Dr. Warren Blumenfeld on Russia’s LGBT issue and how dominant groups marginalize minorities by creating false and stereotypical caricatures.
“We are not forbidding anything and nobody is being grabbed off the street, and there is no punishment for such kinds of relations. You can feel relaxed and calm [in Russia], but leave children alone please.”
–Russian President Vladimir Putin, January 16, 2014.
The Russian President’s comments at a press conference in Sochi, Russia came in response to international concerns for the physical and statutory safety of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans* (LGBT) athletes and visitors to the upcoming Russian Olympic Games. Last June, the Russian Parliament passed and Putin signed what has come to be known as the “Anti-Homosexual Propaganda Law” outlawing “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations” to minors. Among its provisions, the law forbids LGBT Pride marches, positive media depictions of same-sex relationships and public displays of same-sex affection, and discussions in the schools. It carries a fine of up to 5,000 rubles ($156) for individuals and up to 1 million rubles ($31,000) for media outlets.
In my research, I have discovered that throughout history, many dominant groups have depicted or represented minoritized groups in a variety of negative ways in order to maintain control or mastery. The dominant group represents minoritized groups through myths and stereotypes in proverbs, social commentary, literature, jokes, epithets, pictorial depictions, and other cultural forms.
When looking over this history, we find many clear and stunning connections between historical representations of LGBT people and Jewish people, for example. Sometimes dominant groups have constructed LGBT people and Jews as sub-human life forms.
A crucial point in the psychology of stereotyping and scapegoating is the representation of minoritized groups as, in historian John Boswell’s words, “animals bent on the destruction of the children of the majority,” and dominant groups have long accused both Jews and LGBT people of acting as dangerous predators of young people.
In 1144 began the so-called “Blood Libel” in England when Christian leaders accused Jews of slaying William of Norwich, a Christian male child, to use his blood in the making of the sacred Jewish matzos. Many Christians believed that Jews used the blood of Christian youth because it was virginal and innocent and, therefore, was the most potent medication to heal hemorrhoids, to relieve pain during circumcision, to increase fertility, and to cure the so-called “stink of the Jews.” Also, in line with the assertion of Christian leaders that Jewish men menstruate because they practice circumcision, they, along with Jewish women need the blood from Christian youth to replenish their bodies of the blood lost during menstruation.
In 1475, Simon of Trent in Northern Italy, the son of a tanner and barely 3 years old, was allegedly killed by the Jews for his blood. Christians also accused Jews of slaughtering Christian male youth because they wanted to symbolically re-execute Jesus.
Local leaders falsely indicted a number of Jews in Trent for Simon’s death, and had Jews in the area killed. The charge of ritual murder continued into the 20th century C.E. Christian clergy have also accused Jews of inflicting circumcision on Christian infants as a means of inflicting involuntary conversion to Judaism (“recruitment”).
Although, in the overwhelming majority of cases, close family members, primarily men who identity as heterosexual, abuse and molest youth, the cultural perception persists that primarily gay and bisexual men — and by association, lesbians and trans* people — prey on the young.
For example, Focus on the Family, a conservative Christian media ministry organization, asserted in published accounts (2010) that gay rights advocates are forcing their viewpoints (their so-called “gay agenda”) in schools in the guise of bullying prevention.
Focus on the Family spokesperson, Candi Cushman, asserted that gay activists are the real schoolyard bullies while conservative Christians are the victims. According to Cushman, “We feel more and more that activists are being deceptive in using anti-bullying rhetoric to introduce their viewpoints, while the viewpoint of Christian students and parents are increasingly belittled.”
The Traditional Values Coalition, a conservative Christian organization, wrote an article titled “Let’s End Taxpayer Supported Homosexual Recruitment in Public Schools,” which asserted that: “The state-endorsed pro-homosexual teacher/teen ‘Teach Out’ held at Tufts University in Boston in March has outraged concerned citizens. There’s growing concern among parents over the use of tax dollars to fund homosexual recruitment programs in the public schools. During the Teach Out, state HIV instructors taught teenagers how to engage in deviant sex acts and they also taught teachers how to indoctrinate children into accepting homosexuality as normal.”
Former beauty queen and Florida Orange Juice Commission spokesperson, Anita Bryant, spearheaded her so-called “Save Our Children” campaign, which succeeded in overturning a gay-rights ordinance in Dade Country, Florida in 1977. The ordinance was finally reinstated in 1998. According to Bryant, “a particularly deviant-minded [gay] teacher could sexually molest children” (Bryant, 1977, p. 114).
These stereotypes have been validated institutionally. The 1992 Republican Party platform openly endorsed this form of oppression, stating that “[The Republican Party] opposes any legislation or law which legally recognizes same-sex marriages and allows such couples to adopt children or provide foster care.” In fact, some states still explicitly ban LGBT people from adopting or serving as foster parents.
In recent years, the fear of pedophilia has been used to justify the ban on gay and bisexual boy scouts, and today, to continue the Boy Scouts of America’s ban on gay and bisexual scoutmasters as argued by Rob Schwarzwalder, 2013, Vice President of the conservative Washington, DC-based public policy and lobbying organization, Family Research Council (FRC): “The reality is, homosexuals have entered the Scouts in the past for predatory purposes.”
Tony Perkins, FRC President, in a 2011 fundraising letter for the organization addressing the LGBT communities’ so-called public promotion of homosexuality to youth, wrote: “The videos are titled ‘It Gets Better.’ They are aimed at persuading kids that although they’ll face struggles and perhaps bullying for ‘coming out’ as homosexual (or transgendered or some other perversion), life will get better. …It’s disgusting. And it’s part of a concerted effort to persuade kids that homosexuality is okay and actually to recruit them into that lifestyle.”
A stereotype is an oversimplified, preconceived, and standardized conception, opinion, affective attitude, judgment, or image of a person, group, held in common by members of other groups. Originally referring to the process of making type from a metal mold in printing, social stereotypes can be viewed as molds of regular and invariable patterns of evaluation of others. Though every LGBT and Jewish person is unique in many ways and is multidimensional, when dominant groups stereotyped them, they are seen as reducible to a single trait.
Stereotyping can and often does result from singling out individuals and groups as targets of hostility and violence, even though they may have little or nothing to do with the offenses for which they stand accused. This is referred to as scapegoating. With scapegoating, there is the tendency to view all members of the group as inferior and to assume that all members are alike in most respects. This attitude often leads to even further marginalization.
Returning to the Russian law, I would ask officials in that country (and countries throughout the planet) to finally step up and set a positive example by rising above the stereotyping, the dogma, and the hate so we all may enter a new era of mutual trust and cooperation. LGBT people stand as integral members of families around the world. If politicians, conservative religious leaders, and private citizens of the global community are seriously concerned with improving the quality of life for young people, they will join in an effort to work to secure the safety and the equity of educational outcomes for all people, including our LGBT, intersex, asexual, and questioning youth.
Boswell, J. (1980). Christianity, social tolerance, and homosexuality, Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Bryant, A. (1977). The Anita Bryant story: The survival of our nation’s families and the threat of militant homosexuality. Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming H. Revell.
Family Research Council, Vice President, Rob Schwarzwalder, on the radio program “The Janet Mefferd Show,” Feb. 1, 2013.
“Focus on Family says anti-bullying efforts in schools push gay agenda,” The Denver Post, (http://www.denverpost.com/