Anyone even remotely familiar with Twitter.com is likely aware that the term “groomer” has become as ubiquitously misused as “gaslight.” Now, in the midst of concurrent censorship conflicts—from bans on books to sexual education to drag queen events—right-wing extremists are taking the word beyond social media and vandalizing libraries and schools, as they’ve done to abortion providers for decades.
This week, Charles Sutherland, a 30-year-old man from Takoma Park, Maryland, was charged with two counts of malicious destruction of property and multiple hate crimes after confessing to spray-painting “groomer” in large, yellow letters on the exteriors of two local libraries. Disturbingly, Sutherland is a librarian employed by the Prince George’s County public school system at Northview Elementary School in Bowie, Md. Since the vandalism, Southerland has reportedly been placed on administration leave.
The libraries, located in Greenbelt and New Carrollton, were vandalized on June 4, and June 9, respectively. Reports speculate that Southerland targeted the locations because they advertise themselves as “welcoming spaces” for LGBTQ+ customers and allies.
“The Library is nationally recognized for its outreach and programs in support of LGBTQ+ inclusion through staff leadership and partnerships with a wide range of local government and non-profit partners,” Prince George’s County Memorial library system said in a statement.
This isn’t the only recent instance of vandalism at a community cornerstone. Last month, in Newbury Park, California, “pervs wk here,” was spray-painted on the exterior of an elementary school. The Ventura City Star reported that the vandalism came just weeks after they reported that a third-grade teacher reintroduced a student who was transitioning with a new name and pronouns. The teacher reportedly showed the class a picture book about a boy exploring his transgender identity, as well as a movie. Inevitably, parents complained in a subsequent board meeting. “These are third-graders. This is ridiculous,” one parent said.
Currently, no arrests have been made and the investigation is ongoing. The school, however, remains steadfast in continuing to support transgender students. “Conejo Valley Unified School District will not be deterred from supporting and welcoming ALL students,” Mark McLaughlin, Conejo Valley Unified School District superintendent, wrote in a letter to parents.
Anti-LGBTQ+ violence is unfortunately on the rise across the country, due largely in part to citizens emboldened by the messaging of conservative lawmakers, media personalities, and advocates. In the midst of Pride month, a series of drag queen story hours have been ambushed by extremists across the country—including the Proud Boys in San Francisco. Earlier this month, police arrested 31 men, reported to be members of Patriot Front, a white nationalist, neofascist hate group, near a Pride parade in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. Of course, like any right-wing strategy, vandalism, and violence is nothing new. Abortion providers have suffered similar attacks for decades. Additionally, book banning is currently as rampant as ever, with scores of titles involving Black and LGBTQ+ histories and narratives removed from schools and libraries in several states.
SCOTUS’s latest rulings on guns and abortion make for an exceptionally bleak political terrain that will no doubt irreparably impact the lives of children, the LGBTQ+ community, and all marginalized people. Additionally, such veiled censorship in the name of “children’s safety” is bound to only become more common as conservative lawmakers like Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) and Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-CO) continue to encourage people to protest drag brunches and LGBTQ+ events.
As Jezebel’s Kylie Cheung recently wrote:
The panic and moral policing about LGBTQ+ identity and women’s sexuality would almost be comical, if it weren’t driving actual, real policing, and policies that will inevitably kill people—either by driving up already high LGBTQ+ youth suicide rates or worsening the maternal mortality rate for Black pregnant people and pregnant people of color.
Frankly, right-wing arguments about protecting children ring awfully hollow coming from people who support a party that introduces legislation like Ohio’s recent “Save Women’s Sports Act,” a bill that allows doctors to sexually assault children in the name of verifying their biological sex for participation in school athletics. But hey, when has anything they’ve ever done fallen within the realm of logic?