by Mary Harrington
Thursday, 7
April 2022
Analysis
11:45

The war of words over the ‘Don’t say Gay’ bill

'Homophobes' are doing battle with 'groomers' in the latest culture war
by Mary Harrington
The Tampa Pride was held in the wake of the passage of Florida’s controversial “Don’t Say Gay” Bill. (Photo by Octavio Jones/Getty Images)

Culture wars are fought both linguistically and institutionally. A March bill passed in Florida limits what school teachers are permitted to convey to very young children about sex — and particularly same-sex relations — and it has led to a new war of words, this time between ‘homophobe’ and ‘groomer.’

The bill prohibits discussion of ‘sexual orientation’ or ‘gender identity’ in the youngest classes, from kindergarten (UK Reception, age 5) through to grade 3 (UK year 3, or about 7-8 years old), and specifies that subsequent references must be “age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards”. It also grants parents the power to sue a school if they believe this isn’t being enforced.

The bill also bans school pastoral teams from withholding information from parents about a pupil’s “mental, emotional, or physical health or well-being”, meaning if a pupil came out as gay or transgender at school, staff would be obliged to inform parents.

It’s been dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill by progressives, who argue that it leaves gay or trans schoolchildren at risk of intensified classroom bullying and teachers obliged to ‘out’ kids even to prejudiced or abusive parents.

Condemnatory naming can be powerful, and ‘Don’t Say Gay’ has echoes of the derisive ‘dementia tax’ that Labour used to scupper Theresa May’s short-lived, valiant attempt to grasp the nettle of intergenerational housing justice.

Unlike Theresa May, though, who was hopelessly wrong-footed by this tactic, the Florida bill’s proponents are fighting back linguistically as well as legislatively. Their weapon of choice is the word ‘groomer’, now applied with (sorry) gay abandon to any progressive arguing that teachers should be allowed to talk about sex with children and withhold that information from parents.

It’s an effective tool. It’s as unfair as traducing anyone who favours any controls whatsoever on immigration as ‘racist’. And, like that accusation, sometimes it contains a grain of truth: many of the leading lights in the contemporary progressive pantheon, such as Michel Foucault, famously defended (and enjoyed) sexual contact with children. Despite the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ framing, the bill has passed and copycat bills are in the works in Ohio and Texas too.

Meanwhile, in the UK, alarums and excursions are also afoot on sex, gender and children. Boris Johnson recently declared himself unconvinced that children are ‘Gillick competent’ to make irreversible medical choices based on transgender identity. Accordingly, he has opted to proceed with a ban on gay but not trans conversion therapy.

Along with many other businesses, Florida’s flagship firm Disney has come out against the education bill, prompting counterattacks from Republicans. Johnson has also faced backlash: more than 100 institutions pulled out of ‘Safe To Be Me’, a proposed summer LGBT conference, causing it to be cancelled.

As this battle rages, we can expect the accusations to be as crude as the issues are complex. ‘Groomer’ now wages war against ‘bigot’ and ‘homophobe’. Time will tell who is able to defend their corner more effectively, either in the discourse or the institutional trench warfare that has increasingly replaced democracy. (My money’s on a long and ugly fight but an eventual victory for parents, who at the last count just care more.)

Either way, having identified a weapon that works, we can expect to hear a great deal more accusations of ‘grooming’ against the March of Progress, from those who wish to keep their children innocent. Or, indeed, who wish to keep their children full stop.

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Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
4 months ago

“Bigot” is actually one of the words I use to describe the woke, since it is they rather than we who cannot tolerate disagreement.

Last edited 4 months ago by Drahcir Nevarc
Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
4 months ago
Reply to  Drahcir Nevarc

Hear hear!

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
4 months ago
Reply to  Drahcir Nevarc

Yeah but ‘groomer’ is much more insidious and personal – genius!

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
4 months ago
Reply to  Ian Stewart

Oh, I agree!

Warren T
Warren T
4 months ago

What happened in Florida, and what continues to happen in places all over the U.S. is the perfect example of democracy at work. People elect representatives who legislate on behalf of the views of the voters. People also have right to protest those views.
Subverting the will of the people, or kowtowing to a small, vocal minority is the opposite of democracy.

Lennon Ó Náraigh
Lennon Ó Náraigh
4 months ago

“Homophobe” and “Bigot” versus “Groomer”. It really is a lingusitic arms race. However, it looks like the clunky, inaccurate-firing main battle tank (“Bigot”) has just met its Javelin.

nickcroft99
nickcroft99
4 months ago

I do like a tank-related metaphor.

Gunner Myrtle
Gunner Myrtle
4 months ago

It isn’t a level playing field – of course social media platforms are now banning the use of the word groomer.

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
4 months ago

And the family’s MotherNLaw.

Helen E
Helen E
4 months ago

Not to cavil, but the bill doesn’t prohibit discussion, it prohibits “classroom instruction,” in grades K-3 (ages 5-8). It doesn’t prohibit those kids from talking about their families, for heaven’s sake.

Samir Iker
Samir Iker
4 months ago
Reply to  Helen E

Thats why there is a false equivalence here.
Those in favour of this bill are mostly not “homophobic” and perfectly tolerant of gays.
Lefty groomers, on the other hand, are exactly that. They know what they are doing, which is targeting very young children, and amounts to child abuse and indoctrination.

Francis MacGabhann
Francis MacGabhann
4 months ago

I’m sorry, but if someone is teaching children that age about trans-ideology at all, they’re grooming them. It doesn’t matter that this is not what they’re intending to do, it’s what they’re going to end up doing, however inadvertently. It’s a case of “monkey see, monkey do”. We don’t let children sign legal contracts for a good reason — their minds haven’t developed to the point where they can give informed consent. Why would we burden such minds with concepts like trans?
As for the gay issue, I would hold that this shouldn’t be discussed with them either, but then, I don’t believe there is such a thing as a gay identity. I did believe it, for most of my life, right into my fifties, but that was because that’s what the culture was telling me, and I didn’t care enough to challenge it. What changed it for me was gay “marriage”. As far as I was concerned, that put homosexuality on the same plane as trans, ie, it was telling me that black is white and up is down, and I’m not having it. In response, I developed a four question test for any gay person who cares to take it.
1 — Are you mentally and emotionally capable of developing genuine love for a person of the opposite sex;
2 — Are you physically capable of having sexual relations with such a person;
3 — Are you capable of producing a child with this putative person, and;
4 — If you did produce such a child, would you love them as much as any other parent loves their child?
If the answer to all four questions is “yes”, then the fifth question is, where is this gay identity? Because you’ve just felt and done everything the majority orientation feels and does, which leads me to conclude that what you’re actually doing is indulging an appetite, the same way some men like older women and some women like rugged, rough-cut men, and we don’t count either of these things as an identity.
Come and git me.

Last edited 4 months ago by Francis MacGabhann
Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
4 months ago

Francis, you need a much simpler one-part question ‘are you primarily attracted to people of the opposite, or the same sex?’

As to ‘physically capable’ – I’m a gay man and don’t really know, but it sounds a pretty cold approach from someone advocating traditional morality – can the man maintain an erection throughout sex, and (probably thinking about something else) manage to impregnate a woman? How loving that sounds. I could also, perhaps impertinently, ask, are you capable of making love to a woman you don’t find physically attractive?

I have recently met several men, who essentially knew they were homosexual / gay, marrying because they wanted children and the idea of living in exactly the traditional heterosexual relationships you support. (Who knew that was such a phenomenon in 2022?) The wives involved in the eventual (inevitable?) messy break ups aren’t generally all that impressed at having lived – and told – a lie for several decades. I don’t want to be unkind to the men involved, they were younger when they married, I don’t know all the individual circumstances etc. However we could even describe the phenomenon as one manifestation of ‘male privilege!’ (‘I’ want to have children, never mind the downstream consequences).

Sexuality is complicated and we don’t have a full understanding of it. It is associated with all of lust, passion and companiate love.

Last edited 4 months ago by Andrew Fisher
Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
4 months ago

Ah Francis you’ve got me thinking again about this. Unlike Andrew, who seems to be in the obsessive ‘pursuit of happiness’ camp whereas I’m more in the life is to be tolerated camp (due to spouse serious lifelong illness), I appreciate the attitudes of previous centuries where sacrifice accompanied happiness.

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
4 months ago

I don’t mind gay marriage. It just seems to me like gay people adopting mainstream conservative values, which is a good thing as far I’m concerned.

Last edited 4 months ago by Drahcir Nevarc
Michael J
Michael J
4 months ago

The Twitter account Libs of Tiktok has done a great job of highlighting the attitudes of teachers and their teaching materials. There’s some shocking stuff that’s been exposed eg Christopher Rufo exposed the sexy summer camp in Kentucky where toddlers are encouraged to masterbate.

I don’t know what other word other than grooming you could use to describe it.

N Forster
N Forster
4 months ago

In Canada, new anti conversion therapy laws have already been used against parents who wish for their “gender confused” children to spend time in therapy rather than going straight onto puberty blockers.
What I find fascinating is the tin the last few years all over the developed world, near identical laws and policy spring up at around the same time. Certainly in regards to gay rights, now trans rights, and certainly in response to the pandemic.
It does seem those promoting these ideas are well organised and funded.

Jill Abigail
Jill Abigail
4 months ago
Reply to  N Forster

The funding trail of trans activists is well documented. Just Google Jennifer Bilek and you’ll find excellent analysis.

John Aronsson
John Aronsson
4 months ago
Reply to  N Forster

The well funded Human Rights Campaign is closely connected with the Democratic National Party and has been deeply involved in the current trans offensive.

Martin Smith
Martin Smith
4 months ago

I don’t understand this business about ‘conversion’ therapy. Haven’t we moved beyond the Freudian idea of homosexuality as a neurosis? If on the other hand I’m not happy with my sexual inclinations why am I not at liberty to seek therapeutic assistance in trying to change them?

Warren T
Warren T
4 months ago
Reply to  Martin Smith

They are referring to the physical conversion of one’s gender. As in a teenage girl who wants to start taking male hormones to become more masculine. Or a boy who wants to remove his “organs” and grow breasts by taking female hormones. I would hope someone receives therapy before taking those extreme measures.

Lindsay Snoman
Lindsay Snoman
4 months ago
Reply to  Martin Smith

Trans activists consider talking therapies to be a form of conversion therapy and so if they’re banned then the only treatment left for the gender confused would be hormone and surgical.

Samir Iker
Samir Iker
4 months ago
Reply to  Martin Smith

The idea is that homosexuality is entirely genetic, fundamental and unchangeable.
By the same people who also claim gender, despite chromosome, biology, body parts,is just an “identity” that you can change on a whim.

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
4 months ago
Reply to  Samir Iker

Good point. I don’t know whether homosexuality is fundamentally innate or not; however for the majority of gay men at least it certainly feels like it is. I knew I was attracted to boys in some way – and not girls – from well before puberty. I also posted a reply comment above about the dangers of ‘passing as straight’.

Samir Iker
Samir Iker
4 months ago
Reply to  Andrew Fisher

Honestly I don’t know why homosexuality needs to be genetic to be “acceptable.”

Even if its just a choice, it should be perfectly fine. Your life, you decide, doesn’t affect me.

The issue is when homosexuality is used as a Trojan horse for stuff like introducing sex related discussions to 5 year olds. Wouldn’t accept that from a straight teacher, so why is it ok from a gay teacher?

Martin Smith
Martin Smith
4 months ago
Reply to  Samir Iker

Quite, it’s just part of the spectrum of normal sexual behaviour.

Martin Smith
Martin Smith
4 months ago
Reply to  Andrew Fisher

I know plenty of men and women who are sexually attracted to both sexes, but not always and not consistently. Are they gay, straight or bi-? Often straight men in male only environments like prison or army or school engage in homosexual activity but not when in the wider world with women available. Married sailors can be ‘gay’ at sea and ‘straight’ at home. Isn’t this either/or thing just a modern passing phase before we revert to a saner approach to sexual attraction where a person’s ldentity isn’t defined by where he sticks his ‘d**k’ or who she licks or sucks or who licks her out? Back in classical times, and probably after that too, it was quite normal for men to be married and also to have male lovers, and we’ve all heard of Sapho…

Last edited 4 months ago by Martin Smith
Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
4 months ago
Reply to  Martin Smith

I think it is mainly aimed at pseudo scientific religious conversions. My understanding is that trying to convert essentially homosexual people has always very poor outcomes. So perhaps as well as the other ethical issues, you have the issue of whether the treatment actually works, whether the person wants to be converted or not

The trans conversion issue is entirely different, because there is a lot of doubt that any stable ‘trans’ identity even exists (the concept of being born in the ‘wrong body’ makes little scientific sense).

N Forster
N Forster
4 months ago
Reply to  Andrew Fisher

The legislation may be aimed at controlling pseudo scientific religious conversions, but assume it will be used to tighten the grip of gender extremists. it already has been in Canada.
Often the idea behind their actions isn’t to change laws but to change the meaning of words within laws. So in their view (Gender mob) even questioning the lived experience of a 8 years old who wanted to change sex would be considered “conversion therapy.”

Martin Smith
Martin Smith
4 months ago
Reply to  Andrew Fisher

I see what you mean, although there’s alot of useless or even harmful mumbo jumbo about, and not just in the religious arena either. The health markets, both official and ‘alternative’ for example. Sorting the wheat from the chaff is the hard part. Perhaps in the end it must be up to individuals to chose.

michael stanwick
michael stanwick
4 months ago

Has not reddit banned the use of the word ‘groomer’?

Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
4 months ago

Not improbable. A good tactic to spike the enemies guns. No doubt we can expect to see “g*****r” on Unherd soon.

Matt Hindman
Matt Hindman
4 months ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

I’m sure you have heard the saying, “the Left can’t meme.” The Right will just get creative if and when that happens. Look at all the success they had in trying to stop something as innocuous as “let’s go Brandon!”

Kieran Saxon
Kieran Saxon
4 months ago

The utter disregard for parents and children, especially over the last 2 years, is already backfiring. Worthwhile remembering that kids will be able to vote in the future, and Mums & Dads can vote now. And it is not just the right, or even moderate conservatives that are pushing back, many on the moderate left are getting very angry at what has been going on, as we saw in Virginia.
There needs to be a reiteration of zero tolerance, not just of grooming, but for those who support or sympathise with groomers. It has rightly been an utterly taboo subject for decades, and attempts to normalise it need the strongest possible approach.

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
4 months ago

As we know homophobe means unnatural fear of single… meaningless

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
4 months ago

Fear of ‘same’…..?

Michael Askew
Michael Askew
3 months ago

It’s been dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill by progressives, who argue that it leaves gay or trans schoolchildren at risk of intensified classroom bullying….’ So some “progressives” believe that children aged 9 and under have reached an age where their sexual orientation is determined? “Groomer” is obviously unfair, but clearly pre-pubescent children should not be labelled with a sexual identity.