How LGBTQ people and Jews were stereotyped as violent predators

How LGBTQ people and Jews were stereotyped as violent predators
LGBTQ people and Jews have historically been regarded as wolves in sheep's clothing. Photo: Francis Barlow [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By initially passing and then failing to repeal House Bill 2 in North Carolina, which Governor Pat McCrory signed into law, the North Carolina legislature has played with fire by further stigmatizing and misdefining the state’s trans residents.

Some North Carolina proponents of the bill are calling trans women “men in women’s clothing” (heard as “wolves in sheep’s clothing”), and the law effectively prohibits trans and intersex people from using the restroom facilities matching their gender identity.

If one believes Republican legislators in states like North Carolina, trans people epitomize a great threat to the safety of women and youth. The Catholic Church echoes this claim.

The Vatican hierarchy fenced off Alex Salinas, a 21-year-old trans man from Cadiz, Spain, by informing him that it had denied his request to become the godparent of his nephew because being transgender is incongruent with Catholic teaching. According to the Church’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, its doctrine-enforcing agency:

Transgender status ‘reveals in a public way an attitude opposite to the moral imperative of solving the problem of sexual identity according to the truth of one’s own sexuality. Therefore it is evident that this person does not possess the requirement of leading a life according to the faith and in the position of godfather and is therefore unable to be admitted to the position of godfather or godmother.’

The Vatican asserted that there is “no discrimination toward [Salinas], but only the recognition of an objective lack of the requirements, which by their nature are necessary to assume the ecclesial responsibility of being a godfather.”

The North Carolina legislature and the Vatican seemed to have resurrected the personage of the “sweet transvestite from Transexual, Transylvania,” Dr. Frank-N-Furter in The Rocky Horror (Picture) Show, the cannibalistic-murderer-mad-scientist obsessed with constructing the perfect Adonis to submit to Frank’s erotic pleasures. Served up as the next delightfully tasty prey, enter the young and naïve Brad and Janet at the doorstep for an adventure they will never forget, that is, if they live to tell the tale.

Throughout history, most dominant groups have depicted or represented minoritized groups in a variety of negative ways to maintain control or mastery. Dominant groups represent minoritized groups through myths and stereotypes in proverbs, social commentary, literature, jokes, epithets, pictorial depictions, and other hegemonic forms.

When looking over this history, for example, we find many clear and stunning connections between historical representations of LGBTQ people and Jewish people. Sometimes dominant groups constructed LGBTQ people and Jews as subhuman life forms.

A crucial point in the psychology of scapegoating is the representation of minoritized “others,” in historian John Boswell’s words, as “animals bent on the destruction of the children of the majority,” and dominant groups have long accused both Jews and LGBTQ people of acting as dangerous predators concentrated on ensnaring, torturing, and devouring primarily women and children of the dominant group.

When demagogues play on people’s fears and prejudices by invoking these images for their own political, social, and economic gains, in more instances than not, this results in loss of civil and human rights, harassment, violence, and at times, death of the “other.” 

In 1144 began the so-called “Blood Libel” in England when Christian leaders accused Jews of slaying William of Norwich, a Christian male child, to use his blood in the making of the sacred Jewish matzos. Many Christians believed that Jews used the blood of Christian youth because it was virginal and innocent and, therefore, was the most potent medication to heal hemorrhoids, to relieve pain during circumcision, to increase fertility, and to cure the so-called “stink of the Jews.”

Also, in line with the assertion of Christian leaders that Jewish men menstruate because they practice circumcision, they, along with Jewish women need the blood from Christian youth to replenish their bodies of the blood lost during menstruation.

In 1475, Simon of Trent in Northern Italy, the son of a tanner and barely 3 years old, was allegedly killed by the Jews for his blood. Christians also accused Jews of slaughtering Christian male youth because they wanted to symbolically re-execute Jesus.

Local leaders falsely indicted several Jews in Trent for Simon’s death, and had Jews in the area killed. The charge of ritual murder continued into the 20th century C.E. Christian clergy have also accused Jews of inflicting circumcision on Christian infants as a means of inflicting involuntary conversion to Judaism (“recruitment”).

Although, in the overwhelming majority of cases it is close family members, primarily men who identity as heterosexual, who abuse and molest youth, the cultural perception persists that primarily gay and bisexual men — and by association, lesbians and trans people — prey on the young.

For example, Focus on the Family, a conservative Christian media ministry organization, asserted in published accounts in 2010 that gay rights advocates are forcing their viewpoints (their so-called “gay agenda”) in schools in the guise of bullying prevention.

Focus on the Family spokesperson, Candi Cushman, argued that gay activists are the real schoolyard bullies while conservative Christians are the victims. According to Cushman, “We feel more and more that activists are being deceptive in using anti-bullying rhetoric to introduce their viewpoints, while the viewpoint of Christian students and parents are increasingly belittled.”

The Traditional Values Coalition, a conservative Christian organization, wrote an article titled “Let’s End Taxpayer Supported Homosexual Recruitment in Public Schools,” which asserted:

The state-endorsed pro-homosexual teacher/teen ‘Teach Out’ held at Tufts University in Boston in March has outraged concerned citizens. There’s growing concern among parents over the use of tax dollars to fund homosexual recruitment programs in the public schools. During the Teach Out, state HIV instructors taught teenagers how to engage in deviant sex acts and they also taught teachers how to indoctrinate children into accepting homosexuality as normal.”

Former beauty queen and Florida Orange Juice Commission spokesperson Anita Bryant spearheaded the 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. According to Bryant, “a particularly deviant-minded [gay] teacher could sexually molest children.”

These stereotypes have been enshrined further institutionally. 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.” In fact, some states still explicitly ban LGBTQ people from adopting or serving as foster parents.

In recent years, the fear of pedophilia has been used to justify the previous ban on gay and bisexual boy scouts and scoutmasters, as argued by Rob Schwarzwalder, 2013, vice president of the conservative Washington, D.C.-based public policy and lobbying organization, Family Research Council (FRC): “The reality is, homosexuals have entered the Scouts in the past for predatory purposes.”

Tony Perkins, FRC president, in a 2011 fundraising letter for the organization addressing the LGBTQ communities’ so-called public promotion of homosexuality to youth, wrote: “The videos are titled ‘It Gets Better.’ They are aimed at persuading kids that although they’ll face struggles and perhaps bullying for ‘coming out’ as homosexual (or transgendered or some other perversion), life will get better. …It’s disgusting. And it’s part of a concerted effort to persuade kids that homosexuality is okay and actually to recruit them into that lifestyle.”

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 LGBTQ and Jewish person is unique in many ways and is multidimensional, when dominant groups stereotyped them, they were reduced to a single trait.

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.

We must hold state legislators in North Carolina responsible for this further marginalization and for the harassment and possible violence that may result.

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