Disinformation Targets Rainbow Events

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Research group The Disinformation Project says that safety concerns that led to the cancellation of two rainbow story time events at community libraries are evidence of disinformation’s growing impact in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Disinformation spread about a library programme recently forced the Hastings District Council to cancel events over concerns the young attendees cannot be kept safe.

Erika and CoCo Flash are drag artists who tour the country, visiting libraries and other community spaces to spread messages of acceptance, inclusion, tolerance, and self-belief. These age-appropriate programmes do not contain sexual content.

“We’ve seen a clear rise in LGBTQ events becoming the target of New Zealand’s disinformation networks. This is especially true of diversity and inclusion initiatives from local Councils or any LGBTQ events for young people or rainbow families,” says Director of Communications Nicole Skews-Poole.

Online hatred towards LGBTQ communities, especially trans and non-binary people, has been growing in New Zealand in the last two years. Just under a year ago, The Disinformation Project published a snapshot report that outlined the growth of transphobia in disinformation networks.

“Disinformation about transgender people is a popular theme of conspiratorial disinformation channels in New Zealand, including online networks and offline groups like Destiny Church. Critically, the messaging in these groups mirrors that from right-wing and fundamentalist lobby groups from overseas,” says Skews-Poole.

“These networks seek to dehumanise already marginalised groups of people and frame them as risks to society,” says Skews-Poole, noting that “the messaging is copied from the way gay men were targeted by homophobic lobby groups in the 1960s and onwards.”

The research group says that the silencing effect (also known as the “chilling effect”) of disinformation becomes evident when initiatives to promote diversity are cancelled and eventually viewed as too risky to consider because of the corresponding threats of violence and harassment.

Fears of a global rise in anti-transgender and queer-phobic rhetoric are driving a new wave of hate towards the national rainbow community. Notably, safe spaces such as Tauranga’s Rainbow Youth office and Greymouth’s church have been vandalised and targeted.

Events like Posie Parker’s visit to New Zealand, post-pandemic scepticism mindsets, and further tensions at other libraries nationwide, such as Avondale’s in 2023, also have increased anti-queer hate in recent memory.

“We have a serious issue when libraries don’t feel safe to showcase and celebrate local diversity because groups of people have come to believe false and harmful ideas about other members of their communities.”