Sunday, November 27, 2011

Homophobia and the Penn State Sexual Abuse Scandal

On November 4th, former Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky was indicted on forty counts of sexual abuse of minors. Pennlive reports that two additional cases of reported sexual abuse were recently opened by Pennsylvania Children and Youth Services, one of which involves a family member of Sandusky's. The Second Mile, a charity founded by Sandusky to help underprivileged youth, has come under fire by donors, and may be sued by one of the young men who reported sexual abuse.

Sadly, some voices from the Religious Right are using this situation to launch attacks against LGBT people. Rather than use this scandal as an opportunity to discuss child abuse in a constructive manner, some voices have used it as an excuse to disparage gays.

First, during the November 14th edition of his radio show The Line of Fire, Michael Brown had scathing things to say about the Penn State scandal. At the 10:08 mark, he insisted that reported sexual abuse of boys related to the Catholic Church and the Sandusky scandal is a "homosexual scandal."

"If a man is attracted to young men or boys, that is a homosexual attraction. If a man is attracted to young women or girls, that is a heterosexual attraction. Yes, a perverted extension of those attractions, and in the case of homosexuals, perverted extension of a wrong attraction to start, but to say that guy was straight, no no no. Straight men, if they are pedophiles, abuse girls. The scandal with many priests in the Catholic Church abusing boys and young men, that was a homosexual scandal, was it not? Was it not?"
Brown failed to distinguish pedophilia (sexual attraction to children) from heterosexuality and homosexuality (attraction toward adults of the opposite sex or same sex, respectively). The fact that sexual abuse of children is fundamentally defined by unequal power and manipulation, and therefore in a category apart from sexual orientation, is not explored.

Brown stressed that he does not believe most gays are pedophiles, and he acknowledged that most gay men were repulsed by the Sandusky scandal. Despite these claims, Brown went on to state that LGBT history programs glorify alleged pedophiles in history. While touching upon the allegations against Sandusky, Brown alleged that there is a "pedophile elephant in the gay activist closet." At the 12:25 mark, he had this to say.

"There is a pedophile elephant in the gay activist closet that very few want to talk about, and if you dare bring this up, you talk about getting vilified, you talk about getting mocked, rejected ... What I'm discussing is the celebration and exaltation of men in quote gay history, gay education networks want these people taught on in schools. They want it to be celebrated that so-and-so was gay, that this famous man was homosexual, and yet, in many cases these men were pederasts ... And yet, gay activists still celebrate their names, still want them exalted in our history lessons."
What this had to do with the Penn State controversy was unclear, but it nevertheless reveals a certain antipathy toward LGBT history.

Next, according to One News Now, Diane Gramley of the American Family Association of Pennsylvania was pleased that Penn State President Graham Spanier was removed from his position. The article stated that Gramley advocated for Spanier's dismissal for years because he allegedly promoted a "homosexual agenda" at the school. She stressed the importance of finding a replacement who recognizes the supposed dangers of an "anything goes" attitude. As a side note, fans of the documentary Out in the Silence may remember Gramley's anti-LGBT activism in the film.

Additionally, in a column at World Net Daily, Joseph Farah claimed that "the lines between right and wrong sexual behavior have been moved" due in part to the "thuggery" of a "self-interested minority." Farah argued that tolerance of alleged sexual abuse at Penn State was somehow the result of a cultural environment that accepts homosexuality. He fumes that "government schools" are supposedly teaching students how to perform homosexual sex acts (!?) and that God no longer decides what is sinful behavior for Americans.

Likewise, in another commentary at World Net Daily, David A. Noebel tries to place homosexuality and child sexual abuse together under the umbrella of "moral relativism." He laments that America's "libertine culture" is supposedly making child abuse as acceptable as the LGBT community. In a breathtaking show of insensitivity, he wrote that the president and secretary of education are as guilty as Sandusky because they have allowed LGBT issues to enter children's education.

Finally, in a commentary at Renew America, Bryan Fischer raged about the sexual abuse charges against Sandusky, writing that Sandusky deserves harsh punishment if found guilty. Fischer described child sexual abuse as "one of the darkest pathologies associated with homosexual behavior," insisting that gays sexually abuse children at higher rates than heterosexuals. As his evidence, Fischer cites a study, oft-quoted by Religious Right voices, that allegedly corroborates his claim. Fischer neglects to mention critiques of such research, as well as other studies that did NOT find links between LGBT status and sexual abuse perpetration (see here, here, and here). Additionally, Fischer seems unaware of research that distinguishes androphilia and pedophilia as two different phenomena.

It sickens me that opportunistic homophobes are using the Penn State scandal to lash out at the LGBT community. Their conflation of homosexuality and child sexual abuse is not only a grave insult to LGBT people, but it also trivializes the trauma of sexual abuse victims. It ignores the abuse of power and betrayal of trust inherent in sexual abuse, instead casting abuse as yet another form of sin alongside same-sex relationships. By spouting homophobic rhetoric, these commentators are inflaming hatred toward the LGBT community, failing to help abuse victims, and deflecting attention away from the real roots of sexual abuse. Religious Right commentators need to discuss child sexual abuse with maturity and sensitivity, instead of using it to take cheap shots at the LGBT community.

For additional commentary, visit the following links.

Truth Wins Out: Hate Group Figures Rush to Tie Jerry Sandusky to Gay People

Right Wing Watch: Brown Likens Penn State Abuse Scandal to LGBT History Law


  1. I think it is fair to say that there are sick and twisted people in this world. The orientation of the sick person has nothing to do with the price of tea in China. A pedophile is a pedophile regardless of their sexual orientation. So there are heterosexual and homosexual scandals? Is that what we're saying. Very well then. There are a boatload of heterosexual scandals out there. Guess we should shut down this whole business of sexual attraction all together then. Geez, what are they smokin?

  2. If it's any consolation to these opportunistic and misguided folks, I'll relay that I was listening to a Religious-Right-wing radio talk show (I am horrible with remembering names, so I can't say whose show it was) while driving though the Columbus, OH area a couple weeks ago, and the host really stepped up to the plate honestly. He too was disgusted by people claiming that this was driven by homosexuality. He stressed that this is about people who are attracted to children, often spawning from childhood trauma which prevents them from maturing in their sexual desires, and the fact that boys and young men were often the targets was simply due to the fact that they were most often available. As he said, most people may hesitate to leave their daughter with a man, but don't think twice about leaving their sons with some man, such as a Boy Scout troop leader, or a priest, etc. The host had done his homework. I was really impressed.

  3. D'Ma -- Tell me about it. They have a very anemic and twisted understanding of abuse and what drives it.

    Wise Fool -- I'm really glad to hear that. It's a relief that he didn't jump on the homophobic bandwagon, but instead focused on the real issues.

  4. "anemic and twisted" -- that sums it up nicely, Ahab.

  5. Wow, thanks for posting such a thorough summary. I hate when incidents like this happen. It just confirms so many biases out there.

  6. Typical RRRW types can't understand the notion of informed consent. Adult same-sex relations involve consent. Adult/child relations, whether they involve members of the same sex or of opposite sexes, don't. Some people can grasp that simple concept, some obviously can't.

  7. Paul -- Thanks.

    anotsodifferentview -- We all hate it when incidents like this happen. I hate seeing kids get hurt by predators. Thanks for stopping by!

    Buffy -- Consent is such a simple concept, and yet the Religious Right seemingly can't comprehend it.

  8. The challenge for me is how to impact the thinking of these people on the religious right to help them move toward a more balanced and humane position.

    I think it will only happen when they see for themselves other people of faith who are gay and lesbian in loving, committed and mature relationships, living openly in integrity.

    All of our preaching pales before a good and godly example, the testimony of our lives.


  9. Rebecca -- I certainly hope that the existence of LGBT people of faith changes the minds of people on the Religious Right. The LGBT community has come a long way, but much more social change needs to take place.

  10. Excellent commentary, Ahab. There is much that sickens me about the horrific crime of child sexual abuse being used as an opportunity to demonize the LGBT community. What also sickens me -- perhaps even more -- is the implicit suggestion that same sex child sex abuse is somehow worse than heterosexual child sex abuse ... suggesting that a man sexually abusing a young female child is somehow more acceptable, or less reprehensible and less perverted.


  11. Cognitive Dissenter -- Their approach to this whole controversy is definitely disgusting, for all the reasons you mentioned.


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