Conservatives are railing against Arizona's Department of Education for providing resources for LGBTQ+ students.
In their latest attack, right-wing activists point to the department's website, claiming that LGBTQ+ people groom children for sexual exploitation.
The department provides dozens of links to local and national resources for LGBTQ+ students, educators, and families in its resources section. In addition, there are two chat rooms, Gender Spectrum and Q Chat Space, where young people can interact with one another and with trained moderators to discuss essential matters to that particular community.
It's here where conservatives have sought to make something harmless sound nefarious.
As part of CenterLink's Q Chat Space initiative, young people can join scheduled conversations on various topics. In addition, the website has a quick exit option at the bottom of the page, which allows the user to click on it and be taken to a Google search page right away to protect themselves from prying eyes.
Conservatives point to this as an example of grooming. Because the children do not need parental permission to use the website and the site allows them to change to another web page quickly, they say adults with ill will who interact with these children could take advantage of them sexually.
On Twitter, the user @LibsOfTikTok, who promotes anti-LGBTQ+ content constantly to more than 1.2 million followers, amplified the outrage over Arizona's Education Department resources, sparking online calls for the resignation of the state superintendent, Democrat Kathy Hoffman.
Responding to The Advocate's request for comment, Hoffman says that it is appropriate and necessary for the Education Department's website to provide information and resources to LGBTQ+ students.
"LGBTQ students, allies, parents, and educators compiled these resources to help others like them," Hoffman says. "The resource the far right has taken issue with is facilitated by LGBTQ community centers across the country and is an age-appropriate way for teens to connect with others and feel less alone."
It isn't the first time this kind of attack has taken place.
Right-wing activists recently accused the Trevor Project of similarly grooming children because the suicide prevention services organization's website provides a quick exit feature in its chat client.
These features, which allow users to navigate away from the current page quickly, are common in domestic violence hotline services.
Hoffman says attacks on the community are unacceptable.
"It's abhorrent to insinuate anything nefarious is at work simply because it's a resource for LGBTQ people," she says.
As Hoffman points out, the resources the department provides could assist students in overcoming their feelings of loneliness.
"Being an LGBTQ student can be isolating and difficult," she explains. "Too many LGBTQ students face bullying and harassment, and unfortunately, some are kicked out of their homes when they come out. These are the students who may benefit most from these types of resources."
The Advocate reached out to several representatives with CenterLink but did not receive a response. CenterLink, according to its website, is a member-based association of LGBTQ+ community centers and other organizations that strengthen and support LGBTQ+ people in communities across the nation.
Deborah Levine, the website says, is the founder of Q Chat Space. Before bringing it to CenterLink in 2017, she began the program at Planned Parenthood, her online bio states.
A recent University of Maryland study, published by the Society for Prevention Research, found that Q Chat Space provided a reliable real-time chat platform for LGBTQ+ youth and applauded its existence.
Undeterred by right-wing attacks, Hoffman says that she would encourage families in need of additional resources to contact advocates like PFLAG or other LGBTQ+ community organizations.
On her campaign website, Hoffman, who is up for reelection this fall, says she supports "ensur[ing that] our students have access to medically accurate, age-appropriate information they need to make healthy, informed choices."
As The Advocate previously reported, Arizona Republican Gov. Doug Ducey signed two anti-trans bills into law in March. The first bans gender-affirming surgery for trans minors. The other prevents trans girls and women from participating in female sports in grades K-12 or colleges and universities, in public schools or private ones whose students or teams compete against public schools.
Nationwide, Republican-run legislatures have proposed or enacted several hundred anti-LGBTQ+ pieces of legislation in recent months.