Kevin Spacey is facing several allegations of sexual assault. Anthony Rapp accused the actor of assaulting him when Rapp was only 14 years old, and in Spacey’s apology, he seems to have deflected from these allegations by coming out as gay.
This is nothing new. Queer people often hide behind their sexual identities to justify inappropriate thoughts and actions. It is a systemic problem plaguing many people within the LGBTQ community.
For most of us in the community, coming out is a moment when we can finally be ourselves. It is a courageous act, especially when many fear retaliation from their families and communities.
But despite this, Spacey is a coward. He didn’t come out to bring light to our oppression. The only reason he came out was so people would celebrate his homosexuality, rather than chastise his horrific actions.
Sexual assault is repugnant regardless of sexual orientation, and it’s a huge problem that is often overlooked in the LGBTQ community. Twenty-six percent of gay men are victims of rape, and 40 percent experience other sexual violence, according to the Human Rights Campaign. Cases involving gay men like Spacey aren’t rare in our community.
In his apology, Spacey also normalizes pedophilia among queer people. Gay men have a history of being accused of pedophilia and while most understand this notion is ridiculous, some could use his excuses to validate their bigotry. He’s not the first high-profile gay man to brush off pedophilia this year—Milo Yiannopoulos, the former editor of Breitbart, said in February that relationships between younger and older men can be a good thing. This rhetoric is never acceptable, and it only fuels people’s misconceptions about the queer community. Spacey has done a huge disservice to all of us.
Unfortunately, some people fell into the trap of focusing on Spacey’s sexuality. Those people are complicit in avoiding the issue of his past violence. Some in the LGBTQ community often resist criticism because they benefit from existing power structures. They would rather avoid talking about systemic sexual abuse than call out problematic queer people.
Spacey’s actions and attitude don’t exist in a vacuum. I often hear other gay white men claim that they cannot be racist or sexist because they are gay. In reality, gay white men are frequently extremely racist and sexist. They use their queerness to avoid grappling with racial inequality and injustices, but sexual orientation is not an excuse for ignorance. Gay men often sexualize women, claiming that their queerness makes the behavior innocent. But it’s problematic for anyone.
LGBTQ people, especially those of us who have other kinds of privilege, have a responsibility to hold the rest of our community accountable. We cannot let people get away with using their sexual orientation or gender identity to justify being an awful person. When we see racism, sexism, or abuse among gay white men, other gay white men have a responsibility to call it out. LGBTQ people cannot be complicit in injustices within our community.