The Shameful History Of Calling LGBT People “Groomers”

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LGBTQ pedophelia poster

A recent trend in conservative politics, particularly online, involves accusing LGBT people of “grooming” children – either into a particular sexual identity or to facilitate abuse.

A strange focal point for this politics has been drag queens, female impersonators (often gay men) who perform at clubs, carnivals or community events. 

Drag Queen Story Hour and other age-inclusive drag events in both the United States and Australia have been the site of protests, and even threats of and actual violence, over baseless claims that drag queens are grooming children for sexual gratification.

This article takes a look at our nation’s shameful history of groundlessly demonising LGBT people by falsely claiming they disproportionately commit abuses against children, and outlines the definition of “grooming” under New South Wales criminal law to show that if any group should be the focus of vitriol, it should be religious institutions and not LGBT people.

Equating LGBT people with paedophilia

Australia has had a long history of depicting LGBT people, particularly gay men, as a threat to children. 

Early criminal laws against homosexuality, which existed since our country’s founding, were commonly justified on the basis that adult gay men actively sought out adolescent boys to tempt them into the homosexual lifestyle.  

Discrimination in employment, particularly against gay teachers and other child related professions, was seen as necessary to protect children from “sexual confusion” and predation.

During the AIDS epidemic, there was a flurry of concern about gay male promiscuity and its association with disease and early death.  As a result, spikes in bashings and murders of LGBT people across Australia occurred in the late 1980s and early 1990s based on the perception that gay men posed a particular risk to the wider community. 

As revealed in the interim report on Gay and Transgender hate crimes between 1970 and 2010, many of these attacks were motivated by “anti-paedophile” animus, with attackers conflating adult homosexuality with paedophilia. Describing one particular gang, the report noted:

With the Tamarama Three, one of the three was the victim of paedophilia as a younger child. He just could not differentiate between a paedophile male and a gay male. … [T]he other two from the Tamarama Three were just evil. They enjoyed inflicting pain on people and for them it was a sport … Predatory gangs would go up and assault victims, looking to get $10, $20 or $30 to buy some alcohol and have a good night out.

A similar logic was found amongst South Australian serial killer John Bunting and his associates in the so-called “Snowtown murders”, which killed 12 people from 1992 to 1999 including gay men and trans women. Bunting’s group targeted anyone they perceived to be connected to paedophilia including “sexual deviants” and the “weak”. Victims were often tortured for hours before being killed and stuffed in barrels in an abandoned bank vault.

Views that LGBT people pose a threat to children have persisted well until this century. 

Proposals to equalise the age of consent between heterosexual and homosexual couplings in Australia were hindered by perceptions that vulnerable young adults needed particular protection from gay influence. NSW didn’t equalise the age of consent until 2003. 

Politicians such as former Liberal MP George Christenson were calling advocates of the Safe Schools program, a LGBT inclusion resource for teachers, “paedophile advocates” as recently as 2016.

In many ways, the modern rhetoric accusing LGBT people of child “grooming” is harkening back to a longstanding prejudice that homosexuality or gender non-conformity are pernicious symptoms of cultural “degeneracy” out to tempt children into a pernicious homosexual lifestyle.

Offences relating to grooming in New South Wales

The term “grooming” is derived from the criminal law, a fact many vocal “anti-groomer” activists online seem to ignore.

Section 66EB of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW) outlines a number of offences relating to the procuring or grooming of children under 16 years old for unlawful sexual activity.

“Unlawful sexual activity” refers to the varied offences under the Act related to child sexual abuse.

Section 66EB(2) outlines the offence of “procuring” where an adult intentionally procures a child for unlawful sexual activity. This offence carries a maximum penalty of either 15 years imprisonment (if the child is under 14 years) or 12 years imprisonment (in any other case).

Section 66EB(2A) outlines an offence of “grooming” which applies when an adult:

  • Intentionally meets a child, or travels with the intention of meeting a child, whom the adult person has groomed for sexual purposes, and
  • Does so with the intention of procuring the child for unlawful sexual activity with that adult person or any other person.

“Groomed for sexual purposes” is defined as being engaged in conduct exposing the child to “indecent material”. What constitutes “indecent material” isn’t defined in the Act, but generally refers to sexual material of some sort, whether messages or imagery.

This offence carries a maximum penalty of either 15 years imprisonment (if the child is under 14 years) or 12 years imprisonment (in any other case).

A further grooming offence is outlined in s 66EB(3) of the Act which applies when an adult:

  • Engages in any conduct that exposes a child to indecent material or provides a child with an intoxicating substance (such as drugs or alcohol) or with any financial or other material benefit, and
  • Does so with the intention of making it easier to procure the child for unlawful sexual activity with that or any other person.

This offence carries a maximum penalty of either 12 years imprisonment (if the child is under 14 years) or 10 years imprisonment (in any other case).

Section 66EB(5) makes clear that the “child” outlined in these offences can include “fictitious children” in cases where law enforcement pretend to be minors as part of a covert operation.

The drag queen story

As should now be clear, the term “grooming” refers to the serious criminal offence of attempting to engage in the sexual abuse of children. It’s not a term which should be banded about flippantly to score political points.

Drag Queen Story Time (or any age-inclusive drag event) does not expose children to sexually graphic material nor are these events undertaken as a nefarious scheme to groom children for sexual purposes. 

Drag performances come in many forms: from the raunchy comedy and lip-syncing found in nightclubs to the satirical cross-dressing of a Monty Python skit to age-appropriate colourful pantomimes designed for children.

As performer Ellectra Kute recently noted following the forced cancellation of a Victorian age inclusive drag event earlier this month after threats:

It was designed to be a fun, family-friendly afternoon where kids could paint Easter eggs and enjoy creative activities, with no adult content whatsoever.

Living in this world is difficult enough without being bombarded by negative comments and accusations of ruining the future for children. All I want to do is bring joy and entertainment to the world. Drag is not just for adults—it represents self-expression, art, and laughter.

Before making allegations of “grooming” against drag performers, online critics should stop to consider what they are actually claiming and whether they are perpetuating the kinds of bigoted tropes which have fuelled gay bashings and murders in the past.

Main Image: Members of Christian Lives Matter displaying a sign (incorrectly spelling ‘paedophilia’) at Hyde Park, Sydney on 18 March 2023.

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Jarryd Bartle

Jarryd Bartle is an Associate Lecturer in Criminology and Justice Studies at RMIT University and a consultant for the Bridge of Hope Innocence Initiative, which investigates claims of wrongful conviction and advocates for systemic reform to protect against miscarriages of justice.

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