Friday, November 11, 2011

Hate Groups Turning Penn State Crimes into Anti-Gay Justification

Jerry Sandusky, USA Today image
The first thing I thought when I heard about the 15 years of molestation former Penn State assistant coach Jerry Sandusky is accused of (some of it on Penn State athletic property) was "holy shit." Fifteen years of sexual abuse targeting underprivileged boys, and university officials at different levels all turned a blind eye? So sick, and so scary that so many people up the chain of command would implictly support this sexual abuse by virtue of not acting decisively to stop it.

My second reaction was: "the radical right is going to try to make this a 'gay' thing."

Anti-gay conservatives have long conflated same-sex love with pedophilia. And this has been a very effective strategy for creating hysteria and bringing people to the polls to vote against marriage equality, gays and lesbians adopting, and other LGBT-related civil rights issues. I saw the impact clearly when I took part in a door-knocking campaign to get the pulse of voters after the passage of Proposition 8. One man I spoke with (in San Francisco's Visitacion Valley neighborhood, a mere 20 minutes from the Castro) explained that his main concern about same-sex marriage was that it was a slippery slope, and soon men would be marrying underage teenage boys.

Calmly and persistently, I explained that like him, I do not support men marrying underage boys, but that was not what marriage equality is. Two consenting adults are the requisite for gays and lesbians to marry, just as with heterosexuals. But he would not be moved. To him, gay marriage was a form of pedophilia.

And unfortunately, there are small pockets of people drawing that same wrongheaded conclusion around the Penn State case. The loudest voice thus far has been the Christian News Wire, which has published an op-ed by Peter LaBarbera, president of Americans For Truth About Homosexuality. LaBarbera's group has been certified by the Southern Poverty Law Center as anti-​gay hate group, and following form, LaBarbera is using the Penn State case as a vehicle to claim that sexual abuse by an older man at an early age makes the victims gay. He writes,
"Many openly homosexual ("gay") men, like CNN anchor Don Lemon, were molested as boys or experienced abnormally early sexualization."
LaBarbera has no evidence to share, just repeatedly cites Don Lemon as an example of this "trend." He also forgets entirely about the existence of lesbians, likely because he would have no explanation for why--even though all gays and lesbians are a "threat" to children--there is no pattern of lesbians molesting young girls. Sandusky identifies as a straight man, is married to a woman and has two sons. LaBarbera ineffectually tries to explain this away. The New Civil Rights Movement sums up the core argument LaBarbera's article well: "homosexuals are created by sexual assault, and therefore, every homosexual on earth must in fact be the victim of sexual assault."

But the problem is that not everyone sees LaBarbera as a hate mongering purveyor of mis-information, especially because having "Christian" in your publication title provides legitimacy to a significant portion of the population.

We need to interrupt this false and dangerous conflation of homosexuality and pedophilia, and get back to what's important about this case: how horrifying it is that this abuse happened and how school administrators across the country can ensure sure nothing like this happens on their campuses.

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