The arrival of EuroPride 2023 in Malta over the past week was welcomed by many, including businesses, but some online commenters have been busy sharing misleading and often false claims and memes on social media.
Many of these claims feed into a narrative that attempts to link the LGBTIQ+ community to paedophilia and child grooming.
Pride events worldwide are often the subject of similar attacks, with many memes espousing anti-LGBTIQ+ rhetoric being recycled from one Pride event to the next. EuroPride is no exception, and several statements being shared on Maltese social media in recent weeks were already debunked by fact-checkers around the world.
Let us take a look at some of the claims being made.
Claim: CEO of the organisation responsible for drag queen readings arrested on child porn charges.
A meme being shared on Facebook shows an image of a drag queen reading session for children, accompanied by the claim that “the President and CEO of ‘Cream City Foundation’ which was responsible for ‘Drag Queen Story Time’ has been arrested for possession of child porn”.
Drag Queen Story Time is an American organisation that organises reading events for children in public spaces like libraries or schools. Children are usually accompanied by family members, parents or teachers during the events. An article published by The Conversation explains that performances are age-appropriate and do not involve sexualized overtones.
This claim has travelled around the world since 2021, ever since an article in conservative media site the National Pulse first claimed that Brett Blomme, described as the head of Drag Queen Story Time, was charged with possessing child pornography.
The claim has since been shared thousands of times on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
This has been debunked by AFP fact-checkers, who found that although it is true that Blomme used to run the Cream City Foundation and was charged with this crime, it is false that the foundation was ever responsible for Drag Queen Story Time.
In a tweet published at the time of the case, Drag Queen Story Time said “DQSH Milwaukee has never been run by the Cream City Foundation nor Brett Blomme, neither have either participated in planning, organizing, hosting or performing at any of our events. Brett has never held a title or position within our organization ever”.
Cream City Foundation was only a fiscal sponsor of the event, not one of the organisers. When news of Blomme’s arrest emerged, Drag Queen Story Time, who organised the event, cut ties with the foundation, saying “paedophilia has no place in the LGBT community and no place in society as a whole”.
Claim: Drag queen readers were registered sex offenders who swapped social media details with children.
The same meme goes on to claim that some of the drag queens carrying out the readings on behalf of Drag Queen Story Time were registered sex offenders and had been found to be exchanging social media contact details with children at the events.
This claim is partly true, although it misleadingly exaggerates how widespread the issue actually is.
Let’s start by examining what the claim gets right.
It is true that one of the drag queens at a Drag Queen Story Time event was a registered sexual offender. An investigation by fact-checkers at Snopes found that the claim first emerged from a report in The New American which identified one of the drag queens at a 2018 reading in Houston, Texas as Alberto Garza, a registered sex offender.
Garza had been convicted of aggravated sexual assault on a minor 11 years earlier. The crime was committed in 2006.
Garza later performed in at least three Drag Queen Story Time events throughout 2017 and 2018, all organised and hosted by the Houston Public Library.
When Garza’s criminal history was revealed in 2019, the library released a statement explaining that Garza was allowed to perform after slipping through the cracks of their background checks, promising to carry out more stringent checks in the future.
As a result, Drag Queen Story Time cut ties with the event, also pledging to start carrying out its independent background checks on performers.
What does the claim get wrong?
The claim implies that this was a recurrent issue involving several drag queens performing at Drag Queen Story Time events. There is no evidence of this.
While there have been isolated cases of drag queens around the world who were registered sex offenders, these are few and far between, and there is no indication that they were involved in reading events or any other activities involving children.
The claim’s suggestion that drag queen readers exchanged social media details with children also appears to be unfounded.
Even in the case of Alberto Garza, the library organising the event issued a statement saying “all children are accompanied by a parent and/or guardian. No participant is ever alone with children, and we have not received any complaints about any inappropriate behaviour by participants at storytimes”.
Claim: Attendees at Pride march chant “we’re coming for your children”
A short video being shared on Facebook and TikTok shows a group of people marching during a New York City’s Pride activity. The video is captioned “We’re Here, We’re Queer, We’re Coming for your children”, supposedly the phrase that is being chanted by the crowd.
Some people sharing the video are presenting it as evidence of a deliberate and concerted plan by the LGBTIQ+ community to target children, falsely implying that the chant is a clarion call for action.
This video has been widely shared around the world in recent weeks, even being picked up by popular tabloids such as the Daily Mail and the New York Post.
However, the narrative around the video is misleading, as the crowd is not actually chanting “we’re coming for your children”.
In reality, the crowd is chanting “we’re here, we’re queer, we’re not going shopping”, a phrase that was popularised by LGBTIQ+ activists in the early 1990s when storming shopping malls during protests. The phrase has since taken on a life of its own, being widely used in academia, pop culture and the media.
Several variations on the phrase, many of them with tongue firmly in cheek, have also emerged throughout the years, often printed on t-shirts, chanted at events and even used as book titles. These variations range from “we’re here, we’re queer, and we’re going shoplifting”, to “we’re going catalogue shopping” and anything in between.
One such tongue-in-cheek variation is “we’re coming for your children”, a phrase that LGBTIQ+ activists describe as a deliberately provocative chant “used to regain control of slurs against LGBTQ people”.
In practice, the chant pokes fun at the long-standing tropes about the LGBTIQ+ community grooming children.
In the TikTok video, two voices close to the camera can be heard occasionally saying “we’re here, we’re queer, we’re coming for your children”, while the rest of the crowd sticks to the standard “we’re not going shopping” chant.
Rather than a call to action or insidious threat, the video suggests that the “we’re coming for your children” is simply an inside joke among a handful of individuals at the march.
Several other videos of New York Pride events uploaded to YouTube and TikTok show crowds marching, singing and chanting throughout the events associated with Pride, however, none of them appear to show any crowds adopting the “we’re coming for your children” chant.
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