Internet troll and Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos is in the news again — after he was caught defending the sexual abuse of children.
Over the weekend, it was revealed that Yiannopoulos was invited to give a speech at the 2017 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), the biggest mainstream conservative conference in America. Shortly after, the conservative website Reagan Battalion resurfaced video footage of Yiannopoulos defending the idea of “13 year olds” having sex with “older men,” referencing his own story that he benefited from a priest molesting him when he was a teenager.
As my colleague Zack Beauchamp explained, this is part of Yiannopoulos’s shtick: Say something inflammatory to anger a whole lot of people and get widespread media attention. This time, though, it isn’t working in his favor; CPAC’s organizers rescinded their invitation in response to mounting pressure to cancel Yiannopoulos’s speech, and his publishers canceled their book deal with him.
One of the reasons Yiannopoulos’s latest comments are so abhorrent is that he, as a gay man, is tapping into a pernicious myth that has been historically used to oppose the rights of the LGBTQ community: the idea that gay men are sexual deviants who approve of all sorts of abhorrent behavior, including pedophilia and child sexual abuse. Yiannopoulos, perhaps inadvertently, played into this myth by arguing that there’s an upside to sexual molestation.
“In the homosexual world, particularly, some of those relationships between younger boys and older men — the sort of ‘coming of age’ relationships — the relationships in which those older men help those young boys to discover who they are and give them security and safety and provide them with love and a reliable sort of rock,” Yiannopoulos said.
The research is clear: There’s no link between homosexuality and pedophilia
The myth of a link between homosexuality and pedophilia is far from new. Retired University of California Davis professor Gregory Herek explained: “Back in 1977, when Anita Bryant campaigned successfully to repeal a Dade County (FL) ordinance prohibiting anti-gay discrimination, she named her organization ‘Save Our Children,’ and warned that ‘a particularly deviant-minded [gay] teacher could sexually molest children.’”
Herek, a well-known social psychologist who studies and writes about LGBTQ issues in his blog Beyond Homophobia, took a broad look at the empirical research on this myth, analyzing studies on both sides of the claim. He concluded — in no uncertain terms:
The empirical research does not show that gay or bisexual men are any more likely than heterosexual men to molest children. This is not to argue that homosexual and bisexual men never molest children. But there is no scientific basis for asserting that they are more likely than heterosexual men to do so. And, as explained above, many child molesters cannot be characterized as having an adult sexual orientation at all; they are fixated on children.
So why has this myth stuck around, particularly in very conservative religious circles — like the Family Research Council, an anti-LGBTQ group that continues to promote this myth on its website? This began as people lumped up all sorts of behavior that they saw as deviant — in this case, homosexuality and child abuse — and used it to scare people about gay men. And this was used, historically, to oppose the advancement of gay rights and other civil rights.
Painting minorities as sexual deviants is an old canard
This kind of strategy — painting a marginalized minority group as sexually deviant to oppose civil rights — has been used time and time again throughout history.
Most recently, we’ve seen this kind of tactic much more with transgender people. On Bill Maher’s show last week, Yiannopoulos himself touted the trans myth, arguing that if trans women are allowed to use the bathroom that aligns with their gender identity, they will sexually assault cisgender (non-trans) women in bathrooms. This myth has been used by conservatives, particularly in North Carolina, to oppose legislation that grants LGBTQ people legal protections against discrimination in the workplace, schools, housing, and public accommodations.
Multiple investigations have found zero evidence of increased incidents of sexual assault or other public safety concerns when trans people are granted legal nondiscrimination protections and allowed to use the bathroom that aligns with their gender identity. In two of these investigations, Media Matters confirmed with experts and officials in 12 states and 17 school districts with protections for trans people that they had no increases in sex crimes after they enacted their trans-friendly policies.
Yet Yiannopoulos argued on Maher’s show that trans people “are disproportionately involved in those kinds of [sex] crimes” — a misleading point that overlooks the reality that trans people are only disproportionately likely to be involved in such crimes as the victims, not perpetrators.
As the federal Office of Justice Programs notes, “One in two transgender individuals are sexually abused or assaulted at some point in their lives. Some reports estimate that transgender survivors may experience rates of sexual assault up to 66 percent, often coupled with physical assaults or abuse.”
Before trans people faced this myth, other minority groups were attacked on the basis of bathrooms as well. Fears of bathroom attacks were used to defend segregation — by invoking fears that black men would attack white women in bathrooms. And fears of gay men in bathrooms were constantly perpetuated to demonize gay people, such as the 1961 anti-gay PSA “Boys Beware” that warned that “public restrooms can often be a hangout for the homosexual.”
Of course, with the end of segregation and expansion of LGBTQ rights, none of these bathroom fears have been realized.
It’s not clear if Yiannopoulos knew he was playing into this myth when he defended child molestation or brought up trans people in bathrooms. Regardless of what he was thinking, this old trope has haunted civil rights causes for centuries, even though it has no basis in reality.