Our society, taken as a whole, can’t make up its mind about Gays and Lesbians. On the one hand, many studies have documented increasing tolerance of homosexuality, especially among younger, more educated, more affluent, and more liberal Americans. On the other hand, a substantial number of Americans still don’t think gays should be allowed to marry, serve in the military, adopt or even teach children.
What is it
The question of gay rights has become a hot button issue, with opposition taking on the air of a moral panic and support taking on the air of a righteous crusade. John and Ken attempt to dispassionately examine the competing scientific, religious, and philosophical visions of the nature of gayness. They explore the consequences of those competing arguments for and against gay rights with cultural and psychological anthropologist Gilbert Herdt, editor of Moral Panics, Sex Panics: Fear and the Fight over Sexual Rights. This program was recorded live at the Marsh Theater in Berkeley.
Gay rights are a hot-button issue in the United States. While some people are outraged that gay and lesbian people cannot get married, others are terrified that a homosexual person could be teaching their children. How can we decide who is right? John and Ken plan to clarify the hidden assumptions underlying the controversy over gay rights, with the help of Anthropologist and editor of Moral Panics, Sex Panics: Fear and the Fight over Sexual Rights, Gilbert Herdt.
John, Ken, and Gilbert begin by discussing where anti-gay sentiments come from. Does the uproar over gay people and gay rights qualify as a moral panic – when stereotypes end up scapegoating an entire population as society attempts to dictate and regulate what is bad? Ken wonders whether there is any rational basis for the beliefs of those who condemn gays. Gilbert says that beliefs about gay rights stem from education, and anti-gay sentiment is fostered by religious views.He also points out that the sexualization of what is framed as the “gay lifestyle” is, to a large extent, driving the anti-gay sentiment. They continue to discuss old anti-sex, anti-gay prejudices and how these prejudices have entered into the modern world.
Taking questions from the audience, Ken, John, and Gilbert continue to discuss the sexuality of gay men – just boys being boys? Ken suggests that anti-gay sentiment may largely be tied to discomfort with male sexuality. Gilbert emphasizes though, that the stigmatized “gay lifestyle” would be very different if gays were given the rights to marry and carry out their relationships in the same way as other couples. Gilbert also agrees that anti-gay sentiment is deeply linked to the general societal unacceptability of sex as a pleasurable activity. They end the discussion by talking about the human costs of anti-gay sentiment – suicides of homosexuals, the connection of anti-gay to anti-women sentiment, and the connection between homophobia to destructive hyper-masculinity.
- Roving Philosophical Reporter (4:45) – Caitlin Esch interviews the District Commander for the San Francisco Post of the American Legion, about his experience as a gay man under the reign of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy that prevented gays from openly serving in the military.
- 60-Second Philosopher (49:17) – Ian Scholes discusses moral panics, banning movies, and censoring comics – all in the name of protecting your children from the sordid influences of an over-sexualized society.