Anti-gay activists have long argued that gay people do not need protection from discrimination because they can hide their identity. Anti-gay activist Janet Boynes succinctly made this point in her book, Called Out: “The difference between black skin and homosexuality is that black skin is a physical characteristic while homosexuality is a behavior.”
However, this belies the reality that sexual orientation is often as visible, and in some cases more so, than other distinguishing human characteristics. For instance, long before many children have an inkling of their sexual orientation, they are harassed on the playground for perceived homosexuality. Anyone who denies this is either a bald faced liar or has never played with other students at recess.
Let’s be clear, I am not claiming that all gay people are detectible by “Gaydar.” There are many homosexuals who can “pass,” just as there are light skinned African Americans who can be mistaken for Caucasians. However, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people who can’t pass are often targets for harassment, discrimination, and violence.
With President Obama coming out in favor of marriage equality and the general success of the LGBT movement, anti-gay activists are becoming more desperate and delirious as they lose ground. For instance, in its annual report released last week, the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Projects recorded thirty hate-motivated killings of LGBT people, the highest number they ever recorded in the United States. The actual violence is augmented by the spiritual, political, and rhetorical violence emanating from pulpits or anti-gay groups that demean, or outright call for the detainment or death, of homosexuals.
The need for comprehensive laws protecting LGBT people becomes more urgent when one looks at the science showing the public’s ability to identify many LGBT individuals.
A new study published in the peer-reviewed journal PLoS ONE shows that people can often peg gays by their facial features. In this study, photographs were observed by subjects for 50 milliseconds, which was long enough for participants to know they’d seen a face, but probably not long enough to feel they knew much more. Participants were able to identify sexual orientation with 60 percent accuracy. Since a chance guessing would yield 50 percent accuracy, 60 percent might not seem impressive. But the researchers say that the effect is statistically significant — several times above the margin of error.
In a similar study involving tape recordings of gay and straight men, 75 percent of gay men sounded gay to a general audience. This is just a hunch, but I think these experiments help explain why the biggest homophobes are often gay.
“Individuals who identify as straight but in psychological tests show a strong attraction to the same sex may be threatened by gays and lesbians because homosexuals remind them of similar tendencies within themselves,” said Netta Weinstein, a lecturer at the University of Essex and the author of a study on the issue.
Self-loathing gay people may look in the mirror and see the telltale traits of homosexuality. So, they desperately do everything in their power to offset the psychical characteristics, such as dressing in conservative clothes or making anti-gay jokes.
So-called “ex-gay” ministries can’t change a person’s sexual orientation, but they do specialize in altering one’s behavior. Like actors playing roles, “former homosexuals” are taught to sit, talk, walk, and socialize in gender normative ways. The Catholic “ex-gay” organization, Courage, even hosts a sports camp where “men physically compete on the field.”
The futility of such frantic efforts to fit in is rather clear when one looks at the stereotypical appearance of leading “ex-gay” activists. Alan Chambers, Randy Thomas, Richard Cohen, Sy Rogers, Greg Quinlan, Janet Boynes, and Anne Paulk are significantly more stereotypical than the average LGBT person. Yet, they teach classes or distribute materials on how gay people can pass in a homophobic society.
We live in a world that consists of remarkable complexity and breathtakingly beautiful diversity. There are at least 500 animal species where homosexuality has been documented, which clearly shows that being gay is as natural as breathing air. Is it not odd that people can accept that nature has room for the Venus Fly Trap and the Yoda Bat, yet they can’t fathom the existence of homosexuality in human beings? I’m glad that science is beginning to explain the mystery of sexuality – but people should also have enough common sense to see the truth.
Wayne Besen is a columnist and author of the book “Anything But Straight: Unmasking the Scandals and Lies Behind the Ex-Gay Myth.”