Join GLAAD and take action for acceptance.

    2024 Social Media Safety Index

    Anti-LGBTQ Online Hate Tropes and Connections to Offline Harm

    In November 2022, a gunman opened fire at Club Q, an LGBTQ nightclub in Colorado Springs, Colorado killing five and wounding 19. In the year following this horrific attack, more than 700 anti-LGBTQ incidents of hate and extremism in the US were counted. This includes acts of harassment, like bomb threats and protests; acts of vandalism, like graffiti and arson; and acts of physical assault. These incidents do not occur inside a vacuum — instead, they are driven by an ecosystem of anti-LGBTQ hate and extremism running rampant across social media platforms.

    Amidst this hateful rhetoric, our research and reporting over this past year has identified and explored three prominent anti-LGBTQ tropes and the real-world harm they have inspired.

    False Allegations of Pedophilia / Grooming Behaviors

    The first prevalent anti-LGBTQ trope pertains to false allegations of “pedophilia” and “grooming” used to demonize the LGBTQ community writ large. While grooming behaviors are a very real danger to young children, it is patently false to apply this dangerous label to the LGBTQ community as a whole. The people and accounts spreading this narrative claim that LGBTQ adults are preying on kids simply because they discuss issues related to sexual orientation and gender identity, or live authentically in their own non-cisgender and/or non-straight identities. Content that has been falsely labeled as “grooming” by anti-LGBTQ extremists include cases like a queer couple kissing on TV, showcasing trans athletes in sports, and offering school lesson plans that are LGBTQ-inclusive. Despite the fact that these actions are in no way related to or inviting of the sexual abuse of minors, the terms “groomers” and “pedophiles” are being used as slurs for LGBTQ people overall — and inciting acts of violence.

    According to a June 2023 report, approximately 40% of anti-LGBTQ incidents tracked over an 11-month period specifically targeted drag shows and drag performers. The vast majority of these same incidents perpetuated the false “grooming” allegations, including claims that drag queens are attempting to sexualize children.

    Extremist groups like Blood Tribe, Patriot Front, and the Proud Boys routinely protest drag shows across the country, where they call event-goers “pedos [pedophiles]” and hold signs with slogans like “Groom dogs, not kids.” In one particularly egregious case in March 2023, an individual associated with the white supremacist “White Lives Matter” network attempted to firebomb a church in Chesterland, Ohio to stop an upcoming drag show, claiming the act was to “save the children.”

    “Gender Ideology,” “Transgenderism,” and False Allegations of Indoctrination

    Another prominent anti-LGBTQ trope includes the use of anti-trans buzzwords like “gender ideology” and “transgenderism” to claim that the LGBTQ+ community and its allies aim to indoctrinate or brainwash kids into identifying as transgender. By comparing one’s gender identity to a political ideology, anti-LGBTQ influencers are attempting to skirt content moderation policies and counter critics by claiming they are targeting a belief system, rather than a specific group of people.

    These false allegations of “indoctrination” often target specific school districts and educators that offer support to their LGBTQ students. Teachers who, for example, sponsor Gender & Sexuality Alliance (GSA) clubs, place Pride flags on bulletin boards, or include LGBTQ history lessons frequently face claims of “brainwashing” students with a “trans agenda.” Regardless of the fact that LGBTQ identities are inherent to each person and are not something that kids can be coerced into, anti-LGBTQ extremists have latched onto these claims to justify violence against supportive school districts.

    In the above-mentioned June 2023 report, approximately 10% of all anti-LGBTQ incidents nationwide targeted schools and universities. In many of these incidents, researchers observed individuals repeating these same false tropes regarding “indoctrination” and pushing “gender ideology,” including in the dozens of documented protests outside schools and school board meetings. Similarly, a USA Today report found that at least 12 separate schools, school districts, and teachers have been targeted with bomb threats following online targeting by the anti-LGBTQ extremist account Libs of TikTok via Meta and X (note that the account was permanently banned from TikTok in 2021).

    False and Misleading Allegations Targeting Gender-Affirming Care

    Researchers have also tracked false and misleading allegations around gender-affirming care, which is a type of healthcare that supports transgender and gender non-conforming youth and adults. Gender-affirming care is supported by every major medical association and includes an array of services, from surgical and pharmaceutical treatment to mental health and physical healthcare.

    Anti-LGBTQ influencers, however, continue to spread dangerous and misleading information regarding gender-affirming care online. Many of these conversations are centered on the false claims that this care amounts to the “castration,” “sterilization” and/or “mutilation” of children. The sensationalized word choice in these tropes is designed to elicit a strong reaction from parents and guardians of young kids — and also potentially inspires violence against healthcare providers who are characterized as perpetrating this perceived harm.

    The June 2023 report found that approximately 6% of all anti-LGBTQ incidents nationwide specifically focused on healthcare facilities and providers, the vast majority of which were targeted due to their provision of gender-affirming care. The resulting incidents include numerous cases of bomb threats against hospital facilities, such as the spree of bomb threats targeting Boston Children’s Hospital, as well as doxxing and death threats targeting individual medical providers.

    As this research demonstrates, perpetrators of hate and extremism incidents are frequently inspired by the false and sensationalized tropes circulating on social media platforms that are seeded and amplified by anti-LGBTQ influencers. It is imperative that we understand the connection between online hate and offline harm to better protect the safety and rights of LGBTQ people; LGBTQ people should not have to live in fear of such hate-fueled violence.

    More Publications from GLAAD

    stay tuned!