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Gays Against Groomers Is Not a Grassroots Organization: Report

Gays Against Groomers Is Not a Grassroots Organization: Report

Jaimee Michell and David Leatherwood - members of Gays Against Groomers

Despite what some of the people associated with Gays Against Groomers claim, the group is a political outfit of right-wing operatives and not a grassroots organization.

A new report pulls aside the curtain and reveals the background of those working to spread anti-LGBTQ+ hatred using the hate account Gays Against Groomers.

The founder of Gays Against Groomers, Jaimee Michell, and her partners are former ultra-MAGA Trump followers who spread anti-transgender propaganda with QAnon conspiracy theories and links to extremist militias, according to a Media Matters for America investigation published last week.

In response to accusations that it spreads homophobia and transphobia, GAG claims that, as a “coalition of gay people,” it and its members cannot possibly spread anti-LGBTQ+ propaganda. Furthermore, they claim that any attack on the group is homophobic.

However, GAG is not a grassroots initiative but a right-wing project seeking to gain political and financial advantage by using anti-trans rhetoric, according to the left-leaning media watchdog.

GAG was formed last year “to protect the kids” from “sexualization, indoctrination, and medicalization,” Michell claims, and it has gained prestige in right-wing circles along with Chaiya Raichik’s Libs of TikTok, which also attacks the LGBTQ+ community.

Both have promoted the use of the anti-LGBTQ+ slur “groomer.”

Media Matters found that GAG isn’t Michell's first venture in far-right social media circles. She was a prolific MAGA Twitter user in 2016 and 2017, often peddling QAnon conspiracy theories.

During the 2020 election cycle, she frequently corresponded with Ali Alexander, the “Stop the Steal” founder. During a "Stop the Steal" rally in November of that year in Washington, D.C., Michell claimed the presidential election had been stolen. Michell was listed as a contact for the Wisconsin "Stop the Steal" rally using the online alias “TheGayWhoStrayd.”

During the January 6 insurrection, Michell posted support for the rioters on Instagram and Telegram, including reposting extremist Milo Yiannopoulos’s content. Michell has engaged in continuous right-wing grievance culture online, complaining about everything from mitigation measures surrounding the global pandemic to mocking the killing of George Floyd, Media Matters reports.

In May 2022, she began working at a far-right social media communications firm, X Strategies. The firm, cofounded by right-wing activist Alex Bruesewitz, was previously accused of paying online influencers as young as 14 to run advertisements for the Trump “Election Defense Fund.”

Michell’s new position coincides with the increased use of the “groomer” slur popularized by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’s press secretary Christina Pushaw to attack LGBTQ+ people.

During her first month in the new role, Michell established Gays Against Groomers. She regarded any sign of acceptance for LGBTQ+ youth by schools, companies, celebrities, or online users as grooming, according to Media Matters.

Last September, Michell announced that her fiancée, Sasha Leigh, and right-wing provocateur David Leatherwood would join the group’s board.

Similar to Michell, Leatherwood began receiving attention for right-wing troll behavior online. Like Michell, he has ties to the “Stop the Steal” movement. On December 14, 2020, he spoke at an event hosted by Roger Stone. Also like Michell, Leatherwood celebrated the January 6 insurrection, praising the violent rioters, according to Media Matters.

In July, Leatherwood’s boyfriend, Casey Flores, was booted from serving in Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s LGBTQ Advisory Board after past inappropriate behavior and bullying came to light. He toldThe Advocate then that he was moving to Florida to be with Leatherwood because of love.

Leatherwood and Michell have one thing they do well, Media Matters reports: The duo and groups like theirs are excellent at lifting money from people willing to support this bigotry.

Experts say it’s the mean-spiritedness that’s the point.

“It’s this whole extended universe of conspiracy theories and hate. And it allows them to speak to different audiences [simultaneously],” Ari Drennen, LGBTQ program director at Media Matters, tells The Advocate.

“So something we saw a lot of in the last year was people like Gays Against Groomers, people like Libs of TikTok saying, ‘Look at this drag event that’s happening here, this is so upsetting, this is a threat to children.’ And then the Proud Boys picked up on that message and showed up to disrupt the events," she says.

Security experts say tactics used by those far-right influencers can be understood as stochastic terrorism.

Drennen notes that some members of the LGBTQ+ community who have chosen financial gain and alleged grift over the support of their community seem to be backpedaling recently.

“It’s been interesting to see a recent uptick of people who’ve hitched their wagon to the GOP anti-LGBTQ train saying, ‘Well, wait a minute; this is going too far,’” Drennen says.

She points to Brad Polumbo, a writer at the conservative Washington Examiner, penning a piece decrying the GOP move to legislate LGBTQ+ people out of existence.

“Andrew Sullivan just had a tweet that said something similar. Caitlyn Jenner just said something similar about trans kids in states that are passing anti-trans laws who now have nowhere to go,” Drennen says.

“It’s been a different kind of nauseating to see these people notice that their grift has actually moved the needle in a really harmful direction,” she adds.

Gays Against Groomers sells merchandise and accepts donations online in support of its divisive rhetoric. The group claims to be pending approval for 501(c)4 nonprofit status and is registered in Wisconsin.

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