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The rapid and continuous propagation of anti-LGBTQ+ narratives on social media platforms and messaging apps is a concerning trend – behind these narratives are some religious communities, far-right proponents, and individuals driven by a desire to engage in culture wars. In 2023, anti-LGBTQ+ proponents are not only well-financed both within the United States and Latin America, but also employ consistent strategies to elude social media platforms’ moderation efforts. The use of coded language stands out as one such strategy.
Three common anti-LGBTQ+ narratives are:
1. Claims of Indoctrinating or “Grooming” Children: This narrative suggests that children are being "groomed,” indoctrinated and sexualized by the LGBTQ+ community to adopt queer or gay identities. There is also the fear of perceived pedophilia. This content is often linked to sex education in schools and disguised as furthering parental rights. It predominantly circulates on social media platforms through the efforts of far-right political factions.
2. The Concept of the "Original Family Design:” Religious groups and religious media outlets promote the notion of an "original design" (nuclear family idea) for families based on Christian values. This can serve as a means to criticize those who do not conform to traditional norms. Visual posts often portray heterosexual individuals or couples, sometimes with children, and are frequently accompanied by references or verses from the Bible.
3. Culture Wars: The growing support for LGBTQ+ rights in the U.S. (71% of the population, for example, say marriages between same-sex couples should be recognized by the law as valid, with the same rights as traditional marriages) has sparked a counter-narrative that depicts a cultural struggle and alleges threats to societal norms. This narrative has led to a rise in violence against non-conforming community members, and to boycotts of brands and products, often with the endorsement of political figures.
Why Do These Narratives Matter?
The proliferation of disinformation and extremist viewpoints presents notable challenges to democratic discourse, particularly on social media platforms where the approximately 34.5 million eligible Latino voters in the United States consume information. A worrying trend is the escalating prevalence of hate speech and anti-LGBTQ+ online content, a cyclical, borderless movement that is projected to persist into 2024 and potentially impact the upcoming electoral cycle in the United States.
A survey conducted by the Gallup Institute in February 2023 indicates that 7.1% of U.S. adults self-identify as LGBTQ+. This percentage has more than doubled since 2012, with Latinos exhibiting a higher rate of LGBTQ+ identification (11%) than any other ethnic group in the United States. This heightened visibility has also contributed to a surge in anti-LGBTQ+ narratives across various online platforms, which are often co-opted and amplified between the United States and Latin America by influencers, conservative pundits, and political leaders.
Numerous politicians across the Americas have introduced legislation aimed at restricting the rights of the LGBTQ+ community. In the U.S., over 77 anti-LGBTQ+ bills have been enacted into law, while an additional 212 are presently under consideration. Latin America, despite being relatively LGBTQ+-friendly in comparison to other regions, is grappling with conservative and religious movements that pose a threat to LGBTQ+ rights. Particular attention is warranted for Brazil, Colombia, Peru, and the Caribbean.
Where and How Are These Narratives Spreading?
The anti-LGBTQ+ agenda receives substantial funding both in the United States and in Latin America, enabling its persistence and expansion. Between 2013 and 2017, global anti-LGBTQ+ movements amassed $3.7 billion in funding, a sum significantly larger than that directed toward pro-LGBTQ+ causes, according to the Global Philanthropy Project. As a result, being exposed to anti-LGBTQ+ content both online and offline is not a rare occurrence.
When targeting U.S. Latino audience, proponents of the "grooming" narrative employ hashtags like #ConMisHijosNoTeMetas (Don't Mess With My Children), #LuchaContraMafiaPedófila (Fight Against Pedophile Mafia), and #DejenALosNiñosEnPaz (Leave Children in Peace). Some posts delve into the subject of sex education in schools, advocating for "parental rights" as the preferred approach. Notably, DDIA has observed instances where this employs cartoons and humor to advance the "grooming" narrative.
In the promotion of the "original family design" narrative, the anti-LGBTQ+ movement leans heavily on religious convictions, Christian blogs, websites, as well as publications authored by Latino priests and pastors.
An analysis of online conversations in Latino spaces online highlights narratives pushing the LGBTQ+ human rights movement as a form of societal contagion propagated by educational, cultural, and medical institutions. Grasping on to this narrative, several politicians have publicly expressed opposition to any brands or companies supporting transgender and non-conforming individuals. To advance the notion of an ongoing "culture war" driven by the non-conforming community and to encourage boycotts, the anti-LGBTQ+ movement frequently employs slogans such as "Hazte Progre Vuélvete Pobre'' (Become Progressive, Become Poor) on social media.
Considerations for the Future
The proliferation of anti-LGBTQ+ content is often borderless and cyclical, and during election times, such narratives are often harnessed to underpin campaign platforms, exacerbating hate and polarization.
Investigate and expose, when appropriate, the actors behind hate narratives - It is crucial that the media conduct thorough investigations to identify the individuals or groups behind the propagation of hateful and false narratives. Cases like that of José Linares, a member of the “Con Mis Hijos No Te Metas” movement who is being accused of having abused his own daughter, is an example of cases that may warrant exposure.
Amplify the work of Spanish-language fact-checkers - The work of fact-checkers plays a vital role in the battle against false information – though fact-checking is by no means a silver bullet – especially in instances where the false information reaffirms strongly held beliefs connected to a person’s identity – research does show that fact-checks move people toward believing false content is false and can help reduce uncertainty.
Report hate content to social media platforms - It is imperative that, as a society, we continue to address the issue of social media company policies not being enforced, and the generation of ad revenues from content that promotes hate toward transgender and non-gender-conforming individuals. Civil society must continue to advocate for stricter enforcement of platforms' terms of service, and we all have a role to play in reporting violent, hateful or discriminatory content within the platforms.
Consider liaising with local groups - Federal, state, and local government officials and policymakers, as well as civil society, have a role to play in strengthening connections and engaging in dialogue with trusted messengers and community leaders (including, in this case, religious leaders) as an approach for fostering understanding and trust with Latino communities.