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Four Decades Along the Rainbow Road

Monday, February 25, 2008

Sometimes stereotype is the enemy, and sometimes it’s us

By Steve Charing

Following our last Pride, a letter writer to this publication found it embarrassing to bring his straight friends to the parade because of the antics and attire of some of the marchers. In a column that responded to this and other criticisms, I had agreed with him that some over-the-top parade participants could be detrimental to our cause. They play into the hands of our opponents.

Footage of these events that focus on the more extreme attire and flamboyant behavior has been co-opted by religious and social conservatives in an effort to suppress our progress towards equality. They use these images primarily to shock "middle America" and instill fear. Some of it is in bad taste, I opined, and not conducive to a parade that has increasingly attracted children.

What appears to be lost among those who buy into the stereotype that gays and lesbians are obsessed with leather, cross-dressing and other fetishes, is that heterosexuals are far more likely to engage in that activity. But straight people do it privately and do not march in parades that showcase their fetishes.

This is one among various stereotypes that hurt us. At a time when the General Assembly is currently considering several bills that would legalize same-sex marriage or offer some intermediary measures to provide legal protections for gay and lesbian couples, the opposition clings to stereotypes to counter the arguments for fairness, equality and justice.

Republican State Senator Janet Greenip of Anne Arundel County is a staunch opponent of anything that provides recognition to gay and lesbian couples. Recently, she expressed her views on WAMU’s radio talk show and was quick to grab onto a stereotype to bolster her feeble arguments. "Children do not do well with one parent. Children need to have two parents: a mother and a father," she said.

While it is true that children do appear to have less developmental problems with two parents, there is no evidence whatsoever that they would be hurt by having two same-gender parents. Sen. Greenip would not agree. The stereotype, of course, is that gay or lesbian parents would be unhealthy for children, and it is used frequently by other opponents of same-sex marriage.

Our adversaries embrace other stereotypes as well. The Larry Craig restroom episode last year solidified the thinking that gay men will go anywhere to have sex, even in public facilities. The problem is that the vast majority of these incidents, according to police sources, involve either straight men on the down low or others that simply would not admit they are gay, as Sen. Craig alleged to a skeptical public.

For years, gay rights opponents berated our community by pushing the stereotype that we are promiscuous animals who lead a dirty, unhealthy "lifestyle." Strange that when nearly 8,000 gay and lesbian couples in Maryland, who in a study, indicated they would marry if permitted, that level of commitment isn’t acknowledged by the opponents and instead, they use other forms of stereotyping to blunt our message and progress.

One of these is that gay men are predators and seek out pre-teens or teens for sex. Unfortunately, there is some truth to that but not anywhere as prevalent as our opponents think.

The problem is that they confuse pedophilia with being gay, but make no mistake, there are a number of gays who either are pedophiles or seek out teens. This reputation was boosted by the sex scandals plaguing the Catholic Church and the high-profile revelation that former Congressman Mark Foley, a gay man, made advances to a 16 year-old through the Internet. His actions were not technically illegal, but the ramifications were considerable in that it was a stain on our community, and it cost him his job in Congress.

Although incidents of improper sexual conduct in schools far more often than not involve straight teachers, many parents tend to object to gays or lesbians teaching in schools. Not only do they assume and fear that gays will accost the children, they are also concerned that these teachers would "promote the homosexual lifestyle" and legitimize it in class. This, too, is a painful and damaging stereotype.

When a high-profile figure is nabbed for illegal sexual conduct with an underage individual, the immediate knee-jerk reaction by the public is that it must be gay-related, even if the details of the victim and circumstances are not revealed. People seem to be more comfortable blaming gays for perverted acts and not as outraged when the culprit is heterosexual.

But every time a gay man is accused or charged with engaging in sexual activities with a minor, it reinforces the stereotype and gives more comfort to an ignorant public. The gay involvement could represent a small percentage of such incidents, but that doesn’t matter. The imagery of gays preying upon the young is what the country generally perceives, and it hurts us all.

Most of these stereotypes have a degree of truth in them. It doesn’t matter how small. The fact is our opponents depend on them to make their case against us. As long as we live up to the stereotypes, our mountain will be that much steeper to climb.


Anonymous said...

As more and more people "come out" to family members, friends, neighbors and co-workers, there will be more recognition that the majority of the GLBT community do not fit the stereotypes. Acknowledging the diversity of the community is important- but so is being politically aware of how this is used against us. Thanks for pointing out how crucial it is that we be aware of this.

Anonymous said...

I used to think I was the only one who thought this way. People ask me about going to Pride, and I find myself getting into verbal altercations with them about the uselessness if not outright damage these events cause. The one time a year when the non-straight community gets a chance to raise awareness and visibility, and it's a show of our freakish worst. Perhaps this was necessary years ago when it was time to stand out and shock in order to gain any kind of visibility, but isn't that really over?

I couldn't think of a better way to set things backwards. If Pride is in any way supposed to be representative of our culture, how about a float of CPAs, attorneys, teachers, sanitary workers, architects, police officers, physicians, nurses, social workers and successful business leaders. No, we get floats of freaks and fairies as supposedly representative of our culture.

How can the same gay advocates who condone this embarrassing farce feign frustration when other members of society don't want to hire us, let us adopt children, rent to us or want us in their schools or Boy Scout troops. Would you? Even if they could swallow the freak factor, they should continue to discriminate simply by virtue of the fact that we allow such an asinine and inaccurate representation of ourselves. How about we show our true colors -- once we get past the "leaders" who think that means feathered boas and mascara. What have you done to make you feel proud? Plenty, perhaps. Then grow up and show that.