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Cindy Abel

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Jerry Sandusky Cover-Up: How the 'Gay Factor' May Have Played a Role

Posted: 11/17/11 09:28 PM ET

What if Mike McQueary had walked into the locker room and seen Jerry Sandusky raping a 10-year-old girl?

What if the investigators were listening to a mom confronting Sandusky about showering with her daughter? Would the Campus Police and County DA have dropped the case?

It's doubtful. Someone, somewhere, would have called him out. The difference? The additional shame factor: homosexuality. The allegations aren't that he was just abusing kids; the allegations are that he was abusing boys.

McQueary, Paterno and all the others were probably speechless due to both counts: not only would a school legend be known as a child rapist, but he would likely be perceived as gay.

Consider documented homophobia at Penn State. In 1986, women's basketball coach Rene Portland bragged to the Chicago Sun-Times about her policy of "No drugs. No alcohol. No lesbians." Responding to protests, then-Athletic-Director Joe Paterno defended her as one of the best hiring decisions he'd made.

After 1992, when the university added sexual orientation to their non-discrimination policy, she covertly continued her anti-lesbian practices for another 13 years. These led to her and Penn State being sued for discrimination in 2005 based on perceived sexual orientation. The university fought back, claiming their non-discrimination policy was not a legal document and eventually settled.

If that was the atmosphere for women's basketball, imagine what it was like for the macho, money-machine of the legendary football team!

Even today, students seem to think Portland's policies still resonate. Number 6 on the FAQ list on the Penn State's LGBTQA website is, "What do I do if I'm an athlete who is LGBT? Who can I talk to?" See the answers here. They're not exactly reassuring.

In this type of environment, where everyone knows policy is one thing and practice is another, perhaps Penn State was paralyzed not only by the alleged rapes, but by the fear of having a gay coach. This additional factor slowed down and skewed the response. When Coach is King, things get handled internally by the team, not reported to outside authorities who might reveal the Lions' shame.

After all, in the eyes of a homophobic culture, a gay pedophile is much worse than a straight one.

This tradition of tackling shame with silence impacted the victims, as well, who also slowed down and skewed their reporting. No doubt they wondered if a man being attracted to them meant they were gay -- something they knew was incompatible with Penn State football. So they, too, kept quiet.

Would it have been different if the child being raped was a girl? Yes. Because there would have been only one shame factor: having a pedophile on the payroll.

Fear of the gay factor, in a very twisted way, probably protected Jerry Sandusky. It silenced his witnesses, betrayed his victims, and prevented justice from being served.

Editor's Note: Due to some discussions about the intent and content of this blog post which took place both in the HuffPost comments section below and on other Internet sites, Abel wrote the following short piece to clarify some of her original points.

It seems there is some confusion about what I was trying to express. I've spent the past 18 years as an outspoken, unflinching advocate for our community in many ways: as a staff member, board member and volunteer for many LGBT organizations, sometimes being one of the few willing to speak to the media about our need for equality, and I am making a film that aims to dispels stereotypes about what life can hold for LGBT people. The last thing I would think or say is that pedophilia has anything to do with being gay!

I understand that some Penn State alumni may have been offended by the characterization of PSU athletics being homophobic. And I apologize if that is incorrect. I made my statement based on several factors: the "No lesbians" policies of the coach who ran the women's basketball team until 6 years ago; Paterno's support of this openly anti-lesbian coach; the university backing away from it's own non-discrimination policy when sued; the widespread reporting of homophobia in sports in general; and the athlete-specific question on the LGBTQA's website that seems to indicate it is riskier for athletes to be open than for the rest of the student body. Are things better on PSU's campus than they were 10 years ago? Probably. But can anyone say there is not a climate of homophobia on this or any other college football team? If so, and I am wrong, I sincerely apologize.

My premise is that the false belief that pedophilia and homosexuality are connected is what caused action to be even slower than it may have been had that belief not existed. And, that this "slowed down response" protected Sandusky and harmed children. Because not I, but homophobic people, tend to think "He molested boys, he must be gay," homophobic administrators might have jumped to that possible conclusion. If so, they would not have wanted to deal with the added layer of shame of thinking they had a gay coach. I don't think it's shameful to have a gay coach -- but it is likely Penn State might think so. After all, if Paterno supported an anti-gay coach, would he also support a gay one?

I tried to make it clear that the sentiments I described were attributed to homophobic administrators. For example, the title intentiona­lly has "Gay Factor" in quotes, because I don't think there is anything "gay" about the situation, but some might have thought there to be. I refer to the possibilit­y that Paterno & Co may have perceived­ Sandusky to be gay. And, as some have claimed, I did not say there is such a thing as "a gay pedophile": I said "In a homophobic culture, a gay pedophile is much worse than a straight one." Let me illustrate: "In misogynistic circles, women should be barefoot and pregnant rather than educated and employed." Am I saying women should be barefoot and pregnant? Of course not; I'm saying misogynists are saying that. Likewise, am I saying there is a distinction between gay and straight pedophiles? No -- I'm saying homophobes think that. Pedophiles are pedophiles -- not gay or straight, just criminals.

I get that this topic is loaded. I cringe when I hear a news story about a pedophile who has abused boys, knowing this will reinforce the beliefs of those who equate pedophilia and homosexuality. I also find it painful when this very bias -- homophobia -- that keeps us working so hard to overcome stereotypes is also used to enable those who deny us our rights. I believed, and still do, that pointing out how homophobia impacted each person involved -- the abuser, the witnesses, those who were informed, and the victims -- could illustrate a point: Homophobia, which we are used to saying hurts LGBT people, also hurt non-LGBT people in this case while also protecting a criminal.

 

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