The wages of homophobia

Louis Weisberg

With the ongoing revelations of child sex abuse involving right-wing religious institutions and sports organizations – two of the nation’s most homophobic settings – it’s tempting to throw all the headlines back in their faces.

Tempting, but unfair. It’s understandable that pedophiles would be drawn to clerical and coaching positions, which offer a high level of access to children.But just as there’s no relationship between same-sex orientation and pedophilia, there’s no evidence that religion, sports or homophobia are connected to the disorder.

Pedophilia is a world unto itself. Mental health experts agree that pedophiles lack any sort of adult sexuality. Many offenders prey on children of both genders. Like Penn State coach Jerry Sandusky and Syracuse coach Bernie Fine, who are alleged offenders, abusers of young boys are often married to women. That’s not a “gay lifestyle.”

But homophobia does play a tragic role in the cover-ups that allow cases against boys to go unreported and unpunished. As author Daniel Mendelsohn wrote recently in The New York Times, if Sandusky had been caught sodomizing a 10-year-old girl in the Penn State locker room, there’s no question authorities would have taken decisive action. Yet when a graduate student reported him for sodomizing a 10-year-old boy in 2002, the only action taken was to ban him from bringing children into the football building. 

“For Penn State officials, disgust at the perceived gay element seems to have outweighed the horror of the crimes themselves,” Mendelsohn wrote. He added that victims in such cases are often treated as “untouchable, so fully tainted they couldn’t, or shouldn’t, be rescued.”

This unfortunate attitude is likely more prevalent in the macho realm of sports and the sin-obsessed culture of right-wing Christianity than elsewhere in society.

Sadly, it’s also prevalent among pre-pubescent and adolescent boys. Due to feelings of shame about their abuse, young male victims often remain silent. Many of them mentally block the experience altogether and only recall it years later.

That’s why it’s so critical that the Legislature finally pass the “Child Victims Act,” recently re-introduced by state Sen. Julie Lassa, D-Stevens Point, and state Rep. Sandy Pasch, D-Whitefish Bay. The law would remove the statute of limitations in cases of child sexual assault.

Wisconsin law now bars victims from filing suit after they turn 35. The new law would open a two-year window in which previously barred victims could take legal action.

Twice in recent years, the powerful Roman Catholic lobby has blocked passage of the law, claiming it would bankrupt the church. But the Archdiocese of Milwaukee recently filed for bankruptcy and can no longer make that argument.

In truth, the leaders and institutions enabling these crimes deserve far worse than bankruptcy. The sense of dehumanization and powerlessness experienced by sexually abused children leaves them with emotionally disabling wounds that last a lifetime. Considering the hypocrisy these institutions have demonstrated and the human devastation they’ve coddled, who really cares about their financial health?

The “Child Victims Act” is badly needed in this state. This is legislation that both sides of the aisle in Madision could and should support.