This past Sunday Republican gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino made a comment about gay people that has left many people outraged and whipped up a media firestorm. Statements like his along with the current gay suicide epidemic has brought the issue of politicians and anti-gay rhetoric to a worrying fever pitch.
It is logical to think that a conservative Republican of Carl Paladino’s age would likely be against marriage equality, and that’s OK, every politician runs on their own set of beliefs. But I believe the reaction that followed wasn’t about Carl Paladino’s opinion on gay marriage, but more so that his comments were so shocking they entered into the territory of bigotry. To clarify, Mr. Paladino said “we must stop pandering to the pornographers and the perverts, who seek to target our children and destroy their lives.” He later went on to clarify that he didn’t want to “hurt homosexual people”—which made the statements all that more disgusting. He had to clarify he did not intend to go out and commit a hate crime after his speech and then proceeded to say that he didn’t want anyone thinking that he wanted his kids be “brainwashed into thinking homosexuality is an equally valid or successful option.” These statements were so shocking because Mr. Paladino clearly thinks that being gay is something that kids can be “brainwashed” into thinking or doing.
Statements like these aren’t just ignorant, they send an incredibly dangerous message to young gay people in this country and gives the implication that there is shame in being gay. It is one thing for politicians in this country to come out against marriage equality and it is quite another to say that being gay is somehow brainwashing children. Of course, every politician is entitled to believe whatever they want to believe and go forth on their own platform—I mean there is even the bizarre instance of a Tea Party candidate in Ohio named Rich Iott who allegedly enjoys dressing up like a Nazi on the weekends for kicks.
Mr. Paladino isn’t alone in his public anti-gay statements. Last week Senator Jim DeMint from South Carolina addressed “The Greater Freedom Rally” in South Carolina and told participants that “in order to take our country back” we need to deny gays the right to be in certain professions such as teaching. Homophobia and bigotry are unfortunately nothing new in the realm of politics.
But it was surprising to see one of Hollywood’s leading proud liberal democrats get caught in a similar scandal. There was an outcry when the trailer for the new Ron Howard film The Dilemma used “gay” as an insult, which has since been removed from the trailer. GLAAD is still unsatisfied because Universal “will neither confirm or deny that the joke will be in the final film, in spite of the rise in attention to anti-gay violence and teen suicides that have occurred as a result of anti-gay bullying.”
When do statements cross the line from opinion into bigotry?
• Mark McKinnon: A Centrist Gets Fighting Mad• The GOP’s Undercover Bankrollers What is becoming more and more evident is that leaders in Washington and Hollywood have to start being more responsible and accountable for their statements, actions, and the art they produce. If statements such as those of Carl Paladino, Jim DeMint, and the recent Ron Howard film continue to be socially acceptable (which they obviously aren’t on some level given the public outcry in both situations), then we are just perpetuating the incendiary environment that we live in where kids in schools are going to continue to be harassed and taunted. At what point is enough, enough? When do statements cross the line from opinion into bigotry? And, most importantly, when are politicians, artists, and our leaders going to start being cognizant of the fact that there are serious repercussions to this kind of rhetoric?
Meghan McCain is a columnist for The Daily Beast. Originally from Phoenix, she graduated from Columbia University in 2007. She is a New York Times bestselling children's author, previously wrote for Newsweek magazine, and created the website mccainblogette.com. Her new book, Dirty Sexy Politics, was published in August.