Pierre Poilievre’s ‘Radical Gender Ideology’ Rhetoric is Rooted in the Global Far-Right’s Attack on LGBTQ+ Rights
Pierre Poilievre keeps railing against ‘radical gender ideology’, a paranoid far-right fever dream with a hateful and harmful history
What exactly is Pierre Poilievre talking about?
During a recent speech to Conservative supporters, Poilievre made the bizarre claim that Justin Trudeau is imposing “radical gender ideology” on children and schools.
Leaving aside that education is a provincial responsibility, not a federal responsibility, Poilievre’s use of “gender ideology” was immediately condemned by LGBTQ+ groups who described it as a homophobic and transphobic “dog whistle.”
Pierre Poilievre is under fire after a video surfaced of a homophobic and transphobic speech.
— PressProgress (@pressprogress) November 9, 2023
“Pierre Poilievre’s recent claims that ‘radical gender ideology’ is being imposed on children is part of a misinformation-fueled hate campaign,” said Egale Canada, a Canadian LGBTQ+ organization, adding that it “condemns these deeply hateful and harmful claims by Pierre Poilievre.”
Despite being condemned by one of Canada’s top LGBTQ+ advocacy groups, Poilievre still continues to use the term.
In fact, during recent rallies over the last month or so, Poilievre has invoked the term “gender ideology” and related rhetoric during a section of his speech railing against “digital IDs,” “digital currency” and the “World Economic Forum.”
But what exactly does “gender ideology” mean? Here’s what you need to know:
What is ‘gender ideology’?
The term “gender ideology” has been described as a “Hydra-like global conspiracy myth” aimed at rolling back women’s and LGBTQ+ rights.
The term’s origins are widely attributed to the Catholic Church and the Vatican’s historic opposition to perceived threats to the so-called traditional family.
Sarah Moore, an analyst with the Anti-Defamation League and GLAAD, says the term has evolved in recent decades and morphed into an ambiguous concept used by right-wing social conservatives to incite paranoia about LGBTQ+ communities.
“This term ‘gender ideology’ is used to create an imaginary demon of an ideology where the whole goal is to harm children by sexualizing them, grooming them, or forcing them to become queer or trans,” Moore told PressProgress.
“It’s really kind of an ambiguous conspiracy theory that’s alleging LGBTQ+ movements are seeking to forcibly turn kids gay or force children into identifying as transgender,” Moore explained. “They use it as this scary boogeyman.”
“We know that just simply is not happening. There’s no way to force somebody to become gay.”
‘Gender ideology’ is inciting paranoia about indoctrination, grooming and pedophilia
The latest version of the “gender ideology” panic revolves around narratives about schools “indoctrinating” or “grooming” children, something implicitly linked to unfounded insinuations about child sexual exploitation and abuse.
In the United States, “gender ideology” and “indoctrination” rhetoric has inspired right-wing Republican governors like Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and Texas Governor Greg Abbot to pass restrictive education laws. Meanwhile, anti-LGBTQ+ groups like Moms for Liberty have campaigned to ban books from libraries and called police on librarians.
This has contributed to a culture of paranoia that appears to be inciting threats and acts of physical violence. For example, harassment, death threats and bomb threats targeting schools and children’s hospitals have been linked to the targets of LibsofTikTok, a far-right account that aggregates content about teachers and the LGBTQ+ community.
Media Matters published a timeline of every confirmed instance of a Libs of TikTok post being followed by threats and harassment. You can read it here: https://t.co/CjYIKC3Blm pic.twitter.com/8Iz9T6MlQX
— Ari Drennen (@AriDrennen) November 2, 2023
“We know that online rhetoric doesn’t just stay online,” Moore said. “It can directly inspire real-world acts of harm and we’ve documented literally hundreds of cases in which this is the case.”
This summer, ADL and GLAAD published a report that found hundreds of examples linking anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric to incidents of violence and harassment.
“A large number of them were conducted by perpetrators who were directly citing tropes from this gender ideology narrative,” Moore said. “We know these conversations happening online are directly translating into harm against these communities, whether that be in the form of bomb threats, whether that be in the form of death threats, or doxxing against teachers.”
Canada’s rise in ‘gender ideology’ paranoia is closely linked to pandemic conspiracy groups
But when the pandemic began to recede and public health measures started lifting, rather than return to the old normal, these groups simply pivoted to a new target.
“The latest iteration started to pick-up when public health restrictions were being removed” and parents began “returning their children to school,” Hazel Woodrow, a researcher with the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, told PressProgress.
“There’s a part of this that can’t be disentangled from the way that these folks, who are largely similar people with grievances around COVID-19 public health measures, and how they are responding to public education,” Woodrow said.
The educational content these groups object to is not new and has been taught in Canadian schools for years. What is new is how these groups, which often include individuals radicalized by COVID-19 conspiracies and extremist content during the pandemic, are reengaging with the public education system post-pandemic.
“A lot of them never wanted schools to close to begin with,” Woodrow noted. “Now they’re getting a lot of ideas about what happens in the classroom from accounts like LibsofTikTok.”
Social conservative groups, anti-LGBTQ+ micro-influencers are the biggest spreaders of anti-‘gender ideology’ paranoia
In June 2023, out-of-town anti-LGBTQ+ activists, far-right livestreamers and right-wing media personalities organized rallies targeting three Ottawa-area schools in an event explicitly billed as an “education over indoctrination” or anti-“gender ideology” rally.
Campaign Life Coalition, Canada’s biggest anti-abortion group, mobilized supporters to show up, linking it to efforts to “resist LGBT indoctrination in schools,” while right-wing outlets like True North described it as a “protest against gender ideology.”
The main organizers, “Billboard Chris” and teenage Christian nationalist Josh Alexander, had appeared together at a secret meeting with elite conservatives at Toronto’s Albany Club several weeks prior to their rally targeting Ottawa schools.
NEW: Organizers of a far-right rally targeting Ottawa schools attended secret meeting at Toronto’s elite Albany Club.
— PressProgress (@pressprogress) June 23, 2023
While these large, well-funded organizations are amplifying and mainstreaming rhetoric about “gender ideology” within the wider conservative movement, the real influencers are often lone individuals running websites and social media accounts.
“What I think is really interesting is not so much the (bigger) groups but these micro groups with maybe a few people running a Twitter account or a free Wix website,” Woodrow noted.
Woodrow points to things like Blueprint for Canada, which created a platform in service of a network of anti-trans candidates in school trustee elections last year, even though it’s “run by one guy” and “isn’t so much a group as it is a website.”
Blueprint Canada’s founder has explicitly cited his opposition to “gender ideology” as the reason he created it.
Anti-LGBTQ activists are networking and coordinating to take over Canadian school boards.
— PressProgress (@pressprogress) October 17, 2022
Likewise, a recent effort to organize an anti-LGBTQ+ “million man march” in cities across the country was largely organized by smaller groups using cheap websites and Facebook groups that were amplified by larger, better-funded conservative groups.
‘This stuff is transnational’: Parallels with the global far-right
Cristian González Cabrera, a researcher with Human Rights Watch, says he sees “parallels” between what’s currently playing out in North America and other anti-LGBTQ+ campaigns around the world over the last decade.
“A lot of this stuff is transnational in nature,” Cabrera told PressProgress.
“In many ways, we’re seeing this throughout the world,” Cabrera said. “Whether that’s Brazil or Poland or Hungary or Russia, the term ‘gender ideology’ is instrumentalized to attack this kind of enemy of traditional values.”
Cabrera has documented over 200 laws passed at the federal, state and municipal level over the last decade banning or placing restrictions on gender and sexuality education in Brazil.
These laws were largely in response to organized conservative groups pushing the same “gender ideology” rhetoric and messages that are now becoming mainstreamed in Canada.
“Since around 2013-2014, we’ve seen a rise of the use of this rhetoric in Brazil and it has manifested itself in many different ways,” Cabrera said, noting it began with organized campaigns by groups focused on “gender ideology” and “Marxist indoctrination.”
Cabrera notes the language was later embraced and co-opted by Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil’s former far-right populist president. Anti-“gender ideology” rhetoric figured prominently in Brazil’s 2018 presidential campaign, with Bosonaro’s opponent being repeatedly targeted with “disinformation about the sexualization of children.”
The cumulative impact of this rhetoric has resulted in restrictive — and in some cases unconstitutional — anti-LGBTQ+ education laws passed across Brazil.
“Over 200 bills and laws in Brazil referencing either specifically ‘gender ideology’ or specifically trying to ban ‘gender ideology’ or saying ‘no information about gender and sexuality in the classroom’ or banning so-called ‘indoctrination’ in Brazilian schools,” Cabrera said.
“It’s really quite remarkable, when you go to the smallest city in Brazil, to bills at the federal level, you’re seeing the same language around gender ideology and indoctrination,” Cabrera said.
“This is your first and last warning. We will not hesitate to use force if necessary!” —a message a teacher in Rio de Janeiro received after addressing gender-based violence in school.
— Human Rights Watch (@hrw) May 15, 2022
Human Rights Watch’s report explicitly calls on politicians to “refrain from making public statements that equate education related to gender and sexuality” with “‘gender ideology’ or ‘indoctrination’ of students.”
Aside from the risk of inciting harm to students and teachers, Cabrera says the cumulative impact of this rhetoric is that it “erodes trust” in the education system and public institutions.
“Whenever conservative groups are employing this type of rhetoric, it’s important to push back and not let it slide,” Cabrera said. “They begin to sow doubt in society about what people are doing in schools or about the value of certain types of identities.”
“It has a very nefarious impact on society.”
A globalized, transnational ‘cross-pollination of ideas’
Anti-LGBTQ+ groups in Canada and around the world are regularly networking and sharing information through various channels, including international conferences.
Campaign Life Coalition and its publication, Lifesite News, have been past participants in international initiatives like the World Congress of Families, an annual conference attended by American evangelical groups and reportedly funded by a sanctioned Russian oligarch.
In 2019, Conservative MP Garnett Genuis attended and spoke at an anti-“gender ideology” conference organized by a think tank formally affiliated with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz Party attended by a number of international anti-LGBTQ+ groups.
NEW: Conservative MP who opposed conversion therapy bill spoke at a conference organized by European far-right, anti-LGBTQ groups.
— PressProgress (@pressprogress) June 23, 2021
But these ideas are not simply being imposed on Canada by external forces – Canada is also a major exporter of anti-LGBTQ+ hate too.
While Canada’s far-right has been inspired by groups like Moms for Liberty and LibsofTikTok, Canada’s so-called “million man march” this fall inspired anti-LGBTQ+ activists in the US.
“We saw the ‘One Million March for Children’ generate a lot of discussion in online spaces, especially in extremist spaces,” Moore told PressProgress. “Because of that march, when ‘Gays Against Groomers’ decided to hold their nationwide march on October 21, they actually turned it into a ‘Worldwide March’, which included partnering with the organizers of the ‘One Million March for Children’ and expanding into locations in Canada, as well.”
This summer, “Billboard Chris” Elston, the organizer of the rally targeting Ottawa-area schools, appeared at a Moms for Liberty conference in Philadelphia, where he denounced “gender ideology” as the “greatest child abuse scandal” in history.
“For nearly three years I have been on a one-of-a-kind journey in order to create awareness about what I consider to be the greatest child abuse scandal,” Elston said. “An insane belief system called ‘gender ideology’ has spread like wildfire throughout the Western world.”
According to Media Matters, Elston revealed in a breakout session that he had been identified and recruited by a right-wing American think tank called the Heritage Foundation to join an initiative to “fight gender ideology.”
“There are situations where we are having a cross-pollination of ideas through conferences,” Woodrow told PressProgress.
“It is a globalized social movement that is observing strategies from around the world and applying them as they work best in their own areas and it’s important to remember that it’s not unidirectional.”
“People in Canada observe what works and what doesn’t and apply that to their own social movements up here,” Woodrow said, meanwhile other “people observe what Canadians do.”
“All of this is very ironic because they, you know, hate ‘globalists’, but they are part of a globalized movement and engage in globalized strategy all the time.”
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