I Was Labelled A 'Paedophile' And 'Groomer' In A Viral Video — And It Blew Up My Life

"People’s remarks ranged from the hurtful to the dangerous... 'lock her up ― she’s indoctrinating our children,' and 'kill her on national television.'"
"I sat frozen on my cobalt blue couch, teeth chattering, eyes glued to my phone, questioning everything I thought I knew," the author writes.
Marco VDM via Getty Images
"I sat frozen on my cobalt blue couch, teeth chattering, eyes glued to my phone, questioning everything I thought I knew," the author writes.

When you’re in your late 30s, you think you know who you are. I thought I was a mom, custom-ordering a strawberry-vanilla ice cream cake with hot fudge, sprinkles, and gummy bears for my daughter’s 7th birthday party. I thought I was a New Yorker, standing on the sidewalk every morning waiting for my toddler to yell goodbye from the apartment window. I thought I was an empathetic educator, trying to be the type of grown-up I needed when I was younger.

Then, one October night in 2022, when I should have been filling goodie bags and wrapping presents for my daughter’s birthday the next morning, I sat frozen on my cobalt blue couch, teeth chattering, eyes glued to my phone, questioning everything I thought I knew.

Earlier that day, I was sitting in my school library office, eating a sad salad and talking to an undocumented student about where she was considering applying to college. Our conversation was interrupted when I was informed that Libs of TikTok, a right-wing, virulently anti-LGBTQ+ social media account, had screen-recorded and reposted a video I created for my school library’s Instagram account for Pride month.

The video featured me showcasing LGBTQ+ fiction and informational books and explaining that the books on display in the library are available to be checked out. Students often ask if books on display are available to borrow (I’ve quipped that it’s a library and not a museum), but Libs of TikTok claimed that I was a paedophile and a groomer for trying to get my students to read.

Although I live and work as a high school librarian in New York City ― thought by many to be a bastion of liberalism ― the culture wars still came for me.

“This Book Is Gay” by Juno Dawson, which we’ve had on our library shelves since 2015, was one of the books displayed in my video, and it was one of the top 10 books banned or challenged in 2022, according to both PEN America and the American Library Association. Simply showing that this particular book is available to my students was enough to get me labelled dangerous by this wildly popular and highly influential account.

As a school librarian, I consult professional book reviews and do my best to find titles that ensure each of my students feels seen when they enter our library and browse our shelves. I’ve been dedicated to this profession for 13 years and I’m shocked by how the atmosphere has changed. It feels like our society went from white people buying and checking out books to learn about racism in 2020 to white moms thinking they should be able to control which books other parents’ children can have access to in 2022. The reality is, for every parent yelling about a book to ban, there’s a student crying by my desk for not being accepted as they are by their own families.

"This is a display in our school library showcasing the top 10 most challenged books of 2022 and information about censorship," the author writes.
Courtesy of Lindsay Klemas
"This is a display in our school library showcasing the top 10 most challenged books of 2022 and information about censorship," the author writes.

After tucking my daughters into bed that night, I couldn’t turn away from the flood of hateful comments that continued to cascade beneath my video. People’s remarks ranged from the hurtful to the dangerous: “what’s with the dark circles under her eyes?” “she looks like cats chew on her hair all day,” “she’s clearly a Jew with that nose,” “she looks single, she can marry my rifle,” “lock her up ― she’s indoctrinating our children,” and “kill her on national television,” just to name a few.

Four days after the harassment began, I posted in a self-care podcast’s Facebook community asking if anyone else had ever been trolled and had any advice for coping. People told me I should seek legal advice, lock down all my social media accounts, and thanked me for being brave. I wanted a road map for how to get out of this deep valley and I wanted to know when I’d finally be free.

For weeks after the clip was posted, I walked around with my head down, embarrassed, ashamed and isolated. I wore a face mask everywhere I went, in fear of being recognised and attacked on the street. I carried a Birdie alarm in my pocket in case someone tried to physically harm me. I overheard teachers in the hallway saying that I got what I deserved. I received threats via email. I sobbed in a stall in the teachers’ bathroom.

Thankfully, many people stepped up to support and comfort me. A co-worker gave me a cozy fleece blanket and a kind note expressing how sorry she was that this was happening to me. Another teacher told me there is no one in our school building who does more for the kids who need it the most than I do. My husband ordered me a crate of Levain cookies.

It was almost as difficult for me to receive empathy as it was for me to receive hate. I was constantly questioning how kindness and cruelty can coexist, and which one held more weight.

A mom at my toddler’s gymnastics class told me she saw the post and all the comments and asked how I was holding up. A neighbour in my apartment building ran into me outside the grocery store and said he saw all the hate but didn’t know the right way to reach out. Many other people in my orbit had no knowledge of what was unfolding, and I had to bear the additional burden of informing them of it. I was questioning whether my real life was happening on social media or away from it.

"This is student chalk art in our school library in October 2022, with quotes the student wrote, including, 'you are doing great' and 'this is a safe space,'" the author writes.
Courtesy of Lindsay Klemas
"This is student chalk art in our school library in October 2022, with quotes the student wrote, including, 'you are doing great' and 'this is a safe space,'" the author writes.

I searched for ways to stay grounded and continue living my life. I had 93 Safari tabs open on my phone, including: a recipe for pumpkin bread, a grant application to bring an LGBTQ+ author to our school for an author visit, birthday gift guides for 7-year-olds, tips for handling toddler tantrums, gentle parenting, a search for Lindy West’s essay about her experience being trolled, a definition of “devastated,” and a job search site for teachers considering a career change because maybe it was time for me to go.

I also put my phone down. I thought more critically about how I used my very limited free time, instead of mindlessly doom-scrolling. Moms keep hearing about how we shouldn’t be “pouring from an empty cup” and how we “need to put on our own oxygen mask first,” but my toddler still wakes up in the middle of the night and I live my daytime hours tethered to a precise schedule of school bells that dictates when I can use the bathroom. There just isn’t much time for “self care” (whatever that even means), much less trying to stay sane after being targeted by Libs of TikTok and its countless unhinged followers.

I felt like the safe space I cultivated for my students was no longer safe for myself. I had to figure out a way to claw myself out of the darkness. I garnered my resilience and took the hate and harassment directed toward me and turned it into self-love and self-compassion.

I read books that made me feel seen and baked lots of snacking cakes. I wrote. I talked to my therapist. I channeled my rage and anxiety into training for and running the New York City Half Marathon. Besides the physical outlet, running allows me to listen to music without my children yelling for Alexa to play a tune about poop. I co-led my daughter’s Girl Scout troop.

I let myself wonder about the people who took the time to write hateful comments about me and I attempted to view them as people, not the monsters they were making themselves out to be. What were their lives like? Were they just saying whatever they wanted because they knew there would be no consequences? Did they even mean what they wrote? Were they lonely and lost? Did they also like chocolate peanut butter cups? Did anything bring them joy? By trying to understand their motivations and intentions, I hoped I could humanise them and get closer to why they were doing what they were doing.

And then, I turned back to focusing on myself and my people. I made it a habit to intentionally focus on tiny pockets of joy ― a student endearingly referring to me as “bro,” my daughter telling me about something funny that happened during her day at school, a flower blooming. I realised my energy was better spent by continuing to pour kindness and empathy out for others and for myself, rather than stewing in anxiety and disappointment. I also decided that I had the ability to choose what and who to give my energy to.

"This is a pile of thank you notes, letters and art I received from students in June 2023," the author writes.
Courtesy of Lindsay Klemas
"This is a pile of thank you notes, letters and art I received from students in June 2023," the author writes.

I asked myself, which means more to you: 500 comments from people you don’t know attacking what they can see in a 30-second video you made, or an email from a current student, who attached a thank-you essay she wrote to me as part of her Ivy League college application? I pondered, which should I carry with me for weeks: emails from random strangers to my fellow school staff members in which I’m painted as a pedophile who should be fired, or a student who graduated five years ago reaching out to say thank you for being a role model and giving him a welcoming space even though he was often acting like a jackass (his word)? I contemplated, which holds more weight: parents saying they are concerned I am indoctrinating their teenagers or handwritten notes from students thanking me for creating a community and making them feel supported?

I also spent a large part of this past school year thinking about whether I should continue working as an educator. There were many reasons to quit. But, as the year wound down, I took stock of what I’d accomplished, how much it mattered, and all of the good things that were happening. Our school worked with a local nonprofit on training teachers to better support our LGBTQ+ students. A wonderful social worker and I brought a group of students from our Gender-Sexuality Alliance on a trip to Stonewall National Monument and for pizza and ice cream. “This Book Is Gay” is still proudly on our library shelves and available to all students.

Everything I know about pronouns, gender and sexuality, I learned from having daily conversations with my students and actively listening. According to a study conducted by The Trevor Project, LGBTQ+ youth who have at least one accepting adult in their lives are 40% less likely to attempt suicide. For many of my students, I am that singular accepting adult. All I can do is move myself forward and continue to advocate on my students’ behalf. We each have the power to empathise with and listen to the people who need to be heard. We each can choose where we put our energy and focus it on making life easier and better for those around us.

Book bans and pervasive intolerance from groups like Libs of TikTok and Moms for Liberty are endangering the lives of children and educators. I’m a mom for libraries. A mom for empathy and books and understanding the perspectives of others. A “school mom” for other people’s children. I shouldn’t have been the recipient of threats or personal attacks for having books (which my school district approves of!) in our school library. But, despite everything I’ve faced, I am still here. I’m not going anywhere. I have a job to do ― and it’s more important than ever. I am going to fight for each of my students.

Lindsay Klemas is a born-and-raised New Yorker who strives to make every student of hers feel seen, valued and supported. She spends her time outside the school building raising kind, strong daughters alongside her husband, curling up with books and overthinking.