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Kevin Spacey has been accused of sexually assaulting a minor. He deflected by coming out as gay.

Spacey is the latest Hollywood insider to stand accused of assault. But his coming out complicated an already complex story.

Cars, Arts & Beats: A Night Out With 'Baby Driver' Photo by Rochelle Brodin/Getty Images for Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Aja Romano writes about pop culture, media, and ethics. Before joining Vox in 2016, they were a staff reporter at the Daily Dot. A 2019 fellow of the National Critics Institute, they’re considered an authority on fandom, the internet, and the culture wars.

Actor Kevin Spacey allegedly physically assaulted Broadway vet and Star Trek: Discovery star Anthony Rapp in 1986, when Rapp was 14, in an incident since described by both as a “sexual advance,” BuzzFeed reported on Sunday.

In response, Spacey issued a statement on Twitter in which he claimed to have no memory of the encounter, apologized to Rapp for “deeply inappropriate drunken behavior,” and publicly came out as gay for the first time.

Rapp’s allegations against Spacey are the latest of many allegations of sexual harassment and abuse that have been made public in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal, as more and more victims have felt empowered to come forward in the entertainment industry and beyond.

Meanwhile, Spacey’s decision to officially come out as gay in response to Rapp’s allegations — which follows decades of Spacey’s sexuality being treated as a firmly open secret — drew swift criticism from the LGBTQ community, with many people arguing that Spacey’s sexual orientation has absolutely nothing to do with the allegations that he assaulted a minor.

Rapp alleges that Spacey drunkenly assaulted him after a party at Spacey’s house

Rapp says that he had two significant encounters with Spacey, both in 1986, while Rapp was performing on Broadway in a production of the play Precious Sons. According to Rapp, he first met Spacey at an industry networking event, and Spacey invited Rapp and one of Rapp’s underage friends to a nightclub, where Rapp claimed the three of them just hung out and talked.

Rapp told BuzzFeed that a few days later, Spacey invited Rapp to a party at his apartment; Rapp says he turned up only to realize he was the only minor in attendance, and that he “didn’t know anyone.” At some point after midnight, Rapp alleges that Spacey found Rapp watching TV in his bedroom and drunkenly approached him. From BuzzFeed’s account:

“My memory was that I thought, Oh, everybody's gone. Well, yeah, I should probably go home,” Rapp said. Spacey, he recalled, “sort of stood in the doorway, kind of swaying. My impression when he came in the room was that he was drunk.” Rapp doesn't remember Spacey saying anything to him. Instead, Rapp said, “He picked me up like a groom picks up the bride over the threshold. But I don't, like, squirm away initially, because I'm like, 'What's going on?' And then he lays down on top of me.”

“He was trying to seduce me,” Rapp said. “I don't know if I would have used that language. But I was aware that he was trying to get with me sexually.”

Rapp described Spacey as “pressing into me” and “tightening his arms” before Rapp was able to get away and retreat into the bathroom. When he came out of the bathroom to leave Spacey’s home, Spacey allegedly asked, “Are you sure you wanna go?” BuzzFeed spoke to seven people who confirmed hearing Rapp’s account of the incident with Spacey in the years that followed.

As Rapp told BuzzFeed, his frustration and fear surrounding the incident escalated over time with Spacey’s rise to stardom. Compounding the issue for Rapp, he says, were the far different career trajectories each man found as working gay actors in the ’90s. Spacey, who won an Oscar for The Usual Suspects in 1996 and another for American Beauty in 2000, remained closeted throughout most of his career, and remained fiercely protective of his privacy and his right not to publicly discuss his sexuality right up until his Sunday-night coming out via Twitter.

Rapp took an opposite route, coming out as gay in 1992, when being an openly gay actor in Hollywood and in New York was far more rare than it is today. He would go on to originate the lead role of Mark in the landmark queer-positive musical Rent, and told BuzzFeed that the contrast between his choice to live as openly gay and Spacey’s code of silence increased his distress.

“At [the time of Spacey’s first Oscar win in 1996], I wanted to scream to the rooftops, 'This guy is a fraud!'” Rapp stated.

Spacey’s response broadened the conversation around the allegations against him — and not in a good way

Several hours after the BuzzFeed story was published, Spacey published a response on Twitter, saying he was “beyond horrified” to read Rapp’s allegation:

“This story has encouraged me to address other things about my life,” Spacey wrote. “I know that there are stories out there about me and that some have been fueled by the fact I have been so protective of my privacy. ... I choose now to live as a gay man. I want to deal with this honestly and openly and that starts with examining my own behavior.”

The stories that Spacey is referring to have included everything from whispered rumors of his involvement with minors to outright accusations made by third parties, including journalist Heather Unruh. A joke about Spacey’s sexuality and his alleged inappropriate contact with minors even made it into a 2005 episode of Family Guy, in which Stewie runs naked through a mall, exclaiming, “Help! I’ve escaped from Kevin Spacey’s basement!”

Rapp issued a brief response to Spacey’s statement, also via Twitter, noting that he hopes to make a difference and lend his voice and support to the wave of allegations that have swept through Hollywood since the Weinstein allegations were first made public.

But onlookers had much more to say. Many were quick to condemn Spacey for using the occasion to come out, arguing that he had done so in an attempt to distract from Rapp’s allegations.

Others pointed out that Spacey’s assumption that he had been drunk based on Rapp’s account was not actually an effective excuse for his behavior:

And some, including Rosie O’Donnell, merely scoffed at the implication that Spacey could be so ignorant given what are apparent longstanding rumors surrounding his behavior:

Several people were quick to note that by coming out in his statement, and attempting to discuss Rapp’s allegations through the lens of his sexual identity, Spacey had essentially turned a criticism about his alleged individual actions into a criticism about gay men as a whole — potentially opening up other gay men to criticism and abuse.

In an extended Twitter thread, the popular queer academic and commentator Anthony Oliveira, a.k.a. @meakoopa, dissected the conflation of queer identity with child abuse and argued that subsequent conservative backlash could effectively derail the momentum of #MeToo and the current mass movement to root out sexual predators from Hollywood and other social institutions.

“[W]hat happens next is that you will watch news organizations lean, very bizarrely, on the Spacey coming out. You will be confused by this,” he wrote. This first part of Oliveira’s prediction came true nearly instantly: ABC initially buried Rapp’s allegations in a headline that mentioned only Spacey’s “emotional” coming out. It was changed following immediate backlash.

But Oliveira’s larger point was about how this kind of framing subtly promotes bigotry and hate. “Playing ‘whoa, Spacey is gay!(??)’ and ‘PS he abused a kid’ lets a contiguous elision occur: it says, without saying, these are the same.” This connection, Oliveira argued, makes it easier to target and marginalize the queer community.

On Monday morning, GLAAD issued a statement roundly condemning Spacey’s statement.

"Coming-out stories should not be used to deflect from allegations of sexual assault," GLAAD president and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis said in a statement released by the Hollywood Reporter. "This is not a coming-out story about Kevin Spacey, but a story of survivorship by Anthony Rapp and all those who bravely speak out against unwanted sexual advances. The media and public should not gloss over that."

Numerous celebrities spoke out against Spacey’s statement, among them several prominent gay figures. In a statement released to the Hollywood Reporter, George Takei said Spacey’s coming out was a “deflection.”

"When power is used in a non-consensual situation, it is a wrong," Takei told THR. "Men who improperly harass or assault do not do so because they are gay or straight — that is a deflection. They do so because they have the power, and they chose to abuse it."

Other gay celebrities, including Lance Bass, Dan Savage, and Zachary Quinto condemned Spacey’s statement via Twitter.

In a statement released on Twitter, Quinto cast Spacey’s coming-out statement as a “calculated manipulation.”

While Spacey may not have intended to prompt this conflation of queer male identity with the damaging stereotype of queer men as troubled sexual abusers, his statement comes at a particularly crucial moment for the queer community, with both tensions and targeted physical violence escalating against LGBTQ people around the globe.

At the same time, it’s unclear just how far the ramifications of the Weinstein allegations will spread. Spacey is a famous actor whose star power and industry clout, like Weinstein’s, has seemingly protected him through nearly three decades of surreptitious rumor and gossip. As the star of House of Cards, he leads one of Netflix’s most well-known series (though it’s not yet known whether he’ll return for a sixth season). He is well-connected both in Hollywood and on Broadway; earlier this year, he hosted the Tony Awards, making tongue-in-cheek references to his own refusal to come out of the closet. In the middle of a thriving career, Spacey may be in far better a position to weather the allegations against him than Weinstein, who was presiding over a considerably weakened production studio and was generally perceived to have lost considerable influence in recent years.

Rapp’s allegations against Spacey may prove to be a test for how deeply Hollywood is really willing to examine itself in the wake of the new conversation about eradicating sexual predators from its midst. And if other voices come forward to echo Rapp’s experience, the response to his allegations against Spacey could set a new precedent for how we deal with famous actors accused of sexual assault.

Already, it seems consequences are on the way. Netflix has announced that the sixth season of House of Cards, currently in production, will be the show’s final season. Though the decision was reportedly made prior to Rapp’s allegations against Spacey, Netflix was clearly motivated by the news.

A joint statement from Netflix and the production studio Media Rights Capital, sent to Vox via email, states, "Media Rights Capital and Netflix are deeply troubled by last night's news concerning Kevin Spacey. In response to last night's revelations, executives from both of our companies arrived in Baltimore this afternoon to meet with our cast and crew to ensure that they continue to feel safe and supported. As previously scheduled, Kevin Spacey is not working on set at this time."

Update: This article has been updated to include statements from Glaad, various actors, and Netflix.