Grooming typically refers to a process or set of behaviors that influences a child and makes it easier for an adult to introduce and complete sexual interactions with the child. Yet as the debate about teaching LGBTQ topics in schools heated up, some on the right have argued classroom discussions about gender identity and sexual orientation constitute grooming, which the left has pushed back on.

The right says the introduction of LGBTQ topics in schools is grooming because it unfairly influences children for the purpose of changing their sexual orientation or gender identity and ultimately, their politics. They see grooming as the preparatory phase that predators orchestrate to prime their victims for compliance for all sorts of things, not just explicit sexual activity. While they agree the connotation of the term is sexual, they believe that sex itself doesn’t have to be the end goal of grooming. In this view, children can be groomed into accepting ideas about gender, sexuality, and even politics that will confuse them, harm them or lead to mental health issues. They argue that increased exposure to LGBTQ ideas makes children more likely to question their gender and sexuality when they otherwise wouldn’t have and possibly even reject their families and parental guidance on issues of gender and sexuality.

In this view, LGBTQ instruction destabilizes children and causes them to stray from the authority of their parents, turning to the state or other institutions for “parenting.” It causes children to become sexualized and perceive adults as competitors and peers — placing a wedge between authority and childhood. 

Those who believe children are being “groomed” into LGBTQ ideology argue that grooming is not just limited to discussing gender and sex in schools; it can also come through media and culture, such as by conscious decisions to increase the number of LGBTQ characters in children’s films and TV shows and by normalizing events like drag queen story hour in children’s libraries.

Others disagree that the word “grooming” ought to be used in this way. Many on the left, for instance, use a narrower definition of grooming, and argue that talking to children about gender identity and sexual orientation is not grooming, because it is done without intent to sexually abuse a child. They particularly take issue with the implication that LGBTQ identities themselves are inherently sexual, and that discussing those topics is therefore somehow inappropriate or dangerous at certain ages. 

They argue that increased exposure to LGBTQ people or topics doesn’t make children more likely to identify as LGBTQ, and disagree that LGBTQ identities constitute an ideology; they see it as innate and inborn, and argue that failing to discuss these issues in the classroom can leave children in a vulnerable position if they are unable to discuss these topics with unsupportive parents at home, potentially leading to mental health issues. They say the word “grooming” is simply a homophobic scare tactic to rally the right.

They also argue that the term “grooming” is wielded to separate people who are different and characterize them as less than or as evil, arguing it is a form of homophobia and transphobia. They argue that creating an environment of increased acceptance doesn’t change children, but allows them to more safely and openly think about, question and discuss their gender identity and sexual orientation.