enforce its recommendations, at least on a statewide level.

Legislation aside, Colorado is weathering the homophobic culture shift too. Despite being the nation’s first openly gay male governor, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis has had to endure a barrage of homophobia during his political career.

While campaigning for the governorship a few short years ago, Polis was targeted with a series of homophobic bumper stickers that popped up across the state. Public comments surrounding the aforementioned Colorado Department of Education committee included a flurry of homophobia directed at Polis, blaming his sexuality for the inclusion of LGBTQ+ topics in schools.

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Even though homophobia never truly left U.S. culture, it’s experiencing its greatest resurgence in decades. The recent wave of legislation and outright homophobia is — at least in part — being fueled by the moral panic around “grooming.”

That being said, the fact of the matter is this: The inclusion of LGBTQ+ people, history and existence in schools isn’t child abuse. Acknowledging the fact that queer people are, in fact, real people is not grooming. Anyone who claims the opposite is using a cheap, dated moral panic to disguise their not-so-subtle homophobia.

Reach Dylan Tusinski at letters@collegian.com or on Twitter @unwashedtiedye.

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