Late Sunday night, BuzzFeed News reported that Kevin Spacey sexually harassed actor Anthony Rapp when he was 14 years old. Just over an hour after the story broke, Spacey released a statement in which he said he did not remember the incident, but took full responsibility for the alleged sexual harassment before quickly using the statement as a platform to formally come out as gay. Not only is this a pathetic public relations strategy, but it creates an extremely dangerous equivalency between being gay and being a pedophile.
In result of Spacey’s cavalier statement, publications around the world have published headlines that put phrases such as coming out and sexual harassment side by side. This is problematic for two reasons. The first is that it takes the attention away from where it should be — Rapp’s story and the devastating assault he faced. The second is that attempting to excuse making sexual advances toward a 14-year-old boy with one’s sexuality implies that being gay is an excuse for pedophilia. It was morally and legally unacceptable for Spacey — who was 26 years old at the time of the incident — to make sexual advances toward anyone who is underage, regardless of the victim’s gender or Spacey’s own sexuality. Attempting to deflect from this instance of abuse with a coming out story may cause this scandal go away faster for Spacey, but it undoubtedly slows the progress toward LGBTQ equality.
For centuries, opponents of gay rights have equated same-sex relationships with pedophilia. In fact, the comparison was even the official stance of the American Psychiatric Association until homosexuality was declassified as a mental disorder in 1974. People such as former Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh and Under Secretary of Agriculture for Research, Education and Economics Tim Clovis have recently made the comparison. Furthermore, the problem goes past a few right-wing politicians — I can personally attest to when I came out in high school and multiple of my religious friends’ parents compared me to a pedophile. And while I thought opinions like this were in the minority now, Spacey’s comment suggests that it is acceptable for someone to have sex with minors as long as that person is gay. Spacey is trying to use this as an attempt to be welcomed as a gay American, but instead he is fueling an ideology that LGBTQ people have been fighting against for decades.
Spacey has been in the spotlight for decades. Because of this, he must know how the media works. It is hard to read this statement and not think that this is an attempt to manipulate the narrative, to deflect from accusations of child sex abuse by coming out. Some will likely argue that the backlash Spacey is facing is an overreaction. However, in a world where the United States president jokes that his own vice president wants to hang all gay people, there is no room for such a reckless statement.
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