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Andrea Austria / Media Matters

Research/Study Research/Study

Instagram has allowed Gays Against Groomers to spread harmful rhetoric about LGBTQ people

Many of the group’s posts seemingly violate Instagram’s policies against hate speech, harassment, and misinformation, but the account has gone largely unchecked for over a year

Meta has allowed anti-LGBTQ group Gays Against Groomers — which falsely frames itself as a grassroots coalition that wants to protect children, but is actually composed of experienced right-wing grifters — to push false narratives about LGBTQ people on its platforms, particularly Instagram. 

Facebook, Instagram, and Threads are some of the few mainstream platforms that have not banned Gays Against Groomers, even though the group seems to have repeatedly violated the platforms’ policies, including by repeatedly promoting the anti-LGBTQ “groomer” slur, claiming trans people have mental and moral deficiencies, and spreading misinformation that’s been debunked by third-party fact-checkers. 

Instagram, in particular, has a history of failing to moderate harmful accounts despite Meta's anti-hate speech and harassment policies. Attacks have often targeted LGBTQ people, whom Meta has repeatedly claimed it is committed to supporting.

  • Gays Against Groomers maintains Facebook, Instagram, and Threads accounts, but it has been banned or suspended from other platforms

    • The anti-LGBTQ group falsely frames itself as a “grassroots” coalition that wants to protect children. On June 6, the group claimed on Instagram, “1 year ago today, @thegaywhostrayed had the idea to create this organization to fight back against the sick agenda being pushed on kids from inside the community. … Our team is comprised solely of volunteers, dedicating huge amounts of their time to furthering our mission. No one has pocketed a dime, and we have had zero big donors. Everything we do is purely a grassroots effort.” [Instagram, 6/10/23] 
    • Gays Against Groomers is actually composed of experienced right-wing grifters. The group’s founder Jaimee Michell and former chair and co-founder David Leatherwood both have employment histories with right-wing firms and connections to right-wing figures, as do several of its various staff and members. [Media Matters, 7/6/23, 2/7/23]
    • The organization has already been banned from Venmo and PayPal. PayPal, which is also Venmo’s parent company, stated that the group violated its prohibition of “activities that promote hate, violence, or discriminatory intolerance.” [Media Matters, 9/26/22]
    • Meta’s platforms are seemingly some of the only major social media platforms that hasn’t banned or suspended Gays Against Groomers. The group’s Google account has been banned, and Gays Against Groomers was suspended from Twitter multiple times, at least one of which was reportedly for using the anti-LGBTQ “groomer” slur that was prohibited on Twitter before Elon Musk took over the company. [Instagram, 5/20/23]
    • Gays Against Groomers’ official Instagram account was created on June 6, 2022, and has since gained over 357,000 followers. Since its creation in June 2022, the group’s main Instagram account has promoted a backup account in its bio. According to the backup account’s bio, it is “just here because we know who big tech protects, so our time on Instagram is probably limited.” Gay’s Against Groomers’ Instagram account has remained on the platform for over a year, during which period it has posted over 1,000 times. [Instagram via Media Matters, 6/6/22]
    • On Facebook, Gays Against Groomers had garnered approximately 39,000 followers between its page’s June 6, 2022, creation and publication of this piece. The organization has used this Meta-owned platform to promote its merchandise and accounts on other platforms. According to the Daily Dot, the Facebook account was suspended last week, but has since been reinstated with Meta confirming “the suspension was the result of a platform error.” [Facebook, 8/24/23; Daily Dot, 9/25/23]
    • Gays Against Groomers has also joined Threads, Meta’s version of Twitter that is anchored to a user's Instagram account. Threads is currently dictated by the same Community Guidelines as Instagram, however several potentially violative accounts quickly migrated to the new platform, including Gays Against Groomers, which has accumulated over 24,000 followers. On Threads, Gays Against Groomers has continued to post hateful and false content about LGBTQ people. [Threads, accessed 8/31/23]
  • Meta’s policies prohibit users from targeting LGBTQ people with hate speech (including “groomer”) and harassment, and it promises to label misinformation

    • Instagram’s community guidelines state that the platform wants “to foster a positive, diverse community” and that it will “remove content that contains credible threats or hate speech.” The policy further specifies that “it's never OK to encourage violence or attack anyone based on their … sex, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation” and that “overstepping these boundaries may result in deleted content, disabled accounts, or other restrictions.” [Instagram, accessed 8/31/23]
    • Instagram users must also follow policies around hate speech that govern Facebook. Instagram’s community guidelines also link to Facebook’s hate speech policy, which prohibits “content targeting a person or group of people … on the basis of … protected characteristic(s)” with “dehumanizing speech or imagery in the form of comparisons, generalizations, or unqualified behavioral statements.” The policy specifies that it includes targeting protected groups with comparisons to criminals, statements denying existence, harmful stereotypes, and generalizations about physical, mental, and moral deficiencies. [Facebook, accessed 8/31/23]
    • Instagram users are subject to Facebook’s policies against bullying and harassment. Instagram’s community guidelines also link to Facebook’s bullying and harassment policy, which protects “private minors, private adults (who must self-report), and minor involuntary public figures” from claims about sexual orientation or gender identity and “expressions of contempt, disgust, or content rejecting the existence of an individual.” [Facebook, accessed 8/31/23]
    • Meta told the Daily Dot that “baselessly calling LGBTQ people or the community ‘groomers’ or accusing them of ‘grooming’ is governed under their policies prohibiting hate speech.” [Daily Dot, 7/20/22
    • Meta claimed that posts on Instagram that contain information that has been deemed false, misleading, or altered by a third party fact-checker will be labeled as such and deprioritized in feeds. According to Meta, the company is “committed to fighting the spread of misinformation on Facebook and Instagram” and it works “with independent third-party fact-checking organizations who are certified through the non-partisan International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN) to identify, review and take action on this content.” Until recently, Meta claimed that “each time a fact-checker rates a piece of content as false, we significantly reduce the content’s distribution so that fewer people see it,” and that it applies “a warning label that links to the fact-checker’s article, disproving the claim with original reporting.” Meta also said its “reduced distribution” approach could be applied to content deemed “altered” or “missing context.” [Facebook, accessed 8/31/23, 8/31/23]
  • On Instagram, Gays Against Groomers has repeatedly referred to LGBTQ people as “groomers”

    • In a post, Gays Against Groomers claimed that LGBTQ people “are actively grooming kids into the Rainbow Cult.” The post cited a report that found “1 in 4 high school students identifies as LGBTQ” and implied that it is a result of the LGBTQ community “grooming” kids. [Instagram, 4/28/23]
    • Gays Against Groomers shared a TikTok that showed a video of children dancing and waving Pride flags, calling it an “indoctrination ceremony.” The caption of the post reads, “Indoctrinated kids are groomed kids.” [Instagram via Media Matters, 6/6/23, Instagram, 6/6/23]
    • Gays Against Groomers shared a clip from Sesame Street celebrating Pride, saying that it is about “grooming children for sexual orientation and sexual preference.” The caption referred to the video as “teaching toddlers about sex” and “grooming, point blank.” [Instagram via Media Matters, 6/5/23, Instagram, 6/5/23]
    • Gays Against Groomers shared a TikTok claiming that being trans is a “social contagion” that is being pushed by “woke teachers.” The post (seemingly made by the organization’s associate director of communications, Carol Hatch) also claims that parents who support their trans children are guilty of “grooming,” and accuses them of “sexualizing children” and making them “low-hanging fruit for predators.” The claim that gender dysphoria is a “social contagion” has been debunked by numerous medical organizations. [Instagram, 5/30/23]
    • Gays Against Groomers attacked Target for “pushing LGBTQ+ clothing and products on children.” In a post noting that the group had called for a boycott of Target, Gays Against Groomers included an image where the Target sign was replaced with the word “groomers.” The caption that the group will “no longer allow these companies to pervert our youth and groom them into the Gender Cult!” [Instagram, 5/25/23]
    • Gays Against Groomers posted a clip of Megyn Kelly discussing the organization and attacking Target, saying that if “you’re marketing this stuff to little kids, you are a groomer.” The caption of the post called for viewers to boycott Target and “not support companies that support sexualizing and indoctrinating children.” [Instagram, 5/18/23]
    • Gays Against Groomers posted a video about a clip from a children’s TV show featuring a Pride celebration and trans characters, captioned “There is a massive agenda currently being pushed to manipulate and groom your children.” [Instagram, 5/16/23]
    • The organization posted a video claiming that if you are against the organization, that’s because you want to “push your agenda because you want to make it alright to be a sexual queer kid in the 21st century. You want full-on access to adult porn for kids, kids have sex with adults.” The caption referred to the people who do not support GAG as “people that want to groom and sexually abuse children.” [Instagram, 4/25/23]
    • In a video posted by Gays Against Groomers, the speaker claims that “the entire point of the Pride events” is to “sexually groom” children. The caption stated: “If you don’t want to be called a groomer, stop acting like one.” [Instagram, 4/24/23]
    • Gays Against Groomers shared a post promoting a recently published article on its blog titled “The Transgender Bill of Rights: Gay Erasure and the End of Childhood Innocence.” The caption of the post claimed that the “The Trans Bill of Rights” is “SPONSORED BY PEDOPHILES,” that “they want to erase us” and “REMOVE gay people from the conversation,” and that progressives are really “groomers.” [Instagram, 4/9/23
    • The caption of a post shared by the group read, “There’s no such thing as ‘trans kids.’ There are only groomed kids.” The video in the post featured the leader of the Illinois chapter of Gays Against Groomers discussing the inclusion of a flag with the words “protect trans kids” in the background of an animated movie and asking: “Why are we highlighting the sexualization of children? Why are we pushing ideologies onto these kids?” [Instagram, 4/6/23]
    • The organization shared a video in which the speaker said every institution that supports age-appropriate gender-affirming care has been “captured by groomers” and that the people involved in them should “never see sunlight again.” [Instagram, 4/4/23]
  • On Instagram, Gays Against Groomers has repeatedly targeted trans people with claims of mental deficiencies

    • Gays Against Groomers posted a video featuring the group’s New York chapter leader claiming that “therapists are manipulating parents and the children” and said trans people have a “mental disorder.” The caption quoted the person in the video as saying, “Chopping off body parts will not make you the opposite sex, and will probably not solve your mental disorder.” [Instagram, 5/4/23
    • Gays Against Groomers posted a video claiming that being trans is a “mental illness.” The caption, referencing an image of a trans person in an ad, said that “mental illness should not be celebrated as if it is something to aspire to be like. And that is exactly what this poster is.” [Instagram, 4/21/23
    • Gays Against Groomers posted a screenshot of a tweet it posted saying that “trans is the new emo. Except instead of growing out of that phase with just a bad haircut, these kids will be left sterilized and missing body parts.” The post also promotes a T-shirt and other merchandise for sale. [Instagram, 4/11/23
    • Gays Against Groomers posted screenshots of an article from its blog in response to the Nashville, Tennessee, school shooting. The caption used the tragic event to make the blanket claim that trans people are a “monstrosity of a movement” and that the shooter was one of its “savage footsoldiers” who “openly encourage” “bloodshed.” [Instagram, 3/28/23
    • Gays Against Groomers posted about the Nashville school shooter, speculating that they were on testosterone and suggesting that hormone therapy may have been responsible for their violent actions. The caption also claimed that “we need to have the discussion about the effects these drugs are having on the minds of young, mentally ill people.” [Instagram, 3/27/23
    • The group shared a post claiming the rise in percentage of Gen Zers who identify as LGBTQ is “not organic. It's a social contagion.” The post also claimed that “being trans is a trend.” [Instagram, 4/27/23
    • Gays Against Groomers shared a video in which the speaker says the “Cartoon Network is literally guilty of trying to indoctrinate children into the gender cult” seemingly because the TV network posted about sharing and respecting people’s pronouns. The speaker also claimed that the “people that push this” are “actively recruiting children” to be trans. [Instagram, 3/31/23]
  • Gays Against Groomers has repeatedly spread misinformation about gender-affirming care on Instagram, including falsely claiming that it is a form of mutilation or pedophilia

  • Gays Against Groomers has spread false narratives about gender-affirming care, even though these tropes have been repeatedly debunked by Meta's third-party fact-checkers:

    • Gays Against Groomers posted an image of a tweet that equated gender-affirming care with mutilation and referred to trans people as part of a “cult.” [Instagram, 6/9/23] 
    • Gays Against Groomers shared a post referring to gender-affirming surgery as “sterilization and mutilation.” [Instagram, 5/18/23
    • Gays Against Groomers again shared a post referring to gender-affirming surgery as “sterilization and mutilation.” [Instagram, 5/26/23
    • The organization posted that “gender ideology” is being “pushed on children, leading them to be chemically castrated and mutilated.” [Instagram, 5/17/23
    • Gays Against Groomers shared a post claiming that “transing youth is the new conversion therapy, only 1000x worse.” It claimed that those supporting people’s gender identity are “erasing us” (meaning gay people). [Instagram, 5/13/23
    • Gays Against Groomers also shared a post that compared gender-affirming care for youth to pedophilia. The post also claimed that providing gender-affirming care constitutes “erasing” lesbians. [Instagram, 5/9/23
    • The group shared a TikTok with a caption claiming that “effeminate boys and masculine girls are being herded like cattle into transition by parents, activists & doctors” and called it “gay erasure.” [Instagram, 4/3/23
    • Gays Against Groomers shared a TikTok with a caption saying that “children are being drowned in trans ideology” and that there is an “indoctrination issue.” The video said it’s “not a gun control issue, and it’s not a mental health issue." [Instagram, 4/1/23
  • On Instagram, Gays Against Groomers has repeatedly accused LGBTQ people of having moral deficiencies, including by pushing the right-wing myth that LGBTQ people are embracing pedophilia

  • Recycled claims that that LGBTQ people are embracing pedophilia have also been thoroughly debunked, yet Gays Against Groomers has repeatedly pushed this narrative on Instagram: 

    • The group posted a screenshot of a tweet claiming that a “trans lifestyle” is “being pushed on children” by people “because they are evil.” The second image in the post promotes merchandise being sold by Gays Against Groomers. [Instagram, 5/12/23]
    • The organization posted a video in which the speaker claims that students care about trans rights only because they have been “indoctrinated.” The caption stated: “A child is not capable of being queer. To say a child can be queer is to say a child is a sexual being.” [Instagram, 3/29/23
    • Gays Against Groomers posted a video in which the speaker shared an article from Fox News falsely claiming that the United Nations backed recommendations to “lower the age of consent and decriminalize sex between an adult and a child.” The caption of the post claimed that this shows “they are moving forward with their agenda.” This post was flagged as false by Instagram, but as of publication it remained up with nearly 20,000 likes. [Instagram, 4/18/23
    • Gays Against Groomers shared a post implying that allowing gender-affirming care for children would lead to the removal of protections around sexual consent. The caption stated, “If a child can consent to something as extreme as permanently altering their bodies … what CAN’T they consent to?” and insisted that “that’s where this agenda leads next.” [Instagram, 4/14/23
    • The group posted a video in which the speaker claimed that “the inevitable logical end to this entire conversation” is asking, “If a child at 12 years old can consent to permanently changing their sex, how can they not consent, at that point, to actually engage in sex?” The implication was that the end goal of providing gender-affirming care to minors is to remove the legal protections around the age of sexual consent. [Instagram, 4/16/23
    • The organization posted a video in which the speaker claimed that the representation of fictional characters as gay is not about representation but about “sexual messaging.” [Instagram, 4/5/23
    • In a video shared by Gays Against Groomers, the creator implied that “LGBT rights” are being used as a cover for “people trying to convince you that they should twerk in front of your kids.” [Instagram, 3/30/23
    • In another video posted by the organization, the speaker echoed the false right-wing narrative that the LGBTQ community has progressed from wanting to get married to wanting “gay porn in school libraries.” The caption also claimed that “our children have become the target of a deep, dark agenda.” [Instagram, 3/23/23
    • That same day, the group posted a screenshot of a tweet in which it claimed that “gender ideology is a trojan horse for pedophilia.” It added that “if children can consent to something as extreme and permanently altering their bodies” they will be allowed to consent to anything. [Instagram, 3/23/23
    • Gays Against Groomers also posted a screenshot of a tweet stating that “pornographic or sexually explicit children's books in schools'' are “always LGBTQ+ material.” The caption of the post claimed that “they hide behind the rainbow to avoid criticism.” [Instagram, 3/21/23]
    • Gays Against Groomers posted a video accusing both Q Chat and The Trevor Project of being “a gateway for pedophiles to gain access to children.” Q chat and The Trevor Project are organizations aimed at helping queer youth. [Instagram, 3/4/23
  • Gays Against Groomers has also targeted LGBTQ people on Meta's other platforms, Facebook and Threads

    • Gays Against Groomers posted to Threads that “schools have become nothing more than dysphoria factories that pump out confused children leading them straight to the butcher’s table.” The post also stated that we should “abolish the education system.” [Threads, 7/8/23
    • The group also claimed that “predators and perverts hide being the rainbow.” The post included a meme implying that sex offenders are excused if they are LGBTQ. [Threads, 7/5/23
    • Gays Against Groomers used Threads to promote a giveaway with an image that said “Groomers GO DIRECTLY TO JAIL.” The giveaway included stickers that say “big pharma loves trans kids” (with a dollar sign-emblazoned heart) and a magnet depicting a Monopoly-style policeman dragging a drag queen to prison by the legs. [Threads, 7/5/23
    • On Threads, Gays Against Groomers expressed surprise that its accounts and Moms for Liberty’s accounts have “both made it this long on social media.” This comment came in response to a Moms for Liberty comment saying, “Maybe we’ll finally be cool enough to get banned.” [Threads, 7/5/23
    • On Facebook, the group referred to doctors who provide gender-affirming care as “child butchers.” The caption of the post claimed that doctors and hospitals are “pushing kids to medically transition.” [Facebook, 7/18/23
    • In another Facebook post, Gays Against Groomers called the mothers of trans children “psychotic” and claimed that they are using their children as a “status symbol.” It added that parents who support their trans children have “Transhausen by proxy” and promoted merchandise bearing the phrase. [Facebook, 7/23/23
    • In another post, the organization declared that it does “not say family friendly drag queen” but “groomer clown” and equated LGBTQ books to “pornographic filth” and gender-affirming care to “child sterilization and mutilation.” The post urged followers to do the same. [Facebook, 7/30/23
    • In one post shared to Facebook, Gays Against Groomers claimed that trans rights activists believe that “children should have their body parts removed to define their gender.” The caption of the post also claimed that gender ideology is “rooted in irrationality.” [Facebook, 8/2/23]
    • On Facebook, Gays Against Groomers promoted its new media hub. The caption said the group is “going nuclear on these groomers and child predators.” [Facebook, 8/5/23
    • Gays Against Groomers has also attacked drag queens on Facebook, implying that they are “attracted to” children. [Facebook, 8/6/23
    • Gays Against Groomers used a Facebook post to falsely suggest that surgery is the only form of gender-affirming care and that it is regularly offered as treatment for minors. The caption of the post said the group would “post the pictures here ourselves but it would get us banned.” [Facebook, 7/7/23]