We here at G Philly didn’t expect we would be discussing the Penn State scandal with any connection to LGBT issues. Like most everyone else over these last two weeks, we’ve been shocked, dismayed and disappointed in the people who may have allowed child abuse to take place in our home state – under the guise, presumably – of preserving a multi-million-dollar sports tradition. To this, our hearts certainly go out to possible victims in the ongoing investigation.
It all seemed like a horrible story about alleged pedophilia and a corrupt system that kept it under wraps – something with which Catholics around the world are all too familiar. But that was until Public Radio International’s “To the Point” host Warren Olney got the not-so-brilliant idea of using the accused child rapist and former Penn State coach Jerry Sandusky as the poster boy for a discussion about gay parenting.
How do we begin to address the most outlandish conversation we’ve heard about this terrible case? At the expense of giving misinformed bigots even more attention, we consider the motivation behind it all. Ratings? Ignorance? Hate? Probably a combination of each, sadly. We just can’t figure out what a host like Olney, with an important, influential platform, was thinking in making this irresponsible, completely outlandish connection with the gay community.
To begin, it’s not unusual for bigots like Jerry Cox from the Arkansas Family Council (a guest on Olney’s radio show) to cast wide nets to try and “prove” ridiculous points about minority groups – especially since it’s becoming increasingly difficult to do so as more people are enlightened by the reality of these matters. And the truth in this case is that Penn State’s pedophilia scandal has absolutely nothing to do with homosexuality or LGBT issues.
But that didn’t stop Olney from giving Cox an uninterrupted soap box on which to spew his anti-gay venom in a discussion that should have been about the hoops many gay parents are forced to jump through to even be considered eligible to foster and adopt children in need of homes. Instead, the show became an ignorant tirade about an alleged pedophile (who happens to be a parent) and why the deeds he’s accused of committing should go to show that gay people are somehow “dangerous” to kids.
This is wrong. It’s wrong for LGBT parents who struggle to find equal footing in raising families in a society that doesn’t always make that easy. And it’s wrong for the LGBT community to be associated with something as morally bankrupt as this case. If Sandusky is charged with crimes, it’s not because he’s a gay man. It’s because he’s a child abuser. That we should have to make that distinction in 2011 is frustrating. But when radio shows like Olney’s air such serious misinformation, it’s a frustration we’re willing to put up with if it means that one less person is misled by what comes down to very irresponsible journalism.
Cox used the fact that since Sandusky adopted and fostered many children over the years, and that he’s accused of sexually abusing other children, as a means to somehow “prove” that gay people are unfit parents. This guy managed to turn an accused pedophile into the symbol of gay parents everywhere, even though the American Psychiatric Association makes a clear distinction between homosexuality and pedophilia. In fact, the National Institute of Mental Health says that heterosexual men are actually more likely to perpetuate sexual abuse on children than gays. And more and more agencies are recognizing that not only do gays and lesbians make good parents, but that allowing them to adopt could help thousands of kids across the country who need homes.
“We have had great success training people from the LGBT community and providing children with safe, secure and loving homes,” says Sari Grant, a DCFS recruitment administrator for foster care and adoption in Los Angeles County. Nationwide, there are nearly 500,000 children in foster care, with approximately 115,000 available for adoption today. And yet a war is being waged against gay and lesbian parents by people like Cox who seem to think loving homes pose a danger to minors.
He has already tried to unsuccessfully ban LGBT people from adopting and fostering kids in his home state, saying that they would be better served by a home headed by “a married man and woman,” but the Supreme Court said otherwise.
“I find it interesting that we talk about the Penn State situation, and then we talk about people who claim to have these rights to adopt or foster,” said Cox during the show. “In both cases, the children’s rights get put in second place.” He even suggests that someone like Sandusky – who’s “macho” – is one of the worst kinds of gay parents since his “gayness” isn’t obvious to those around him.
John Ireland, a gay dad and the founder of Raise a Child Campaign, was also featured on the show. But instead of being able to talk about the need to expand the pool of qualified parents based on his own experiences, Cox took the time to attack Ireland and other gay parents like him – essentially calling them perverts.
Shortly after it aired, GLAAD issued a statement about the radio show controversy. “Attempting to link these two completely unrelated issues isn’t just bad journalism, it’s dangerous,” says Mike Thompson, acting president of GLAAD. “The perpetuation of these myths damages the hundreds of thousands of healthy children raised by loving gay and lesbian couples today.”
Olney has since issued somewhat of an apology, but still defended the show, saying, “The connection we intended to make was this: a suspected pedophile backed by a powerful institution was allowed to have foster children, while same-sex couples, who can provide loving families, are often denied that opportunity.”
But that’s not what we heard. Instead, the show opened the door for other homophobes to somehow marry the idea that gay people are akin to accused child molesters. And in a society and in an age when LGBT rights are advancing thanks to real people making their stories heard, this is a very dangerous door to open. Quite frankly, we’re surprised and disappointed that public radio held the key.
Listen for yourself: The broadcast can be streamed by clicking here (the discussion about gay parents begins at the 28-minute mark).