The 'Art' and Rhetoric of Stereotyping and Scapegoating LGBT People

Since long before biblical references to Abraham, men have engaged in sexual relations outside the confines of marriage, but I am continually struck by the charge that ensuring marriage equality for same-sex couples will cheapen the institution of marriage.
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From ancient to modern times, since long before Thomas Jefferson, Grover Cleveland, Franklin Roosevelt, and the "Johns" (Fitzgerald Kennedy, Edwards, and Ensign), through William Jefferson Clinton, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Anthony Weiner, and Newt Gingrich, married men have found it engorgingly hard to keep their pants zipped. But I am continually struck by the perplexing question of why the perception persists that primarily gay and bisexual men are "promiscuous."

Since long before biblical references to Abraham, through King Henry VIII, to Robert Fitzgerald Kennedy, Senators Gary Hart, and David Vitter, Governors Mark Sanford and Eliot Spitzer, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, and golfer Tiger Woods, men have engaged in sexual relations outside the confines of marriage. But I am continually struck by the charge that ensuring marriage equality for same-sex couples will cheapen and ultimately destroy the institution of marriage.

Currently, political pundits and psychologists alike impart their "reasons" why high-profile and powerful heterosexual men commit "sexual transgressions," anything from the thrill in the risk of getting caught, to, in Schwarzenegger's case, the supposed result of taking steroids during his body-building days, which has allegedly turned him into the "sperminator." Virtually no one accuses these men, however, of destroying marriage itself.

Recently Pope Benedict delivered a new year's address to diplomats from approximately 180 countries declaring that marriage for same-sex couples "threatens human dignity and the future of humanity itself." A 2008 joint statement by 16 New England Roman Catholic bishops declared, "The legislature of the State of Vermont, by passing the civil unions bill, has attacked centuries of cultural and religious esteem for marriage between a man and a woman and has prepared the way for an attack on the well-being of society itself," and the Catholic catechism refers to "homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity" that are "intrinsically disordered" and "contrary to the natural law."

The Southern Baptist 2010 resolution declared likewise that "homosexual behavior is intrinsically disordered and sinful." The Evangelical Covenant Church's 1996 resolution warned that the "sin" of "homosexual behavior" has the potential to take the form of addiction. And according to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, "Homosexual behavior violates the commandments of God, is contrary to the purposes of human sexuality, distorts loving relationships, and deprives people of the blessings that can be found in family life and in the saving ordinances of the gospel" (from the Handbook on Instructions).

According to the document titled "Orthodox Rabbis Stand on Principle, 2011," "Jewish tradition unequivocally teaches that marriage can only exist as a union between a man and a woman, to the exclusion of a homosexual relationship."

Former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott proclaimed that homosexuality is a disease in the categories of kleptomania and alcoholism, and Newt Gingrich talks about "a gay and secular fascism in this country."

A stereotype is an oversimplified, preconceived, and standardized conception, opinion, affective attitude, judgment, or image of a person or group, held in common by members of other groups. Originally referring to the process of making type from a metal mold in printing, social stereotypes can be viewed as molds of regular and invariable patterns of evaluation of others.

Though every lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) person is unique in many ways and is multidimensional, when they are stereotyped as a group, they are seen as reducible to a single trait.

A crucial point in the psychology of stereotyping is the representation of minoritized peoples as, in historian John Boswell's words, "animals bent on the destruction of the children of the majority," and LGBT people have long been stereotyped as being dangerous predators of children. In the Middle Ages, for example, the image of the hyena (an animal with a supposed homosexual nature) was a common reference to those engaging in sexual activity with their own sex. The hyena's unsavory association with those engaging in same-sex sexuality is perpetuated in depictions of the animal's predatory nature, such as the claim that it robbed graves and devoured corpses. It was just a small leap of imagination that LGBT people also abuse and "recruit" children.

Although, in the overwhelming majority of cases, close family members, primarily men who identity as heterosexual, commit child abuse and molestation, the cultural perception continues that primarily gay men -- and, by association, lesbians, and bisexuals -- attack young children.

Some people play on the stereotypes of LGBT people as child molesters for their own ends. For example, former beauty queen and Florida Orange Juice Commission spokesperson Anita Bryant spearheaded her so-called "Save Our Children" campaign, which succeeded in overturning a gay-rights ordinance in Dade Country, Florida in 1977. The ordinance was finally reinstated in 1998.

In addition, the 1992 Republican Party platform openly endorsed this form of oppression, stating that "[The Republican Party] opposes any legislation or law which legally recognizes same-sex marriages and allows such couples to adopt children or provide foster care."

Stereotyping can and often does result in singling out individuals and groups as targets of hostility and violence, even though they may have little or nothing to do with the offenses for which they stand accused. This is referred to as scapegoating. With scapegoating, there is the tendency to view all members of the group as inferior and to assume that all members are alike in most respects. This attitude often leads to even further marginalization.

The origin of the scapegoat dates back to the Book of Leviticus (16:20-22). On the Day of Atonement, a live goat was selected by lot. The high priest placed both hands on the goat's head and confessed over it the sins of the people. In this way, the sins were symbolically transferred to the animal, which was then cast out into the wilderness. This process thus purged the people, for a time, of their feelings of guilt, shame, and fear.

When stereotyping occurs, people tend to overlook all other characteristics of the group. Individuals sometime use stereotypes to justify the subjugation of members of that group. In this sense, stereotypes conform to the literal meaning of the word "prejudice," which is a prejudgment, derived from the Latin praejudicium.

Today we still live in a society that attempts to define and perpetuate "fairy tales" about the real lives of LGBT people, and even proclaims that we do not have a right to exist, but exist we do, everywhere, in all walks of life.

For as we all know, we are the students, professors, teachers, guidance counselors, day care workers, parents -- and still some people and groups attempt to prevent us from having contact with the young people of our nation. And because of their insensitivity and fear, the stereotypes and scapegoating continue.

We are the social workers, psychiatrists, workers at homeless shelters and rape crisis centers -- and still some people and groups blame us for the breakup of what they call the "traditional American family." And the stereotypes and scapegoating continue.

The reality is that we are holding up this culture. If all the lesbians, bisexuals, gay males, and transgender people suddenly left our jobs and volunteer positions, this country would literally crumble.

So next time we hear accusations that extending marriage rights and privileges to same-sex couples will bring down the institution and "civilization" itself, and when we hear that LGBT have no place around children, investigate the facts so we can cut through the stereotypes and end the scapegoating.

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