'Homophobes' are doing battle with 'groomers' in the latest culture war
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.