Arguments for all seasons
“Most of us know that stigmatizing people for something they did not choose is harmful and unjust. Intense stigma can contribute to suicide risk and prevent people from getting help.”
There in a nutshell, you have the most persuasive argument for normalising homosexuality and even for same-sex marriage. Who are we to judge others? Who are we to frustrate a person’s deepest desires and to crush their only hope of happiness?
It is the argument which underlay a New York Times article this week about anti-gay bullying in a suburban Minnesota school district (most of it, coincidentally, in the congressional district of presidential contender Michelle Bachman – no agenda there!).
The Times reported that there had been eight cases of school children suicides in the Anoka-Hennepin School District in the last two years. Four of them, it is reported, might have been struggling with questions of sexual identity. However, an intransigent school board has refused to allow homosexuality to be portrayed positively in the classroom.
Now six current and former students are seeking to change this with a lawsuit to stop “relentless antigay bullying”, “oppressive silence”, “corrosive stigma” and “destructive stereotypes”.
Bullying is always wrong. It’s cowardly and unfair. It can involve physical violence. But the nub of the Times article is that the school district’s policy of neutrality on homosexuality “clearly sends a message to LGBT kids that there is something shameful about who they are and that they are not valid people in history”, in the words of a teacher. The way to stop bullying, the Times suggests, is to normalise homosexuality.
But there is a problem with normalising homosexuality because some teenagers complain of bullying. The same approach works just dandy for other “sexualities”.
In fact, the opening paragraph in this article was actually copied from a statement for World Suicide Prevention Day last week by B4U-ACT, a group of psychologists and psychiatrists who are trying to promote a more compassionate attitude towards paedophiles.
B4U-ACT is campaigning to revise the bible of psychiatry, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, to reflect a more positive view of “minor-attracted persons”, its euphemism for paedophiles. A conference which it ran in August attracted about 50 professionals, including a keynote speaker from the renowned John Hopkins University, Dr Fred Berlin. B4U-ACT is unlikely to succeed in amending DSM-5, but what is fascinating about its campaign is the familiarity of its arguments. It’s unbelievably common. The director for operations for B4U-ACT claims that “5% or more of males (over 5 million adults and 600,000 teenagers in the US) may be preferentially attracted to children”. This seems nearly as high as the percentage of same-sex attracted males which is cited in the media. The presumption is that numbers mean legitimacy. “Corrosive stigma” burdens people with unnecessary guilt. The B4U-ACT website features a PowerPoint presentation about how odious discrimination against paedophiles is. It quotes 18-year-old Cody, “And you wonder why teen suicide is rampant? That's exactly what the world wants us to do. Self-destruct.” And 20-year-old Iggy: “I first realized when I was about 12. I told myself, ‘No, you aren’t really one of those guys.’ Sometimes when the denial didn't work, crying myself to sleep was the only option.” The implication is that anything deeply felt cannot truly be wrong. Society responds with “destructive stereotypes”. B4U-ACT claims that “young teenagers (13 to 15) have been compelled to recite creeds including “I am a pedophile and am not fit to live in human society… I can never be trusted... everything I say is a lie... I can never be cured.” Clearly, it is a violation of human dignity to demean and dehumanise, but the jeers of a lynch mob are not an argument for acquittal. Otherwise Bernie Madoff would still be walking the streets of Manhattan. Problems? Sure there are problems, but we aren’t the only ones. “Other people destroy children’s lives,” says the presentation solemnly. It cites ten news reports of stomach-churning violence against children by mothers and fathers. B4U-ACT’s point is not quite clear here, especially since it insists that most “minor-attracted persons” are not violent. But the argument from others’ iniquity is evergreen. Advocates of same-sex marriage highlight high divorce rates. Advocates of “openness” in gay marriage highlight philandering heterosexual couples. But tu quoque, pointing the finger at other people’s failings, is a logical fallacy. They didn’t choose to have these feelings. Like advocates of homosexuality, B4U-ACT claims that paedophilia is either innate or determined early in life. Here are comments from 12-year-old Kevin: “I been thinking about other boys and because there younger than me worrying that maybe im a pedo [sic] and what that means for the rest of my life because everyone hates pedos and its making me miserable.” But this begs the all-important question of whether paedophilia – or homosexuality -- is a treatable mental disorder.
Surely there’s a template you can download out there on the internet with quotes and debating points for normalising sexual practices. The arguments for same-sex marriage and coming out for high school gays and lesbians follow the same manipulative pattern. A deviant sexual interest is assumed to be innate; frustrating it leads to self-loathing; stigmatising it leads to suicide.
But these are just sleight-of-hand to deflect attention from the real issues. They work just as well for all stigmatised sexual lifestyles. The lawyer representing polygamous Canadian group used the same trick earlier this year before the British Columbia Supreme Court. "The criminalization of polygamy,” he declared, “is perpetuating prejudice and perpetuating stereotyping." The same template can also be used to make a good case for bestiality or what have you.
What these strategies avoid is grappling with the nature of the practice itself: is it consistent with human nature? Will it lead to self-fulfilment? Will acting out these desires lead to happiness? Will normalising it have a negative impact upon society? Is it right? Bullying is awful, but we won’t end violent bullying in school corridors by surrendering to rhetorical bullying in the media and the courts. Michael Cook is editor of MercatorNet.
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