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Come on (or out!), skeptics—we need you

James Randi came out of the closet last month and I speak for the Association for Science and Reason when I say, “Congratulations, Randi!”

Why congratulations? What’s the big whoop?

Coming out of the closet can be a momentous and often torturous event. Fear is what keeps people in the closet, but the freedom and relief they experience when they finally come out is joyous: finally, finally being able to be who you are, to not have to hide it, to not feel ashamed or fearful. Despite the fact that Randi is in his 80s and has been out to his family, friends, and close colleagues for quite some time, he is a public figure who had not previously come out publically. He was still partially in the closet, and now he’s free.

And it’s important on a larger scale. Unfortunately there is still far too much discrimination, oppression, denial of civil rights, demonization, hatred, violence, and just plain misunderstanding directed towards the queer community. Every single person who comes out ameliorates all of that to some extent.

I have a button on my bag that says, “Someone you love is gay.” Whether you know it or not, chances are that someone you love, or at least care about, is gay. The research that LGBT rights groups have conducted over the years proves that knowing someone who is queer changes the way straight people view the queer community. Imagine how the world would change if every single closeted person came out.

For every public person who comes out (particularly celebrities) the amelioration may be tenfold. If knowing an LGBT person changes the way straight people think about LGBT people, then everyone does ‘know’ a queer person—the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) has done research showing that knowing a queer celebrity or even television character has the same affect as knowing a queer neighbour.

Okay, but why is this important to the science and skepticism community?

It is the mandate of most skeptics and rationalists to expose pseudoscience, misinformation, and flat-out lies, and to promote truth and good science. In some cases this takes the form of exposing a pie-plate UFO or a ‘faith healer’ being fed information through an ear piece. We pride ourselves on showing that there are no robust scientific studies proving a connection between vaccines and autism, or the efficacy of homeopathy; in fact, we promote robust scientific studies demonstrating just the opposite.

Craniometric theories were popular in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Found in books like Types of Mankind, these theories claimed that you can judge the intellectual capacity of a race by the size of the skull. The conclusions of racist ‘scientists’ were that black people do not have the intellectual capacity of white people. Real scientists and skeptics were all over debunking this stuff, and continue to right up until today (Stephen Jay Gould refuted it in The Mismeasure of Man in the 1980s).

But amid conflations of homosexuality and pedophilia or bestiality, the science and skepticism community remains largely silent.

During the recent resurgence in the media of the Roman Catholic Church’s never-ending child sexual abuse campaign, the Vatican’s second-highest authority, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, said this: “Many psychologists and psychiatrists have demonstrated that there is no relation between celibacy and pedophilia. But many others have demonstrated, I have been told recently, that there is a relation between homosexuality and pedophilia. That is true. That is the problem.”

That is not true. That is demonstrably false. Yet as far as I know there wasn’t a deluge of debunking coming from the scientific or skeptical communities exposing this egregious lie.

There are no reputable studies supporting Bertone’s erroneous claim. In fact, nearly every reputable psychological and psychiatric organization rejects the conflation of homosexuality and pedophilia. The science was settled quite some time ago, but studies continue to take place, and they continue to prove that there is no link between homosexuality and pedophilia. Here’s a decent overview of the topic. Essentially, the article explains,

“Pedophilia can be viewed as a kind of sexual fetish, wherein the person requires the mental image of a child—not necessarily a flesh-and-blood child—to achieve sexual gratification. Rarely does a pedophile experience sexual desire for adults of either gender. They usually don’t identify as homosexual—the majority identify as heterosexual, even those who abuse children of the same gender. They are sexually aroused by youth, not by gender. In contrast, child molesters often exert power and control over children in an effort to dominate them. They do experience sexual desire for adults, but molest children episodically, for reasons apart from sexual desire, much as rapists enjoy power, violence and controlling their humiliated victims. Indeed, research supports that a child molester isn’t any more likely to be homosexual than heterosexual [emphasis mine].”

An independent study was commissioned by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2002. Conducted by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, the report concluded, “We do not find a connection between homosexual identity and the increased likelihood of subsequent abuse from the data that we have right now.”

Rev. Marcus Stock of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales said, “To the best of my knowledge, there is no empirical data which concludes that sexual orientation is connected to child sexual abuse. The consensus among researchers is that the sexual abuse of children is not a question of sexual ‘orientation’, whether heterosexual or homosexual, but of a disordered attraction or ‘fixation.’ ”

Even Pope Benedict XVI himself said, “I do not wish to talk about homosexuality, but about pedophilia, which is a different thing.”

The Pope?!? The guy who said, “You can’t resolve [the HIV/AIDS crisis] with the distribution of condoms. On the contrary, it increases the problem”? That’s the guy speaking out against this pseudoscience? The guy who led the cover-up of priests sexually abusing children? The guy who was responsible for the transfers of molesting priests from parish to parish? That guy?! No thank you!

Come on, skeptics—why are individuals and groups within the problematic Catholic Church the ones commissioning studies and speaking out? Why aren’t we?

Where were we during the fight for equal marriage in Canada? Where were we during the Prop 8 struggle in California, resulting in the first time in American history that civil rights were stripped from a segment of the population? Where were we when Sally Kerns, a State representative from Oklahoma, said, “homosexuality is more of a threat than terrorism”? Where were we when John Briggs, a California State legislator, introduced a bill to ban gay teachers in California?

Where are we? Where are we when the “kill the gays” bill in the Ugandan legislature is being propped up by the same lies that are used in the U.S. to oppose equal marriage? Where are we when the terms “gay agenda” and “gay lifestyle” are thrown around? (Gay agenda: Drop off car for oil change, get groceries, pick up Sally from soccer practice, dinner, help kids with homework, Glee.) Where are we when groups like Focus on the Family and The Family Research Council try to prevent stable, loving queer couples from adopting children in need of good homes? Where are we when service men and women can be kicked out of the U.S. military despite their qualifications, dedication, courage, and willingness to die for their country, simply for being gay?

What I’m hoping is that Randi’s coming out, the articles and podcasts discussing it, and the larger dialogue that will take place because of it will compel the science and skepticism community to stand up and say, “We are here.”

2 responses to “Come on (or out!), skeptics—we need you”

  1. Pat Dixon says:

    Here’s your chuckle for the day: I thought you were talking about ‘coming out’ as an atheist til I read on 🙂 Living in a place like Toronto, we can sometimes forget that unlike our gay friends here, others suffer terribly elsewhere – not even that far away.
    We need to always remember that not only is there much to do elsewhere — but no ‘enlightenment’ is permanent here either, unless we continuously educate each succeeding generation. Any type of wisdom is something that each generation of individuals arrives at slowly – through education. No one is born wise, despite some ‘New Age’ beliefs!

    • Lisa Johnson says:

      Absolutely, Pat. We can also take it for granted living in a more progressive city, province, or country, or having more progressive friends. (Although I have to say, that I think it’s the newer generations that must educate the older ones, at least when it comes to this issue.) Coming out as an atheist is another story for another day. I have a theory that an openly gay person would be elected to the U.S. presidency before an out atheist would be!


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