Repeat After Me: “Gay” and “Pedophile” Are Not Remotely Related

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Former Republican Congressman Mark Foley of Florida has ironically done more to hurt the gay community by coming out than he did as a Congressman elected in the 1994 Republican revolution. After his salacious e-mails to underage pages were revealed, Foley promptly declared himself an alcoholic—which acquaintances have questioned—and checked himself into rehab. Then—as part of his recovery, according to his lawyer—Foley came out as a “gay man.”

Foley apparently includes being gay among the “wrongs” that the fifth step of Alcoholics Anonymous’s 12-step program requires him to admit. Foley, however, has yet to admit “the exact nature of [his] wrongs” against the teenagers who worked for him. Even more troublesome is the former Congressman’s conflation of pedophilia with homosexuality.

This stereotype is so widespread that even relatively tolerant people don’t address its absurdity (for examples, see here and here). But, says psychologist James M. Cantor, at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto, there is no scientific evidence linking gay identity and pedophilia. That bears repeating: there is no evidence that gay men are more likely to be attracted to or to molest underage boys. Cantor suggests that the Christian right’s consistent depictions of “homosexuals” as pedophiles—the same stand the Family Research Council is currently taking—relies on “mere sophistry.” To generate these claims, right-wing researchers simply refer to a man who has molested boys as homosexual.

Foley is, however, something of an exception. Most men who molest boys are almost exclusively sexually interested in children or teens. Foley, however, had a “longtime companion”—a Palm Beach doctor—whose existence was essentially an open secret in the political world. It is impossible to know the nature of that relationship, partly because it has been treated like a skeleton in Foley’s closet.

Were people less afraid to discuss adult homosexuality under normal circumstances, and less titillated by the fact that Foley’s young targets were male, the situation might be much better for pages. Foley’s inappropriate attention might have been addressed sooner, because harassing teenage girls is, alas, less newsworthy (unless you’re Bill Clinton, whom Foley voted to impeach). And, as a corollary, perhaps there would be more productive dialogue about the female pages who have undoubtedly received unwanted attention from Congressmen on both sides of the aisle.

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