Misinformation and disinformation are fueling threats against our communities, particularly as right-wing extremists use false narratives to push for harmful legislation. From language like indoctrination to groomers, the LGBTQ+ community is being targeted with rhetoric and slurs that we haven’t heard in almost 50 years since the days of Anita Bryant. In this scenario where physical threats are being fueled by lies and hate speech, it is vital that our community and our allies work to counter false narratives with the truth– LGBTQ+ students deserve the freedom to be fully themselves at school and in sports and for their identities to be celebrated rather than erased from school curriculums. Instead, we’ve seen misinformation spread that is harmful to LGBTQ+ young people, often targeting the most marginalized students.
Let’s consider an example. Here in North Carolina, one of the more prominent spreaders of misinformation is Education First Alliance. Ed First Alliance, which has positioned itself as a reputable news source, is actually politically far-right and prone to making extreme claims, by making completely false statements or taking information out of context to support an anti-LGBTQ+ agenda. Promoting the narrative that age-appropriate education on gender and sexuality is “radicalizing” children, the group falsely claimed that teachers are being trained to “reduce heterosexism and cisgenderism” in school and that school social workers are promoting racial stereotypes by teaching students about white supremacy. The group also made the false claim that school psychologists are being trained to initiate secret conversations with students about their sexuality. Other misinformation from Ed First Alliance has included claims that children’s hospitals are “sterilizing” children without medical cause.
But the real role of organizations like Ed First, which has close links to former Trump advisor Steve Bannon, is to launder misinformation into the political discourse. A recent story involving Ed First Alliance illustrates their method. Last year, Ed First Alliance ran a scathing story highlighting an incident involving a high school student injured during a volleyball match, simply because the player who hit the ball was transgender. Ed First’s coverage led to the story getting picked up by national media, including Breitbart, the Washington Examiner, and Fox News.
The situation has been repeated all around the country and used to justify transphobic policies. Case in point: here in North Carolina, New Hanover County school board members recently recommended forcing middle school students to go through an invasive process to participate in sports that align with their gender identities. Frequently, misinformation targets people at the intersection of multiple marginalized identities. For example, the successes of two black trans girls in Connecticut’s high school track and field programs has led to years of right wing disinformation and lawsuits, in line with the racist policing of Black women in athletics which we’ve seen over the years.
But these false narratives are not being shared in a vacuum–they’re serving a policy agenda which targets our communities. Last year in Fuquay-Varina, right-wing elected officials highlighted a flashcard explaining colors in a kindergarten classroom, which showed LGBTQ+ families. The news about the incident kicked off enough of a firestorm for the teacher, a beloved special education teacher, to resign. And the incident received extensive coverage in right-wing media all over the country. All of this from a set of inclusive flashcards!
The story of the flashcards points to another crucial strand of this issue–the way in which this disinformation is used to justify enacting discriminatory policy. To begin with, parents had become aware of the flashcard nearly a year in advance of the news coverage–and right-wing elected officials sat on the news until it was electorally advantageous. And when the news of the flashcards finally broke, our opposition in the General Assembly used the flashcard situation as an excuse to call for the passage of HB 755–North Carolina’s own “Don’t Say Gay” bill.
Misinformation causes direct harm to our community by invalidating LGBTQ+ identities and providing justification for an anti-LGBTQ+ policy agenda. Dangerous narratives also create an environment where far-right extremists are emboldened, a prime example being the recent targeting of drag shows with threats of violence in Moore County and throughout the country. The issue of misinformation goes far beyond mere rhetoric; it is a direct threat to the safety and rights of the LGBTQ+ community and its most marginalized members.
So we urge you to act. Think critically about the news you’re consuming. And always consider the source. Far-right political operatives are doing their best to pit those within the community against one another through fake news and strategic political endorsements. We must be careful not to fall prey to misinformation that endangers the LGBTQ+ community. Instead, we should unite in the fight for LGBTQ+ liberation.