Special Report

SPLC debunks 10 myths commonly used to demonize LGBT people


Bullying and anti-gay violence are by far the worst legacy arising from the falsehoods spread by the Family Research Council (FRC) and the American Family Association (AFA), according to a new intelligence report by the Southern Poverty Law Center that examines two of the most powerful and influential organizations in the American anti-gay lobby.

The relentless public pronouncements by the combined leadership of the FRC and AFA — spreading myths portraying gay people as child molesters, deviants, and a threat to public health — have created an atmosphere where bullying, bashing, and demonizing appears to be quietly sanctioned by these groups as appropriate, said Mark Potok, director of the SPLC‘s Intelligence Project.

While no-one in either the FRC or AFA has advocated acts of violence against LGBTQ persons, the non-stop propaganda machine of these two groups has fostered a societal environment whereby their narrow interpretation of their evangelical religious beliefs becomes the message “received and understood” by its recipients.

According to the SPLC, it is this environment which has unquestionably contributed directly to the increase in anti-gay violence in recent years.

In its report — titled “The Anti-Gay Lobby: The Family Research Council, the American Family Association and the Demonization of LGBT People” — the SPLC breaks down the ten most egregious myths that FRC and AFA utilize to demonize LGBT people.

In many cases, the promulgation of these myths often incite gay persons to seek a “cure” for their sexual orientation through dangerous therapeutic practices, or worse, commit suicide in a desperate attempt to escape the bullying and its effects.

These myths are “fairy tales” that are important to the anti-gay lobby because they form the basis of their claim that homosexuality is a social evil that must be suppressed, Potok told LGBTQ Nation. “All based on the anti-gay lobby’s dubious claim that homosexuality is a behavior, a choice — an opinion that has been rejected by virtually all relevant medical and scientific authorities.”

Myth 1:
Gay men molest children at far higher rates than heterosexuals.

According to the SPLC, depicting gay men as a threat to children may be the single most potent weapon for stoking public fears about homosexuality — and for winning elections and referendums. Discredited psychologist Paul Cameron, the most ubiquitous purveyor of anti-gay junk science, has been a major promoter of this myth. Despite having been debunked repeatedly and very publicly, by professional physiological and psychiatric associations, Cameron’s work is still widely relied upon by anti-gay organizations, although many no longer quote him by name.

But according to the American Psychological Association, “homosexual men are not more likely to sexually abuse children than heterosexual men are.” Gregory Herek, a professor at the University of California, Davis, who is one of the nation’s leading researchers on prejudice against sexual minorities, reviewed a series of studies and found no evidence that gay men molest children at higher rates than heterosexual men.

Myth 2:
Same-sex parents harm children.

Most hard-line anti-gay organizations are heavily invested, from both a religious and a political standpoint, in promoting the traditional nuclear family as the sole framework for the healthy upbringing of children.

However, no legitimate research has demonstrated that same-sex couples are any more or any less harmful to children than heterosexual couples. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics in a 2002 policy statement declared: “A growing body of scientific literature demonstrates that children who grow up with one or two gay and/or lesbian parents fare as well in emotional, cognitive, social, and sexual functioning as do children whose parents are heterosexual” and that the “psychological well-being of children is unrelated to parental sexual orientation.”

Myth 3:
People become gay because they were sexually abused as children or there was a deficiency in sex role modeling by their parents.

Many anti-gay rights proponents claim that homosexuality is a mental disorder caused by some psychological trauma or aberration in childhood. The argument is used to counter the common observation that no one, gay or straight, consciously chooses his or her sexual orientation.

Again, there has been no scientifically sound study has linked sexual orientation or identity with parental role-modeling or childhood sexual abuse. The American Psychiatric Association noted in a 2000 fact sheet on gay, lesbian and bisexual issues that “no specific psychosocial or family dynamic cause for homosexuality has been identified, including histories of childhood sexual abuse.”

Myth 4:
Gay men and lesbians don’t live nearly as long as heterosexuals.

Anti-gay organizations want to promote heterosexuality as the healthier “choice.” They assert that shorter life spans and poorer physical and mental health of gays and lesbians are often offered as reasons why they shouldn’t be allowed to adopt or foster children.

This falsehood can be traced directly to the discredited research of Cameron and his Family Research Institute, specifically a 1994 paper he co-wrote entitled, “The Lifespan of Homosexuals.” Using obituaries collected from gay newspapers, he and his two co-authors concluded that gay men died, on average, at 43, compared to an average life expectancy at the time of around 73 for all U.S. men.

Myth 5:
Gay men controlled the Nazi Party and helped to orchestrate the Holocaust.

This claim comes directly from a 1995 book titled The Pink Swastika: Homosexuality in the Nazi Party, by Scott Lively and Kevin Abrams. Lively is the virulently anti-gay founder of Abiding Truth Ministries and Abrams is an organizer of a group called the International Committee for Holocaust Truth.

The Pink Swastika has been widely discredited by legitimate historians and scholars.

Myth 6:
Hate crime laws will lead to the jailing of pastors who criticize homosexuality and the legalization of practices like bestiality and necrophilia.

Anti-gay activists, who have long opposed adding LGBT people to those protected by hate crimes legislation, have repeatedly claimed that such laws would lead to the jailing of religious figures who preach against homosexuality — part of a bid to gain the backing of the broader religious community for their position.

The claim that hate crime laws could result in the imprisonment of those who “oppose the homosexual lifestyle” is false, says the SPLC. The Constitution provides robust protections of free speech, and case law makes it clear that even a preacher who suggested that gays and lesbians should be killed would be protected.

Myth 7:
Allowing gay people to serve openly will damage the armed forces.

Anti-gay groups have been adamantly opposed to allowing gay men and lesbians to serve openly in the armed forces, not only because of their purported fear that combat readiness will be undermined, but because the military has long been considered the purest meritocracy in America.

The fact is that gays and lesbians have long served in the U.S. armed forces, though under the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) policy that governed the military between 1993 and September 2011, they could not serve openly.

At the same time, gays and lesbians have served openly for years in the armed forces of 25 countries, including Britain, Israel, South Africa, Canada and Australia. And according to a report by the Palm Center, a policy think tank at the University of California at Santa Barbara, lifting bans against openly gay service personnel in these countries has “had no negative impact on morale, recruitment, retention, readiness or overall combat effectiveness.”

Myth 8:
Gay people are more prone to be mentally ill and to abuse drugs and alcohol.

Anti-gay groups want not only to depict sexual orientation as something that can be changed, but also to show that heterosexuality is the more desirable “choice” — even if religious arguments are set aside.

The fact is that all major professional mental health organizations are on record as stating that homosexuality is not a mental disorder.

Myth 9:
No one is born gay.

Anti-gay activists keenly oppose the granting of “special” civil rights protections to gay people similar to those afforded Black Americans and other minorities. Because, if people are born gay — in the same way people have no choice as to whether they are black or white — discrimination against gay men and lesbians would be vastly more difficult to justify.

Thus, anti-gay forces insist that sexual orientation is a behavior that can be changed, not an immutable characteristic.

The fact is that modern science cannot state conclusively what causes sexual orientation, but a great many studies suggest that it is the result of biological and environmental forces, not a personal “choice.”

Myth 10:
Gay people can choose to leave homosexuality.

If people are not born gay, as anti-gay activists claim, then it should be possible for individuals to abandon homosexuality. This view is buttressed among religiously motivated anti-gay activists by the idea that homosexual practice is a sin and humans have the free will needed to reject sinful urges.

A number of “ex-gay” religious ministries have sprung up in recent years with the aim of teaching gay people to become heterosexuals, and these have become prime purveyors of the claim that gays and lesbians, with the aid of mental therapy and Christian teachings, can “come out of homosexuality.”

But “reparative,” or sexual re-orientation therapy — the pseudo-scientific foundation of the ex-gay movement — has been rejected by all the established and reputable American medical, psychological, psychiatric, and professional counseling organizations.

In 2009, for example, the American Psychological Association adopted a resolution, accompanied by a 138-page report, that repudiated ex-gay therapy. The report concluded that compelling evidence suggested that cases of individuals going from gay to straight were “rare” and that “many individuals continued to experience same-sex sexual attractions” after reparative therapy.

The APA resolution added that “there is insufficient evidence to support the use of psychological interventions to change sexual orientation” and asked “mental health professionals to avoid misrepresenting the efficacy of sexual orientation change efforts by promoting or promising change in sexual orientation.” The resolution also affirmed that same-sex sexual and romantic feelings are normal.

Reparative therapy is the SPLC’s next target.

According to Christine Sun, Deputy Legal Director of the SPLC, reparative therapy should be challenged legally, particularly as numerous and highly credible scientific and medical institutions and communities have discredited it and the SPLC believes it is based on “junk science.”

On Tuesday, October 11, the SPLC will launch a new awareness campaign aimed at allowing those who have suffered from the so-called “ex-gay therapy” to speak out and give them a platform to take action.

Sun said the SPLC wants these people to have the courage to take their story public and in many cases, take appropriate legal actions against the practitioners for the harm that has been caused.

Sun and Potok both vocalized a critical need for public officials, particularly public health officials and politicians to denounce reparative therapy practices which, Sun notes, are fueled by homophobia and fear.

It is the responsibility of adults to affirm young persons, and to “step-in and speak out” against this prejudiced junk science and the hateful rhetoric of the FRC and the AFA, said Potok.

In 2010, the SPLC designated both the FRC and AFA as “hate groups” for their “consistent pattern of spreading lies about LGBT persons.”

Warren Throckmorton, a respected professor and past president of the American Mental Health Counselors Association, wrote in December 2010: that “the newly labeled hate groups” were seeking to “avoid addressing the issues the SPLC raised, instead preferring to attack the credibility of the SPLC.”

Throckmorton said the SPLC’s list of myths propagated by the anti-gay religious-right groups, are “provably false” and “rooted in ignorance.”

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