What the Sandusky case means to LGBTs

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Siren Baroque's Kelly Savage

The end of June saw the conviction of two important persons for child abuse – Jerry Sandusky and Monsignor William Lynn. What impact do these judgements have on the LGBT community?

The two cases were quite different. The details of the Sandusky case are well known and have drenched the media. It appears to have been a classic example of a pedophile creating opportunities to have contact with children via what seemed to be charitable work. Msgr. Lynn, on the other hand, was not accused of ever having himself laid a hand on a child. He was the late, unlamented Philadelphia Cardinal Bevilaqua’s secretary for clergy, and as such, facilitated an on-going cover-up of the crimes of child abusing priests. Further, it is clear that he did so with the full knowledge and authority of the cardinal, who undoubtedly would himself have been prosecuted as well, had he not had the good fortune to die. Lynn is so far the highest official of the Catholic Church to be convicted in the massive child abuse scandals the have torn the church apart world-wide. Cardinal Law of Boston very probably would have been charged had he not fled to the sanctuary of the Vatican, from where he cannot be extradited. (And you thought no one was above the law? Ha!)

These cases profoundly affect the general public in many ways but have a special significance for the gay community. In the eyes of many people, especially the ill-informed – they tar us with a terrible brush. None of these men above named are gay – not even on the down-low. Psychologists have repeatedly pointed out that child abuse is not about sexual orientation. It’s about power as well as various complex issues of retarded emotional development. Further, the statistics bear this out. The vast majority of convicted child abusers are heterosexual men. To the ill-educated and inattentive generality of the American public however, such details as facts and professional findings are irrelevant. What they see is a man abusing boys – period. Too often – far too often – that’s all that matters. The consequences of this are far reaching and profoundly harmful.

Perhaps the most serious consequence is the reluctance of gay men to become involved in any way with young people for the well-founded fear that others will assume their purpose is sexual exploitation. Among the results of this fear is a generational disconnect in which the experience and knowledge of the tribal elders is not passed on and youth must find its own way without guidance through the dangerous minefields of growing up in the gay world.

To suppose that young people are not interested in such guidance or in the history and experience of what has gone before them is a grave error. I have many times had the pleasure of speaking to classes and organizations of college students about LGBT history and have invariably found them hungry for the knowledge that the usual curriculum of high school and college ignored – eager to know that those who went before them – at Stonewall, in Act Up, on the platform with Harvey Milk and in so many other times and efforts – were incredibly brave, creative and able to unleash power and, hence, these students can do the same. Someone, however, has to tell them. Someone has to take them by the hand and say, “We did it. Others did it before us. You can, too. You have to believe. You have to have hope. You must never give up. We never did and now the dream is being handed on to you. Make it even more beautiful.”

Then, there are the consequences for individual young people in need, who do not get the help that could be given to them. Estimates of the number of homeless LGBT youth in New York alone range from 3,000 to 8,000. The number of adults engaged in trying to help them get an education, a safe bed for the night, a hot meal, a warm coat – perhaps at a guess, a hundred, and most of them part-time. During my years on the board of a charity for such youth, many times gay men would say to me “I’d love to help a kid like that, but you know what people would think…” Yes, as someone who has gotten involved, I do know what people may think. All I can do about it is shrug and say, along with the motto of the ancient order of the Knights of the Garter: “Honi soit qui mal y pense.” Evil be to him who evil thinks.

In some ways, it requires even more courage to withstand the innuendos and sly suspicions of others than it takes to face a line of hostile police officers in a demonstration for equality. None the less, there is a crying and desperate need that only gay men and women of good will and integrity can fulfill – to get involved with the tomorrow of our community, to reach out to young people struggling to come to terms with themselves and with the world around them, to grow and learn and in many cases, to simply survive. Opportunities abound. Community service organizations seek volunteers. The state actively seeks LGBT foster parents. Help lines, some churches and various other activist organizations have outreach programs for LGBT youth.

We, as a community, must not clutch to our shoulders the ragged garment of suspicion with which many in the outside world would drape us. Let us find the courage to reject it and by our actions and involvement, show that the Sanduskys and the Lynns are not of us – are no part of our lives or our world. The community that does not care for its young people, does not merit equality.

The end of June saw the conviction of two important persons for child abuse – Jerry Sandusky and Monsignor William Lynn. What impact do these judgements have on the LGBT community?