Opinion: 'Groomers' coming for your children? Quick, pass an anti-LGBTQ law!

Why is the GOP so hellbent on linking discussions about sexual preference and gender identity to pedophilia and child molestation?

And why has the party embraced the word "groomer" as a slur for people who think it's important for educators to be able to talk about those issues at school, even with young kids.

The simple answer, of course, is that it's a scare tactic to rile the base and raise money.

"When did our public schools, any schools, become what are essentially grooming centers for gender-identity radicals?" Fox News host Laura Ingraham asked last month.

In an email blast Tuesday morning, attorney and former California Republican Party official Harmeet Dhillon pleaded for money to fund a lawsuit against a small California school district and two teachers who, she claims, "indoctrinated" a sixth-grader into believing she was transgender and bisexual.

"We'll hold these teachers accountable for brainwashing and grooming their young students," Dhillon vowed.

In an article about what the Washington Post has dubbed "groomer discourse," Vice News earlier this month interviewed Terry Schilling, president of the conservative American Principles Project, who defended the misuse of the word.

"Maybe it's a little bit different from a pedophile specifically grooming a child for their own sexual gratification, but this is a form of grooming. Grooming children to be sexually active at the youngest ages," Schilling said. "And it's crazy to me."

What a perverse and cynical misuse of a word that, in the context of child sexual abuse, has a real meaning, which has nothing to do with frank discussions about sexuality and gender.

"There's a blurring of all this, and an impugning of LGBTQ activity," said Kenneth Lanning, a retired FBI child sex crimes expert who is credited with popularizing the concept of grooming over the course of his two decades as a profiler in the bureau's Behavioral Sciences Unit.

Grooming, he told me, "is essentially a method of one person convincing another to have sex with them without using violence, like a gun or a knife. Grooming is for the purposes of the adult to manipulate the child, to get the child to cooperate with sexual activity. In my opinion, it does not constitute child sexual abuse to discuss gender identity."

Conflating sex ed with encouraging sexual behavior is one of the oldest tricks in the GOP's puritanical anti-sex, anti-birth-control, anti-woman playbook.

It's preposterous to assume that these things should boil down to schools vs. parents, as if schools have no interest in a student's health and well-being.

Children do have legal rights of their own, including the right to privacy about their sexuality or gender identity. A school cannot "out" a child to a parent without the child's express permission. When educators are accused of withholding information from parents in cases such as these, they are most likely respecting the child's right to privacy.

In any case, families are often the ones not accepting children who question their gender or sexuality. Ten years ago, the Human Rights Campaign surveyed 10,000 LGBTQ youth between the ages of 13 and 17 and asked them to describe their biggest problems. The top three: unaccepting families, school bullying and the fear of being open about their identity.

Mangling the meaning of the word "groomer" may help score a few political points for conservatives who are in a panic about gay and trans rights. But it slanders people who actually care about the healthy sexual development of children and trivializes the very real phenomenon of child sexual abuse.

The Los Angeles Times