Conspiracy theorists have started targeting New Zealand organisations supporting queer people. A recent target has been The Warehouse. As a part of Global Pride Month, The Warehouse is making donations to InsideOUT, a charity working to make schools more inclusive of queer students.
Conspiracy theorists have hounded The Warehouse through mass emails accusing the company of supporting paedophilia and grooming and sexualisation of children. The accusations soon turned into calls to boycott The Warehouse and any businesses supporting queer people.
The tactic is imported from the United States of America, where conservatives targeted Bud Light for working with actress Dylan Mulvaney on sponsored social media posts. Mulvaney happens to be trans.
Conservatives called for Bud Light boycotts but soon started harassing Bud Light on social media and walking into supermarkets to smash Bud Lights or buying them to burn or shoot them. Then they turned to abusing Bud Light salespeople.
The process in the United States is targeting a business, harassing them through email and phone calls, calling for boycotts and eventually walking into stores and destroying products and intimidating staff. Matt Walsh, who led boycotts against Target, wrote, “The goal is to make ‘pride’ toxic for brands,” on his Twitter.
Conspiracy theorists have attempted to import these methods to New Zealand.
Earlier this year, I became Young New Zealander of the Year and conspiracy theorists ran a petition demanding Kiwibank strip me of my award. Why? Because I am trans. When the petition did not work, they harassed Kiwibank on social media and called for people to “empty their accounts”.
Around the same time, a woman on Instagram was calling out Countdown for collecting donations for RainbowYOUTH, a charity providing support services to young queer people, including assistance to prevent homelessness. The woman had the option to skip the donation step.
Conspiracy theorists are communicating they will punish businesses if they support queer people. Unfortunately for them, Kiwibank, The Warehouse and Countdown did not suffer any monetary loss.
These tactics may have worked in the United States where people are frighteningly polarised, but they won’t work here. We have conservatives, but I’d like to think that most are not crazy. Our culture, in three words, is she’ll be right. Most New Zealanders are not going out of their way to boycott businesses.
However, conspiracy theorists have compromised the safety of businesses and their staff. When boycotts fail, conspiracy theorists use methods of mass dog-piling (attack en masse on social media) and thinly veiled threats of violence to intimidate businesses. Aggressive protesters have forced libraries hosting drag story times to shut down.
Although anti-queer groups are annoyingly loud, they are minuscule. The latest LGBT+ Pride 2023 survey shows that 84 per cent of New Zealanders believe transgender people should be protected from discrimination, and in 2020, 72 per cent supported a ban on conversion therapy. Recently, thousands of New Zealanders rallied for trans people and against TERFs.
It is shameful that in a country with so many real issues, conspiracy theorists have engineered a campaign full of hypocritical outrage to bully queer folk and those who support us. These groups have never engaged in activities to eradicate child abuse, poverty, homelessness, or hunger. They have no interest in saving children. They’re using children, whose safety and well-being heightens emotion, as a pawn to convince people to hate queer folk.
I governed RainbowYOUTH for nearly four years and saw how necessary funding from businesses is to provide support services to children and young people struggling with life. I worry about the children and young people who will lose crucial support if businesses stop supporting queer organisations.
My plea to businesses supporting queer folk is: never stop. Your support is saving lives, and I know from experience that being the target of constant harassment is awful, but in years to come, humanity will thank you for standing with vulnerable children and young people.
Shaneel Shavneel Lal (they/them) was instrumental in the bill to ban conversion therapy in New Zealand. They are a law and psychology student, model and influencer.