Fri. Dec 2nd, 2022

Ottawa-based Shopify is resisting calls to cut ties with a controversial site accused of being anti-LGBTQ2 known as “Libs of TikTok,” which sells goods on the e-commerce platform plastered with accusations of “grooming” children.

The products use the words “Stop grooming our children,” a claim the Anti-Defamation League says has been increasingly used by some far-right activists over the past year without evidence against members of the LGBTQ2 community; especially the drag ones.

Several prominent LGBTQ2 voices, including Helen Kennedy, head of the LGBTQ2 advocacy group Egale, and openly queer Ottawa city councilor Ariel Troster, called on Shopify to end its service to the vendor, which did not respond to questions sent to Global News on Monday.

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However, Shopify told Global News that it has no intention of cutting ties with the supplier.

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A spokesperson said that “this merchant is not currently in violation of Shopify’s Acceptable Use Policy.”

That policy specifically prohibits Shopify users from promoting or condoning “hate or violence” against “people based on … gender” and “sexual orientation,” among other categories.

“Shopify’s growth means we are increasingly becoming the platform of choice for anyone looking to sell to their consumers online. We host companies of all types and sizes, with different worldviews,” said the spokesperson.

“We take concerns about merchants on our platform very seriously, and Shopify’s AUP lists activities that are not allowed on our platform.”

The calls for Shopify to end its partnership with the retailer come after a mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Colorado that left five dead and 18 injured.

While the tagline doesn’t specify if it has anything to do with the LGBTQ2 community, Troster said Libs of TikTok is “specifically targeting trans people, trans artists, the LGBTQ community,” making it clear to her the message her merchandise is trying to convey.

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“Selling merchandise that says ‘Stop Grooming Our Children’ is intentionally intended to incite hatred and violence against our community,” Troster said.

“I urge Shopify to drop Libs of TikTok as a client.”

US media, including The Washington Post, have reported that the Libs of TikTok frequently share anti-LGBTQ2 content on their social media platforms, including numerous tweets mocking the use of gender-affirming pronouns and highlighting all-age drag events as cause for concern.

Click to play video: 'Drag Queen book reading sparks protest outside downtown Edmonton library'

A Drag Queen book reading sparked a protest outside a downtown Edmonton library

Despite five attempts by Global News over 24 hours to request comment from the Libs of TikTok on Monday, no response had been received by the time of publication.

The Libs merchandise that TikTok sells is an “insult” to LGBTQ2 people, Kennedy said.

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“Can you imagine what it’s like to pass someone on the street, in your neighborhood that you like to think you’re safe in, with a T-shirt that says, or a cap that says, ‘Stop grooming our children,'” Kennedy said.

“It is an insult to your identity as a human being and has no basis in fact…. It is simply ignorance.”

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Shopify has a “responsibility” for removing the site, Kennedy added.

“I think it’s offensive. I think it incites violence and hatred,” Kennedy said.

The story that LGBTQ2 people are trying to “groom” children or become members of the LGBTQ2 community or sexually abuse them is a baseless variant that homophobes have been pushing for decades, Troster said.

“It’s the exact same tactic that the evangelical right used in the ’70s and ’80s, and it’s back,” she said.

“This kind of rhetoric … normalizes really scary suggestions about people like me and people I love. So it’s incredibly important not to allow this to flourish, and especially not to allow these people to profit from it.”

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Criticism of Shopify for allowing products to remain available for sale through its platform comes amid a rise in hate crimes and anti-LGBTQ2 rhetoric from the far right in recent years.

A particular focus of the hate was drag queens and events known as “drag queen story time,” where drag queens read stories to children about inclusivity. Multiple such events at libraries in Canada have seen protests, while a donut shop in Tulsa, Okla., also fell victim to a fire days after hosting a drag art show.

Click to play the video: 'Pronouns the first step in respecting gender identity, inclusivity'

Pronouns are the first step in respecting gender identity, inclusiveness

Violence against the LGBTQ2 community more broadly has also been rampant in recent years, according to the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), America’s largest LGBTQ2 advocacy group.

In 2022, “at least” 32 transgender people were killed or killed by other violent means, HRC reported. It’s unclear if this figure accounts for the people killed in Colorado Springs over the weekend.

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“We say ‘at least’ because too often these stories go unreported — or misreported,” his source explained of the fatal violence in 2022.

“In previous years, most of those people were black and Latina transgender women.”

In 2021, HRC found that at least 57 transgender or gender non-conforming people were killed by violent means — a number the organization said broke its own records.

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In Canada, police reported 263 sexual orientation hate crimes in 2019 — a 41 percent increase from the previous year and the most since 2009, according to Statistics Canada.

Violent crimes account for “more than half” of hate crimes targeting sexual orientation, it found, compared to one-quarter of hate crimes targeting religion including violence.

“Transgender Canadians were also more likely to report their mental health as poor or good than their cisgender counterparts, and were also more likely to have seriously considered suicide during their lifetime,” StatCan added.

“A recent crowdsourced survey found that gender-diverse participants (ie, participants who did not report their gender as exclusively female or male) were nearly 3 times more likely to report experiencing discrimination during the pandemic than male participants.”

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US President Joe Biden also warned of the “growing hatred and violence” facing the LGBTQ2 community.

“We continue to witness disturbing declines and increases in hate and violence directed at LGBTQI+ people in the United States and around the world,” he said, speaking in May of this year, according to NBC.

“That’s wrong.”

In the face of these hostilities, Troster had a message for LGBTQ2 youth.

“It’s okay to be who you are, whoever that is,” she said.

“We’ll always have your back.”