As this year’s legislative session kicked off, Colorado’s Republican and Democrat leadership came together in calling for decorum, hoping for colleagues to treat one another “with dignity and respect at all times.” Just one month into 2024, some lawmakers are already finding that harder than others.
State Rep. Ken DeGraaf (R-Colorado Springs) has made many inflammatory comments during his brief tenure in the legislature, including spreading misinformation about vaccines, promoting election conspiracies, and more recently accusing Democrats of supporting slavery. Now, DeGraaf has added another entry to the list: seemingly accusing some of his Democratic colleagues of pedophilia.
In a recent Facebook post, DeGraaf wrote that “If you want to understand the state of the democrat party, consider that they are triggered by the words ‘groomer’ and ‘grooming.’”
The comment arose from floor discussion of House Bill 1017, which creates a “bill of rights” for youth in foster care. DeGraaf and other Republicans took issue with the bill’s protections for LGBTQ youth in foster care.
During the discussion, DeGraaf attempted to read from a letter written by Rich Guggenheim, spokesman of the Colorado chapter of Gays Against Groomers, a far-right organization dedicated to advancing transphobia. Upon saying the name of the organization, he was immediately reprimanded by house leadership and asked not to use the words “groomer” or “grooming.”
According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), in its literal usage the term “grooming” refers to the act of specific manipulative behaviors abusers use “to gain access to a potential victim, coerce them to agree to the abuse, and reduce the risk of being caught.”
However, from about 2022 onwards, right-wing media has used “grooming” and “groomer” to refer broadly to discussing LGBTQ issues with children and the people who have or enable such discussions. This carries the bigoted implication that LGBTQ people and advocates are child predators. As a result, some consider the word to be an anti-LGBTQ slur.
The word’s pejorative usage was the reason why state Rep. Mike Weissman (D-Aurora) gaveled DeGraaf down.
One could assume that a Democratic lawmaker would be offended by these words because they feel that they or others are being falsely accused of pedophilia. Colorado’s legislature boasts the largest LGBTQ caucus of any state, any of whom might understandably take offense at such an accusation.
But DeGraaf went on to claim that multiple members of the Colorado Democratic caucus are themselves ‘pedophilic.’
“Saying ‘grooming’ and ‘groomers’ is offensive to their pedophilic members,” he explained in response to another comment.
DeGraaf is not the only Colorado Republican to make such statements. In a 2022 sermon, his longtime legislative brother in arms Scott Bottoms (R-Colorado Springs) said that the lawmakers responsible for a sex education bill are “pedophiles and they should be in jail for that.”
In a text exchange with the Colorado Times Recorder, DeGraaf declined to say which colleagues he was referring to, instead referencing a comment under his post by Guggenheim. Guggenheim made multiple comments, one of which said “the only people offended by the word groomers – are well, groomers.” Another referenced state Rep. Leslie Herod’s (D-Denver) frequent usage of the word “queer.” The term can be pejorative in some contexts, but also has a long history of usage among LGBTQ people and activists going back decades.
Neither Weissman nor Herod responded to a request for comment; this article will be updated with any response received.
Erik Maulbetsch contributed to this article.