Parents’ rights activists live in glass houses

Parents’ rights activists live in glass houses
Photo: Shutterstock

During a recent testimony to the Texas Senate Committee on State Affairs in support of anti-trans legislation, Dr. Steven Hotze stated, “By definition, sir, they are pedophiles…”

This recycled conspiracy theory is hardly original.

The queer pedophilia myth, as James Kirchik writes, dates back to the early 20th century, arising almost in tandem with the invention of the term “homosexual” itself. The myth was part of the myriad conspiracies imbued in the label – of sexual degeneracy, drug addiction, psychopathy, communist treachery, and nearly every other moral panic of the day.

The right pedals this tired fabrication every few years, waiting for cultural amnesia to set in before they buff the tattered playbook and call it a front-page news story. In 2015, Ted Cruz’s father falsely predicted that LGBTQ+ activists would soon attempt to legalize pedophilia. In 2019, the topic came up after the conservative gay influencer Milo Yiannopolus made comments suggesting his support for pedophilia.

In 2017, and again in 2020, right-wing pundits decried the alleged addition of P (for pedophilia) to the LGBTQ+ acronym, a claim that originated from a right-wing troll account and was summarily rejected by every major LGBTQ+ organization. 

Despite the persistently libelous nature of these claims, we’ve nonetheless reached yet another fever pitch of moral panic, coming in the form of a euphemistic parents’ rights movement – a faction of parents seeking to reassert parental control over their kids’ exposure to LGBTQ+ people and issues.

The Rise of the Parents’ Rights Movement

Funded by right-wing shadow money, this coalition is the advocacy vehicle behind much of the anti-LGBTQ+ and anti-Black laws attempting to redefine American public education. 

Just as the queer pedophilia myth has a storied history, “parent’s rights” have long been used as a trojan horse to discriminate against marginalized groups.

According to American Historian Eugenia Kaledin, in the 1950s, teachers and librarians were caught in McCarthyism’s crosshairs, “considered dangerous influences on the general public and singled out for special scrutiny.”

Sound familiar?

It did to one retired librarian, who said to the Los Angeles Times of the recent LGBTQ+ book bans, “It’s hard to compare this to anything other than the Red Scare in the 1950s…There’s nothing else remotely close to this.”

The issue of parents’ rights was revived again only a decade later, as parents enrolled their children in private schools to escape public school integration. While the country claims to look back on these moments with national remorse, hindsight does little to repair the parasitic damage inflicted upon children and the American education system, the effects of which are still felt today.

With jaws clenched in frustration and eyes opened wide in disbelief, we can do little more than watch the cyclical fearmongering play out once again. Maybe Fox News would see it too if they read the critical race theory they spend so much time defaming

From Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (R) declaring that liberals “support the sexualization of kids,” to Queens, New York, Councilmember Vickie Paladin tweeting her disdain for ‘drag queen degeneracy’ in schools, conservatives across the country are again levying the derisive claim that the LGBTQ+ community is engaged in a concerted effort to enable and normalize child sexual abuse through the public school system.

These indictments lay the ideological framework for the erasure of queerness from public life, with bans on books and drag queen performances, changes to curricula to erase topics of gender and sexuality, and policies stripping protections for queer children in schools.  

Against the forces of reality and reason, the parents’ rights movement has been largely successful in its crusade against the American education system. Florida became a nationwide blueprint with the passage of its law titled Parental Rights in Education, dubbed by opponents as the Don’t Say Gay law.

The state law inspired a federal bill with the same goal – prohibiting the discussion of gender and sexuality in the classroom.

As a result, queer people are being forced to earnestly debate our very existence as if the subject is anything more than a myopic reactionary impulse promulgated by pundits, conservative influencers, and politicians who profit from blind rage.

The Movement’s Vicious Hypocrisy

I eagerly await any empirical evidence finding a significant effect of these laws on the reduction of child sexualization or sex abuse. I do not have to wait, however, to see how the movement is presently harming the lives of queer people.

The hate campaign has led to targeted harassment by terrorists like the Proud Boys and an epidemic of violence that took the lives of 34 trans and gender-nonconforming people in 2022 alone.

Queer children are now at risk of being forcibly outed by their schools – a transgression so invasive that it can push one to suicide, as was the case of Channing Smith, a teenager who died by suicide in 2019 after being outed by classmates.

Yet, for so much supposed concern for the safety of children, conservatives rarely raise alarm bells about the mental health crisis facing LGBTQ+ youth, illuminated by a 2021 study that found nearly half had inflicted self-harm or considered suicide in the past year.

Rather than empathizing with these children, conservatives make eugenic and bio-essentialist claims that these outcomes are due to the inherent immortality or psychopathy of queerness.

The evidentiary consensus is that the disparity is a result of minority stress, a term that refers to “the unique and hostile stressors (e.g., homophobic victimization)” faced by minority groups that consequently have negative effects on their health.

In other words, the right-wing voices lambasting the LGBTQ+ community are a siren call, declaring to protect children all the while pushing queer children to their deaths. Likewise, queer parents are never counseled for their thoughts on queer topics in schools, making the slogan of the Parental Rights Foundation, “protecting children by empowering parents,” an oxymoron on both fronts. 

The Real Threat Comes From Within

The right coopting the issue should not overshadow the fact that child sex abuse is dismal and widespread – with studies finding that up to 1 in 5 girls and 1 in twenty boys report childhood sexual abuse.

The perpetrators are just not who homophobes would have you believe.

The cruel irony in parents’ rights activists’ thinly veiled homophobia is that the vast majority of sexual abuse cases are committed by a family member, acquaintance, or a heterosexual partner of a close relative.

Meanwhile, one study found that “the risk children would identify recognizably homosexual adults as the potential abuser is from 0% to 3.1%”

Similarly, Dr. Gene Abel, a sexual violence expert, said “…[M]ost men who molest little boys are not gay. Only 21 percent of the child molesters we studied who assault little boys were exclusively homosexual. Nearly 80 percent of the men who molested little boys were heterosexual or bisexual and most of these men were married and had children of their own.”

You’re more likely to find a pedophile in the annals of Congress than you are at a drag show.

The core of the parents’ rights movement’s ideology alleges that queer people are ‘grooming’ children – but what does grooming actually mean?

The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children defines it as “when someone builds a relationship, trust, and emotional connection with a child or young person so they can manipulate, exploit and abuse them.” In the right-wing lexicon, however, the term has become a catch-all for any adolescent exposure to queerness, gender identity, or sexuality.

In reality, one of the primary ways children are groomed for sexual assault is by the perpetrator building trust with members of the child’s family. Moreover, grooming is endemic in intra-family abuse cases where the perpetrator is protected by family members who minimize and diminish their transgressions.

This is in the case where the victim comes forward, but in nearly half of all cases, children do not tell anyone about their experience for at least 5 years, in large part due to fear of their family knowing.

Thus, the near-ubiquitous victimization persists behind closed doors and we arrive at the colloquialism where everyone knows a victim but no one knows an abuser. Rather than scapegoating queer people, perhaps so-called parents’ rights activists should look inward and interrogate the heterosexual family unit as an institution all too often complicit in child sexual abuse. 

Instead, the same personalities and politicians who claim to protect children regularly resist attempts to do just that.

In 33 states, loopholes created by Republicans exempt clergy from reporting child sexual abuse. In December, 28 Republican members of congress voted against a bill to address the mistreatment of child sexual abuse victims. While foster children are 4 times as likely to experience sexual abuse, conservatives fought against the legalization of adoption by gay and lesbian parents.

Children born out of wedlock, to single parents, and/or in poor socioeconomic conditions are at much greater risk of sexual abuse, yet parents are being forced into these circumstances by conservative legislation that outlaws abortion and birth control, incarcerates Black fathers with impunity, and cuts life-changing social programs.

The flagrant and duplicitous lies at the heart of the parents’ rights movement are dizzying. The apathy towards actual victims in favor of the structures that contribute to their victimization is appalling.

The violent hatred for our community has led so many to an alternate reality uninhibited by truth, huddling their children into glass houses that will not protect them. Unbeknownst to them, no matter how many walls of hypocrisy you lay, a glass house will always be clear. 

Editor’s note: This article mentions suicide. If you need to talk to someone now, call the Trans Lifeline at 1-877-565-8860. It’s staffed by trans people, for trans people. The Trevor Project provides a safe, judgement-free place to talk for LGBTQ youth at 1-866-488-7386. You can also call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

Don't forget to share:

Support vital LGBTQ+ journalism

Reader contributions help keep LGBTQ Nation free, so that queer people get the news they need, with stories that mainstream media often leaves out. Can you contribute today?

Cancel anytime · Proudly LGBTQ+ owned and operated

Missouri attorney general bans gender-affirming care in “power grab”

Previous article

Trans flight attendant made famous in United ad dies by suicide

Next article