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Shopify says store selling products alleging ‘grooming’ of kids doesn’t violate rules

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

The products use the words “Stop grooming our kids,” an allegation that the Anti-Defamation League says has increasingly been deployed over the past year by some on the far right without evidence against members of the LGBTQ2 community; in particular, those who do drag.

Multiple prominent LGBTQ2 voices, including Helen Kennedy, the head of LGBTQ2 advocacy group Egale, and openly queer Ottawa city councillor Ariel Troster, have called on Shopify to stop providing its services to the vendor, which did not respond to questions from Global News sent on Monday.

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However, Shopify told Global News it has no intention to sever ties with the vendor.

Read more: Mass shooting at gay nightclub in Colorado leaves at least 5 dead, 18 hurt, police say

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

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

“Shopify’s growth has meant that we have increasingly become the platform of choice for anyone looking to sell to their consumers online. We host businesses of all stripes and sizes, with various worldviews,” the spokesperson said.

“We take concerns around the merchants on our platform very seriously, and Shopify’s AUP outlines the activities that are not permitted on our platform.”

The calls for Shopify to cut ties with the vendor come on the heels of a mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Colorado, which left five dead and 18 injured.

While the slogan doesn’t specify that it has anything to do with the LGBTQ2 community, Troster said Libs of TikTok “specifically targets trans folks, trans performers, LGBTQ communities,” making the message the merchandise is trying to convey clear to her.

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“Selling merchandise that says ‘Stop grooming our children,’ it’s deliberately intended to incite hatred and violence against our community,” Troster said.

“I’m calling on Shopify to drop Libs of TikTok as a client.”

American media, including The Washington Post, have reported that Libs of TikTok frequently shares anti-LGBTQ2 content on its social media platforms, including a number of tweets mocking the use of gender-affirming pronouns and highlighting any all-ages drag events as a cause for concern

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

Despite five attempts from Global News over the course of more than 24 hours to seek comment from Libs of TikTok on Monday, no response was received by publication time.

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

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“Can you imagine what it feels like to pass somebody on the street, in your neighbourhood that you like to think you’re safe in, with a T-shirt that says or a hat that says, ‘Stop grooming our kids,'” Kennedy said.

“It’s an affront to your identity as a human being, and it has no basis in fact…. It’s just plain ignorant.”

Read more: Being Two-Spirit and trans in Canada — How colonization shaped the way we view gender diversity

Shopify has a “responsibility” to take down the page, Kennedy added.

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

The narrative that LGBTQ2 people are trying to “groom” children either into becoming a member of the LGBTQ2 community or to sexually abuse them is a baseless trope that has been pushed by homophobes for decades, Troster said.

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

“This kind of rhetoric … normalizes really frightening suggestions about people like me and the people I love. So it’s incredibly important to not allow this to flourish and specifically to not allow these folks to profit.”

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

A particular focus of the hatred has been 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 doughnut shop in Tulsa, Okla., also became a victim of arson days after hosting a drag art show.

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

In 2022, “at least” 32 transgender people were fatally shot or killed by other violent means, HRC reported. It’s unclear whether 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,” its 2022 fatal violence resource explained.

“In previous years, the majority of these people were Black and Latinx 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 had broken its records.

Read more: Transgender community faces ‘astronomical gap’ in health-care system, advocates say

In Canada, police reported 263 hate crimes targeting sexual orientation in 2019 — a 41 per cent increase from the preceding year, and the highest number since 2009, according to Statistics Canada.

Violent crimes accounted for “more than half” of the 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 fair than their cisgender counterparts, and also more likely to have seriously contemplated suicide in their lifetimes,” StatCan added.

“A recent crowdsource survey found that gender-diverse participants (that is, participants who did not report their gender as exclusively female or male) were almost 3 times more likely than male participants to report that they had experienced discrimination during the pandemic.”

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U.S. President Joe Biden has also warned of “rising hate and violence” the LGBTQ2 community has been facing.

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

“This is wrong.”

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

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

“We will always have your back.”

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