In a recent interview on “Tucker Carlson Today,” the daytime version of the Fox News host’s popular primetime program, anti-LGBTQ activist and ex-real estate agent Chaya Raichik promoted harmful disinformation with the kind of reckless abandon that masquerades as serious intellectualism.
“The LGBTQ community has become this cult … and they brainwash people to join,” said Raichik, who claimed she obtained this information from studies and “a lot of reporting” she did not cite. Referencing false accusations that children are being confused by LGBTQ adults to adopt trans or non-binary identities, she continued:
Sometimes, we try to break it down a lot and discuss why this is happening, what’s happening … And I think sometimes the simplest answer is they’re just evil. They’re bad people. They’re just evil people and they want to groom kids.
Raichik, who manages the anti-LGBTQ Twitter account Libs of TikTok, has not engaged in a constructive, fact-based conversation about gender identity or sexual orientation. She also provides other propagandists with her strategy: The best way to shut down conversation and avoid responsibility for your public remarks is to claim that engaging with facts is unnecessary and that your ideological opponents are “evil.”
According to Raichik, anything we don’t like or wish to understand can be labeled as evil, and therefore beyond the need for debate. Just say it, preferably on cable news.
Raichik is not evil, but she is still subject to moral accountability. An exploration of the Libs of TikTok Twitter feed, which boasts 1.7 million followers and has found an audience among conservative-leaning publications including the New York Post and The Federalist, reveals tired stereotypes and little interest in accurate reportage.
This has not, however, stunted the account’s growth. The page received glowing praise from podcaster Joe Rogan last August and was described this April by the Washington Post having “cement[ed] its spot in the right-wing media outrage cycle.”
In her interview with Carlson, Raichik also claimed that a representative of Ron DeSantis, the Republican governor of Florida, said she could “hide” in a guest house at the Governor’s Mansion amid an alleged harassment campaign against her. (Outreach, of course, condemns any and all attempts to harass or commit violence against another person, regardless of their views.)
In response to the proliferation of anti-LGBTQ rhetoric on social media, allow me to identify (and rebut) some of the most common arguments made by the Libs of TikTok account.
Claim: LGBTQ people are “groomers” and child predators.
This is the main argument of Raichik’s account: The LGBTQ community seeks to corrupt children and “recruit” them as members of a perverse club. An August report, co-authored by the Human Rights Campaign and the Center for Countering Digital Hate, found a 406 percent increase, between March and April, in language targeting LGBTQ people on Twitter as “groomers” and “pedophiles.”
In the month following the controversial passage of the “Don’t Say Gay” law, touted by DeSantis’ press secretary Christina Pushaw as an “anti-grooming” bill, that restricts the discussion of LGBTQ topics in Florida schools, the Human Rights Campaign reported “an average of 6,607 tweets mentioning the LGBTQ+ community alongside slurs each day.” The top 500 tweets citing LGBTQ people as a threat to children garnered 72 million views.
This month, Erik Bottcher, an openly gay New York City Council member, encountered anti-LGBTQ slurs written on the sidewalk outside his apartment building after he participated in a drag story hour at a Manhattan library. The graffiti derided Bottcher as a “pedo child groomer” and “child predator.” Protestors who illegally entered his apartment building were arrested.
The thrust of these “groomer” accusations, which amount to highly effective scare tactics, is the erroneous belief that LGBTQ people are more likely to abuse children due to their sexual orientation or gender identity. Even some leaders in the Catholic Church have jumped on this ideological bandwagon, routinely citing gay clergy as the cause of the child sexual abuse crisis.
In February 2019, gay clergy from the Netherlands authored a letter to Pope Francis urging the Vatican not to suggest that “the pedophile scandal can be ‘solved’ by getting rid of gay priests.”
As stated by the Georgetown research fellow Gerard J. McGlone, S.J., a clinical psychologist and clerical abuse survivor, most sexual offenders in the United States “are white, married, heterosexual males.” In a 2018 essay for America, Thomas G. Plante, a psychology professor at Santa Clara University in California, found that sexual orientation by itself does not predispose an individual, homosexual or heterosexual, to engage in child abuse.
The most recent update to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the standard text in psychiatric practice, clearly differentiates between homosexuality, where an individual is sexually attracted to adults of the same sex, and pedophilic orientations, where individuals are sexually attracted to prepubescent youths. Furthermore, the existence of this attraction does not guarantee a person will commit a sexual offense—those are separate matters altogether.
Plante notes that child sex abuse is the result of manifold, interconnected psychological factors and that offending clergy, according to a 2011 study from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, abused minors to whom they had the greatest access (i.e., altar boys).
Among the risk factors that lead pedophiles to sexually abuse minors are poor impulse control, inadequate relationships with friends, lack of close personal connections, alcoholism, drug use and perpetrators’ own experiences with child molestation.
In 2019, clerical abuse survivors Peter Isely and Phil Saviano told reporters that “scapegoating” LGBTQ persons as the cause of child sex abuse avoids working towards any effective solution and ultimately suggests a lack of understanding about this disturbing phenomenon.
Claim: “Gender ideology” fosters “confusion” among LGBTQ youth.
“Gender ideology” has become a bandied-about buzzword and favorite talking point of anti-LGBTQ advocates and the political right within the last several years. In a July 2021 article published by the Heritage Foundation, an influential force in Republican politics, gender ideology is described as “profoundly destructive to children” amid a considerable increase of trans youth in America.
In 2019, the Vatican’s former Congregation for Catholic Education decried gender ideology as “eliminating the anthropological basis of the family.” Pope Francis, speaking in Manila in 2015, articulated his view on the matter: “ideological colonization.”
A 2016 article published by Psychological Science in the Public Interest, a peer-reviewed academic journal, states that some childhood behaviors, exhibited as early as preschool age, are indications a young person will emerge as an LGBTQ adult. These gender nonconforming behaviors include boys playing with dolls or “preferring girls as playmates” and girls rejecting traditionally feminine toys or embracing competitive sports.
While these traits can and do exist among children who grow up to be heterosexual adults, studies support “a strong association between childhood gender nonconformity and adult nonheterosexuality.”
These behaviors suggest innate characteristics not brought on by an ideology or by adults that aim to “make” a child identify as LGBTQ. Further, a 1996 study by the University of Chicago found that most adults remembered first experiencing sexual attraction at age 10.
Researchers point to adrenarche, “the maturation of adrenal glands” around that age, as a major contributor to the appearance of sexual desire. In brief, hormonal changes, not drag queens or any “ideology,” elicit the early experiences of sexual orientation in youth. As transgender people will tell you, the discovery of their gender identity is not linked to an ideology.
“I had never heard of ‘gender ideology’ until the church began using it,” said Christine Zuba, a transgender Catholic.
Claim: LGBTQ teachers are a danger to their young students.
This type of rhetoric is not new. In the late 1970s, country music star and orange juice evangelist Anita Bryant sparked national outcry among the gay community for her “Save Our Children” campaign, which aimed to bar openly LGBTQ teachers from Florida schools and reject a law banning LGBTQ discrimination in what is now Miami-Dade County.
“ARE HOMOSEXUALS TRYING TO RECRUIT OUR CHILDREN?” asks a 1977 campaign brochure.
Claims that LGBTQ teachers are attempting to “convert” heterosexual students into gay, trans or non-binary individuals reiterate debunked myths about the genesis of human sexuality. As stated in the aforementioned 2016 journal essay, indications of an adult’s sexual orientation are present in childhood—and this orientation cannot be altered by willful adults.
“The most common meaningful controversy across time and place has concerned the extent to which homosexuality is socially influenced and, more specifically, whether or not it spreads as a result of contagion and social tolerance,” reads the 2016 report. “There is no good evidence that either increases the rate of homosexual orientation.”
To consider whether people could “recruit” children to partake in an LGBTQ lifestyle, we should consider the utter failure of organized efforts to turn LGBTQ youths straight. In 2017, Cornell University cited 12 primary research studies that found so-called “conversion therapy” to be both unsuccessful and dangerous, increasing the risks of anxiety, depression and suicide.
According to the Williams Institute at the U.C.L.A. School of Law, lesbian, gay and bisexual people subjected to conversion therapy were nearly two times more likely to consider or attempt ending their lives when compared to their straight peers.
The Cornell report is unequivocal: “There is no credible evidence that sexual orientation can be changed through therapeutic intervention.”
It is important to note that false and accusatory statements made about the LGBTQ community often lead to real-world violent attacks and threats. The Anti-Defamation League provides a litany of startling episodes where LGBTQ events where met with white supremacist and “anti-grooming” protestors, including a June protest outside a Pride event at the Sacramento Children’s Museum where signage read: “Groomers are not welcome in California.”
In August, a drag story hour in Boston was canceled after the event was met with more than a dozen members of the Nationalist Social Club, a Massachusetts-based neo-Nazi group.
This September, the Washington Post reported that some Twitter employees urged the social media site to “take stronger action” against Libs of Tiktok amid multiple threats to U.S. children’s hospitals providing transgender health services. After Raichik’s account falsely claimed that Boston Children’s Hospital conducted hysterectomies on minors, the hospital received several bomb threats, menacing emails and phone calls threatening staff with violence.