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Anti-2SLGBTQ+ messages have grown more 'frightening' says MLA

A photo of Renaud recently appeared on a popular anti-2SLGBTQ+ social media account
NEW PAINT JOB — Volunteers paint a rainbow crosswalk in front of St. Albert Place May 25 in preparation for Pride Month (June). This year's crosswalk is based on the Progress Pride flag, which includes additional coloured chevrons to represent trans people and marginalized communities of colour. KEVIN MA/St. Albert Gazet

St. Albert MLA Marie Renaud says the anti-2SLGBTQ+ messages her office receives have become more “frightening” in the wake of the province’s plans to ban gender-affirming care for children under 16 and force schools to inform parents when students change their gender pronouns.

It isn’t uncommon for Renaud’s office to receive angry messages after she signals support for a 2SLGBTQI+ cause, Renaud said.

Last June her office put a Pride flag in the window.

“We were getting some [things] like really strange letters, video posts … emails, phone calls, visits, at least every week, when it was in full swing,” she said.

The messages accused her of being “satanic” and a danger to children. Many referred to her as a “groomer,” a popular allegation from far-right groups meant to imply gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transgender people and those who support them secretly intend to sexually abuse or indoctrinate children.

But recently she’s been receiving angry messages with more defined goals, demanding she be imprisoned, for example.

“I feel like it has a lot to do with the fact that the people spewing this misinformation and hate have been emboldened by the government of the day,” she said. “It’s more intense.”

The latest wave of anger started last week after a photo of Renaud, alongside Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood MLA Janis Irwin and a local teacher, surfaced online. It shows the group in a classroom decorated with Pride flags.

The X, formerly Twitter, account of anti-2SLGBTQI+ organization Gays against Groomers shared the photo, and it has since been viewed over half a million times and received over 14,000 comments. Gays against Groomers is run by far-right provocateur Jaimee Michell, who has worked on marketing campaigns for several American right-wing politicians and commentators and has been accused of sharing white supremacist content online.

“The group regularly spreads vicious anti-trans disinformation, pseudoscience and conspiracy theories, and has attacked anti-racist and LGBTQ+ inclusive education practices,” according to the Southern Poverty Law Centre, an American legal advocacy organization that tracks hate groups. “The group also supports censoring LGBTQ+ people, topics and images such as Pride flags in schools.”

“You walk into your child’s classroom and see this. What do you do?” the post reads.

One reply includes an AI generated image of a demon, adorned in rainbow colours and reading to children. “Pretty sure parents deserve to know they have groomers in the midst,” reads another. One includes an illustration of a rainbow-coloured figure getting kicked in the stomach.

Renaud said she and Irwin were invited to the speak in the class, which was not mandatory for students but was an optional program for teenagers to hear from 2SLGBTQI+ supportive adults.

“I was expecting it to be completely focused on LGBTQ issues, especially given the announcements around the legislation, but it really wasn’t,” she said. “There were some pretty good questions around climate change.”

Renaud started receiving the threatening messages shortly after the Gays Against Groomers account shared the post.

Kristopher Wells, a Canada research chair for the Public Understanding of Sexual and Gender Minority Youth, said in recent years threats against 2SLGBTQI+ allies have been happening with greater frequency and intensity.

“It's about trying to silence and intimidate,” Wells said. “It’s about bullying allies and leaders to not stand beside and support the community.”

As Pride Month approaches and attacks on the community become more common, “We need our allies not to back down, but to double down in their support,” he said.

Transgender people especially have drawn the ire of many on the far right, Wells said. The public is less familiar with transgender individuals, opening a window for misinformation about the community to spread. Groups like Gays Against Groomers add to that misinformation while fuelling the anger of their followers, who are already primed for prejudice towards minorities. Many Canadian conservatives have “jumped on the bandwagon” of the anti-transgender movement, he said.

Many of the responses to anti-2SLGBTQI+ accounts are also bots, unleashed by foreign governments to further widen the social divides in Canada and the U.S., he said.

Renaud said that the messages don't intimidate her. “If people … genuinely would like to know why I'm supporting something, I'm happy to engage with them,” she said.

Last year, a Statistics Canada report revealed a 64 per cent rise in hate crimes targeting people for their sexual orientation.

About the Author: Riley Tjosvold

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