Foley and the Homophobic Mind:

Here's my take on one aspect of the scandal involving former Rep. Mark Foley. It's an excerpt from a somewhat longer column:

The Foley mess reaffirms some things we have long known about the nature and characteristics of anti-gay prejudice.

William Eskridge, a Yale law professor, has written that anti-gay prejudice has been marked historically by three characteristics. These are: (1) “hysterical demonization of gay people as dirty sexualized subhumans”; (2) “obsessional fears of gay people as conspiratorial and sexually predatory”; and (3) “narcissistic desires to reinforce stable heterosexual identity . . . by bashing gay people.” The primary historical traits of homophobia are thus hysteria, obsession, and narcissism.

We can see the first of these characteristics, hysteria, in some of the reactions to the Foley scandal. “While pro-homosexual activists like to claim that pedophilia is a completely distinct orientation from homosexuality, evidence shows a disproportionate overlap between the two,” declared Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council.

There is no good evidence of a link between homosexual orientation and pedophilia. Professional anti-homosexuals, like Perkins, often cite junk science to support their hysterical views of dangerous and hypersexualized homosexuals.

Ken Lucas, a Democrat running for Congress from Kentucky, said that Republican leaders should have closely monitored Foley simply because he’s gay. There was no more reason to watch over Foley because he’s gay than there was to supervise the other 530 or so members of Congress because they’re straight, but hysteria sees no inconsistency.

The second characteristic of anti-gay prejudice, obsession, has been on full display. Some Republicans in Congress and religious conservatives told reporters that they suspect a “gay subculture” has infiltrated the party. This “Velvet Mafia”—as some have called it—allegedly consists of a number of gay Republican congressional staffers and other personnel. A conservative website asserted that the gay conspiracy includes nine chiefs of staff, two press secretaries, and two directors of communications for prominent congressional Republicans.

The conspirators, the story went, included several gay Republican staff members who personally handled the Foley case. An especially irresponsible report by CBS News’s Gloria Borger recounted how the scandal had “caused a firestorm among GOP conservatives.” Without any rebuttal or fact-checking, Borger reported that conservatives “charge that a group of high-level gay Republican staffers were protecting a gay Republican congressman.” There is no evidence for this charge, and some pretty good evidence against it, but anti-gay websites quickly praised Borger for breaking the “PC barrier.”

This baseless fear of a gay mafia wielding enormous power undetected has a certain obsessional quality. It is deeply conspiratorial, fed by fantasies of gays as sexual predators.

Others—including Perkins, Newt Gingrich, Patrick Buchanan, and even the Wall Street Journal editorial page—suggested that Republican leaders were paralyzed from acting against Foley early on by fear of a pro-gay backlash. To believe this of GOP leaders—who have opposed every measure for gay equality—requires obsessional and conspiratorial delusion about the power and influence of the gay civil rights movement in America.

Finally, the Foley mess has demonstrated the third characteristic of anti-gay prejudice, narcissism. If the GOP loses one or both houses of Congress in November, one supposed lesson will be that the party was too lenient on homosexuals—turning off the party’s base of religious conservatives. Some thus see the scandal as a chance to cleanse the GOP of the impurity of homosexuality, to reassert the party’s stable, pro-family heterosexual identity.

Chances are that most Americans, including most Republicans, will reject the hysteria, obsession, and narcissism of anti-gay prejudice this mess has loosed upon us. Most GOP leaders have been careful to avoid drawing any of the “larger lessons” about gay people that professional anti-homosexuals would like us to learn.

The Foley scandal doesn’t say anything very important about America’s gays. But it says a lot about America’s anti-gays.

UPDATE: I had hoped it would go without saying that I do not believe that opposition to any gay-rights proposal is necessarily "homophobic," just as I do not believe that opposition to affirmative action is necessarily racist. Some opponents of gay marriage, for example, do so for essentially homophobic reasons (e.g., because of irrational fears and deep loathing of homosexuals), but many oppose it for non-homophobic reasons (e.g., because they presume strongly against all important change in an essential social institution). I have serious reservations about hate-crimes laws, for example, but not for homophobic reasons. Others oppose employment non-discrimination laws for libertarian reasons, which are not homophobic.

I agree with the commenters that "pedophilia" is not even an issue in the Foley case. That Perkins and others have used the Foley episode to resuscitate this old canard is another manifestation of homophobic hysteria in the reaction. If you're interested in further reading about the junk-science claims of the Family Research Council and others about a link between homosexual orientation and pedophilia, see Mark Pietrzyk's fine essay, "Homosexuality and Child Sexual Abuse: Science, Religion, and the Slippery Slope." See especially the section entitled, "Scientific Research on Pedophilia."