Last Sunday evening, actor Kevin Spacey released a statement on Twitter in which he openly admitted to being a gay man. The problem? He came out solely in response to allegations from actor Anthony Rapp, who said Spacey sexually assaulted him when he was 14.
The fight for tolerance of the gay community has become one of the largest civil rights movements of this generation. While societal acceptance and equality before the law has improved countless lives, we often turn a blind eye to the darker aspects of the gay community in the name of progress. Spacey’s disgusting behavior, while almost unbearable to stomach, reflects the larger trend within the queer community of using a lifetime of repressed sexuality to excuse sexual violence. To create better circumstances for queer people, we must stop ignoring it.
Though it’s uncomfortable to admit, sexual violence within the queer community is an epidemic. According to the Center for Disease Control’s National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, 44 percent of lesbians and 61 percent of bisexual women report experiencing some form of sexual violence from partners — compared to 35 percent of straight women. The numbers are just as staggering for men, with 40 percent of gay men and 47 percent of bisexual men reporting sexual violence other than rape — compared to only 21 percent of straight men.
These statistics force us to come to a hard but undeniable truth: Members of the queer community experience sexual violence at significantly higher rates than their straight counterparts. However, many gay people would rather blame their own repressed sexuality instead of treating sexual violence as the epidemic that it is.
Look no further than the Human Rights Campaign, a prominent LGBTQ rights nonprofit, to see this trend in action. An excerpt from their webpage on sexual assault reads, “Moreover, the ways in which society both hypersexualizes … and stigmatizes our relationships can lead to intimate partner violence that stems from internalized homophobia and shame.”
I love this community, and I hope to dedicate my life to fighting for it. However, excusing sexual assault as an unfortunate result of having to repress one’s sexuality only perpetuates the continued proliferation of sexual violence. Furthermore, this attitude ensures that predators like Kevin Spacey will always be able to wave their gay card to garner sympathy.
So, on behalf of gay people everywhere, I am asking you to not pity Kevin Spacey.
Do not accept his excuse of living closeted for destroying the childhood of a young boy. While being gay can be very difficult to cope with, no amount of personal tragedy can excuse doing harm to others. Use this ugly crime to facilitate discussion within your peer groups and families. And while it can be difficult to critique a community that has struggled for so much, remember this: Sometimes, the best way to make progress is to put your foot down.
Elizabeth Braaten is a international relations and global studies junior from Conroe.