Last week an online star who emerged from Australia’s freedom and anti-vaccine movement dedicated an episode of her conspiracy internet show to a new target: the LGBTIQA+ community.
“They have openly stated they will come for your children and convert them,” Maria Zeee said in an opening monologue. “I’ll also show you how this is linked to a transhumanist agenda, and more importantly how it links to satanic practices of ancient times.”
Zeee’s episode is a sign of building interest in demonising trans people and the broader LGBTIQA+ community from the online anti-lockdown, anti-vaccine and conspiracy communities that grew out of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Since the salience and interest in their cause nosedived in the early parts of this year, the major figures and groups have been branching out from their obsession with opposing COVID restrictions in an attempt to maintain waning interest from their shrinking audiences. This newfound fascination with the LGBTIQA+ community, trans people and, particularly, trans children has found currency within these online communities for a number of reasons.
Anti-vaccine activists have traditionally appealed to concerns over children’s safety; similar appeals can be made to fears of children being exposed or “groomed” by the LGBTIQA+ community. Many members of the community identify as Christian and incorporate explicitly Christian elements into their conspiratorial beliefs. This faith is often twisted to support anti-LGBTIQA+ views. Similar anti-vaccine conspiracies about “big pharma” and the medical community can be repurposed to also apply to hormones and puberty blockers used in transitioning.
Fuelled by their connections with the international online right who have recently intensified their opposition to LGBTIQA+ causes and events, Australian anti-vaccine groups and influencers have begun adopting similar rhetoric and tactics. Monica Smit, the leader of Australia’s most prominent anti-vaccine group, Reignite Democracy Australia, earmarked the issue as a future focus for the group at a rally a week before the federal election.
“We don’t want three bathrooms. We don’t want biological men playing in women’s sports. We don’t want a drag queen story, and we can define a woman,” she said to a cheering crowd. Former Neighbours star turned anti-vaccine campaigner Damien Richardson echoed the statements: “They’re going to divide us with gender as well.”
Other figures like former United Australia Party MP Craig Kelly, former One Nation candidate-turned-blogger George Christensen, and conspiracy influencer David ONeeglio have all posted anti-LGBTIQA+ content in recent weeks, as well as being an increasingly popular topic of discussion in online communities used to organise local anti-lockdown protests.
Much of it is sharing international content like news articles, images or video clips of US “drag bingo” shows or children transitioning, often containing misinformation. Increasingly, however, they’re tapping into this interest by localising it to Australia.
Beyond stories about children being taught about LGBTIQA+ concepts or companies giving gender leave to their staff, links and details of events featuring drag or LGBTIQA+ events are being shared to coordinate responses from angry members of online communities.
Earlier this month, Zeee shared the details of a Gold Coast family-friendly drag queen bingo event to her 50,000 online followers: ”They will keep going with this nonsense if we don’t speak up about how wrong it is.” Another user shared a queer market event from a Melbourne council into one of the biggest anti-lockdown protest groups, pleading people to work together to cancel the event.
The response is unanimous. Followers and other group members referred to them as “evil”, called it “grooming” and even threatened violence. One user responded to Zeee: ”If I see a vile creature like that near my g/kids school I’ll beat the shit out of it!!” Other users agree ominously about a video of pride parade participants needed to be “dealt with”.
In the US, this obsession with anti-LGBTIQA+ fear mongering has led to violence with a series of high-profile attacks against pride events this month, including a foiled attempt by white nationalist group Patriot Front.
Australia hasn’t reached this point. But this growing and warped fervour presents floundering groups with a new bogeyman to unite against: vulnerable, marginalised Australians who are already at risk.