Stop the gay panic
OPINION: I know what the gay agenda is—it's to save gay lives.
Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.
There’s a panic going on in this country, a panic that has led to some straight people acting rashly. It’s a homophobic panic that takes the form of calling for RuPaul’s book to be taken off the school library shelves or banning teachers from even talking about LGBTQ issues. This attack on queerness often boils down to this: a fear that just talking about queerness will make kids become gay. It’s a panic so it doesn’t need logic, but my God, this is absent of any logic whatsoever—how does talking about queerness make people gay or lesbian? Talking about it means normalizing it but even then, normalizing queerness doesn’t make people gay. How would that even work? Kids are not “turned” gay.
If you’re not gay then answer this: What makes you straight? You’ve probably never even thought about it. When did you first realize you were straight? What motivated you to become straight? How did you know you aren’t gay? You probably think, uh, I was born that way. Well, why don’t you think the same about gay people?
I know that some of those who are caught up in the anti-gay panic say well, there are more gay people in the world now and we talk about being gay and normalize queerness more than ever so those two things must be correlated, right? In a way they are, but to think that society is turning straight people gay is ludicrous.
I interviewed a Black gay man for my upcoming podcast docuseries Being Black In the ’80s and he told me an interesting anecdote. When he was 10 years old, he came out to his father. Dad was accepting but at the same time, he was concerned. Dad said to him, “I’ve never seen a happy gay adult.” Dad was afraid for his son. The father’s words rang ominously in his son’s mind for a while, but this was the late ’70s, a time when disco was a national phenomenon and the world of disco was led by Black gay men who seemed happy, exuberant, out and proud. Disco made that boy feel comfortable about being gay—he saw that he could become a happy gay adult. Disco didn’t make him gay. It helped him feel good about who he really was. I was about 10 years old during the height of disco. I remember watching the Village People and other disco stars on a Saturday night music show my mom and I loved called Dance Fever. At that time, we did not even realize that they were gay. Watching the rise of disco did not make me gay. Nothing could make a straight person gay. So what are we really talking about here?
I didn’t fully understand what was at stake until a late-night catch-up phone call with an old friend of mine, Jodie Patterson. We’ve been close since our early 20s when we were kids going to clubs. Now we’re both parents. She’s got five including a trans boy she wrote about in a memoir called A Bold World. That night on the phone, Jodie explained to me that her boy was fighting against dressing like a girl from before he could really talk. He knew he was a boy before he was 2. She told me that when he was 2, he expressed suicidal thoughts. It was a cry for help—at that point, even his parents weren’t really seeing and hearing him. But when he talked about killing himself, Jodie got up to speed rapidly. I’ll never forget hearing my friend say, “When your kid says they want to kill themselves, you figure it out real fast.”
Her child, like the 1.6 million trans people in this country, was not made trans by society or media or a parent. That’s who they are. We cannot make people LGBTQ any more than we can make LGBTQ people straight. And what’s more important is that being gay or lesbian or trans is not contagious. The only danger is this: By not including LGBTQ people and not normalizing their lives, we risk having more LGBTQ people kill themselves. Or live in spiritual pain.
I hear straight people talk about “the gay agenda,” and so I asked my LGBTQ friends what the gay agenda is and they told me. It’s this: Do things that help LGBTQ children live. And do things that help LGBTQ adults have safer lives.
Touré is a host and Creative Director at theGrio. He is the host of the podcast “Toure Show” and the podcast docuseries “Who Was Prince?” He is also the author of seven books including the Prince biography Nothing Compares 2 U. Look out for his upcoming podcast Being Black In the 80s.
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