The US Is Exporting Anti-LGBTQ Hate Online | WIRED

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About once a fortnight, David Ermes gets an email from a journalist or fact checker along the lines of “Boys have to dress up as girls in queer week at school, is it true?”

“Of course I can say it’s not true—it isn’t even lawful, since we don’t have school uniforms,” says Ermes, who is head of communications at the ministry of education in Schlewig-Holstein, Germany’s northernmost state. Over the past year or so he has had to deal with a steady flow of misinformation spread on social media that misrepresents conversations about LGBTQ rights and attempts to “paint a picture of sexualized schools in Germany.” He has dispelled rumors circulating in Hungary of German children being forced into “crossdressing classes” and debunked a viral video in Serbia and Bosnia showing a woman claiming the education ministry demanded boys wear dresses to school or parents be fined. “Even though we want to have educated debate in the public field, it’s getting harder and harder,” he says. “While you would have time to discuss with high-quality information [and] reason, your time is occupied by defending notions of bullshit.”

Spurious claims that drag is being forced on kids are spreading globally, part of a broader trend of false information that misrepresents the LGBTQ community and comprehensive sex education in schools. Discussions of trans rights, and touch points like “drag queen story hours,” which are the nexus of immense cultural conflict in the US, have been imported into Europe. Pride month, which runs through June, has inevitably led to an acceleration of these misinformation campaigns, with far-right figures and conservative commentators circulating falsehoods, some of which have provoked offline attacks.

“Pride has become a time of obsessive focus by the right-wing media on LGBTQ people,” says Ari Drennan, LGBTQ program director for Media Matters for America, which monitors conservative misinformation. “LGBTQ people celebrate who we, are and that is intolerable to people within the right-wing media.”

“Drag queen story hour,” a children’s event started in 2015 in San Francisco but which is now an international network of events and organizations, features drag artists reading children’s books and promoting gender inclusion in public libraries, schools, and bookshops. It quickly became controversial among conservative figures and weaponized in culture war narratives, ending up as a flashpoint for US public outrage about sex-positivity and transgender inclusion—reminiscent of previous moral panic around homosexuality. Anti-drag protests have become part and parcel of US cultural life, with more than 203 mobilizations in the past year, according to the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, an anti-extremism nonprofit, in a June 22, 2023, report on anti-drag efforts.

Drag-related initiatives are now relentlessly misrepresented on social media, particularly during Pride month. False and misleading claims are proliferating that parents are forcing shows on children against their will and that drag queens are giving children lap dances and indecently exposing themselves.

Several US brands have also been caught in the crosshairs of the expanding disinformation efforts. Bud Light beer’s partnership with transgender TikToker Dylan Mulvaney sparked a right-wing onslaught, advancing false claims that the CEO of parent company Anheuser-Busch “apologized” for the collaboration and that the influencer was the “face” of tampon brand Tampax. Retail chain Target faced a particularly volatile backlash to its Pride merchandise, wrestling myriad falsehoods such as its “tuck-friendly” swimsuits for adults being for children. Despite having been offering Pride products during the month of June for over a decade, the chain announced in May that it would remove some items after threats against staff and in-store attacks on displays.

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