Gay Lawmaker Calls for End of 'Groomer' Rhetoric From Colleagues

New York City Council member Erik Bottcher took aim Thursday at a colleague who made comments that likened a city program in which drag queens read stories to elementary school kids to "child grooming."

Speaking at a council meeting, Bottcher, who says in his biography that he is gay, criticized Councilwoman Vickie Paladino for her "extremely harmful rhetoric."

"I cannot think of a more nauseating term than the term 'groomer.'That's what child molesters do. They cultivate trust with someone they're about to victimize. Enough of that word. Enough of this rhetoric," Bottcher said, spurring a round of applause.

Though he did mention Paladino by name in a clip of his speech he shared on Twitter, he tagged the councilwoman directly in the caption, saying that she used the term "grooming" repeatedly to "describe my community."

"@VickieforNYC, we need you to acknowledge this is wrong & tell others to stop also," he wrote.

Planned drag queen story events across the U.S. have faced pushback and even threats in recent weeks as Pride Month came into full swing. A North Carolina town had to cancel one of these events after receiving violent threats on social media, while sheriff deputies confirmed that members of the far-right Proud Boys group aggressively disrupted another reading at a California public library by storming the event and reportedly shouting homophobic and transphobic slurs.

NYC Councilman Slams Colleague
New York City Council member Erk Bottcher took aim Thursday at a colleague who made comments that likened a city program in which drag queens read stories to elementary school kids to “child grooming.” Above, drag queen Athena Kills, left seated beside Scalene Onixxx, reads to adults and children during Drag Queen Story Hour at Cellar Door Books in Riverside, California, on June 22, 2019. Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images

Republican Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene has also accused such events of being "indoctrination" and said that they need to be "illegal."

In a Twitter thread about the NYC program on June 13, Paladino wrote: "Any school in my district participating in 'drag queen' degeneracy risks losing their funding. Adult drag performers have NO BUSINESS in our schools, and they will not be in my district. Period."

She said that it was "unacceptable and grotesque" to bring drag queens into elementary schools, and that her office has contacted principals in her district to inform them of her position on such events.

"Progressives may have no problem with child grooming and sexualization, but I do," she wrote in another tweet. "This will not happen on my watch. Kids deserve a quality education free from political manipulation and sexual content. And that's what the kids in District 19 will get."

Bottcher is not the only NYC council member who has criticized Paladino over her remarks.

Chi Ossé, who represents the city's 36th district, tweeted Wednesday: "Vickie, if you and your constituents don't want @DQSHtweets in your schools, that's totally fine! To insinuate that these performers are groomers, during the month of Pride at that, is wildly homophobic and bigoted."

When asked for comment on Bottcher's criticism, Paladino told Newsweek that she thinks "he made a good point." Bottcher reached out to her Thursday morning to voice concern over the use of the word groomer, and "he went further to explain to me what the word groomer actually means," Paladino said.

She noted that she was a "little surprised" that he used the word "nauseating" in reference to the word groomer, but added she believes he's entitled to his opinion and holds the councilman "in high regard."

As for her views on holding the Drag Queen Story Hours in schools, Paladino said that while she doesn't believe the events "fit well in my district," other city council members are free to use the discretionary funding they are given to organize them.

"I do believe in freedom of choice. So in saying that, I'll add that they have [Drag Queen Story Hours] in libraries," Paladino said. "And that gives parents a choice to take their child to a library and do this and have them participate. To make it part of the school curriculum as young as grammar school.… I think it causes more confusion."

Newsweek reached out to the district office for Bottcher for further comment.

Updated 6/17/22, 4:50 p.m. ET: This story was updated with additional comments from Paladino.