Fighting Gay Dehumanization

First published at on January 8, 2010

The column that follows is about anal sex.

Some friends have urged me against writing it, not because readers find frank discussions of anal sex “icky,” but because the offending comments’ source—Peter LaBarbera—is unworthy of serious attention.

In one sense these friends are quite right. But for reasons I hope to make clear, LaBarbera’s most recent ugliness needs answering.

LaBarbera is the president of Americans for Truth About Homosexuality (AFTAH), one of the nastier anti-gay groups. In a recent letter at his website, he discusses how Matt Barber at Liberty Counsel (a right-wing legal group) is threatening to boycott the Conservative Political Action Conference unless CPAC drops the gay conservative group GOProud as a co-sponsor.

LaBarbera writes,

“It boils down to this: there is nothing ‘conservative’ about — as Barber inimitably puts it — ‘one man violently cramming his penis into another man’s lower intestine and calling it love’.”

Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

LaBarbera’s post led Liberty Counsel to deny that Barber had ever said such a nasty thing, prompting a sharp rebuttal from LaBarbera, followed by Barber’s admission that he had indeed made the comment privately years ago (and had given LaBarbera permission to quote it). This back-and-forth was interspersed with some barbs between LaBarbera and Randy Thomas, executive VP of the ex-gay group Exodus International, at Thomas’s Exodus blog. (Thanks to Pam’s House Blend for exposing the imbroglio.)

I’ll focus here on LaBarbera, since he was the one who saw fit recently to post Barber’s words and to defend them repeatedly, calling them “a brutally honest and necessarily accurate description of homosexual sodomy.” He also challenged Thomas to “cite chapter and verse in the Bible” explaining why their use of these words is wrong.

Chapter and verse? Let me try.

Exodus 20:16: “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.” (Hint: it’s one of the Ten Commandments, and it boils down simply to “Don’t lie.”)

Look, Peter—and I know you’re reading this—NOBODY calls it love when a man “violently cram[s] his penis into another man’s lower intestine.” Nobody.

We sane people call that rape.

Indeed, the “violent cramming” of a penis into any bodily orifice, male or female, is rape. Not love. The description is not merely uncharitable (about which we could both cite many verses), it’s a blatant falsehood.

Frankly, I’m not surprised you missed this simple, obvious point, because when it comes to homosexuality, you wouldn’t know truth if it violently crammed itself into your—oh, never mind.

Now one might argue that we shouldn’t bother with LaBarbera. Indeed, a Christian friend of mine told me just that, stating that LaBarbera’s comments are “no more worth writing about than the graffiti on men’s room walls.”

And I wish I could ignore them. I really, really do. If only the sentiments underlying them weren’t so pervasive and harmful.

I’ve been defending gays and lesbians against heterosexist distortions for two decades. And one of the things that has saddened and angered me most is our opponents’ continued tendency to reduce our lives, our commitments, and our intimacy to bare mechanical descriptions—and false ones at that.

Why do they do this? Perhaps it’s because of a fundamental lack of empathy (a trait that forms the core of The Golden Rule, another biblical principle).

Or perhaps it’s because they know that dehumanizing us in this way is an extremely effective tactic. As LaBarbera himself writes at the Exodus blog, his and Barber’s “colorful and dismissive” language are precisely geared to “re-stigmatize shameful homosexual behavior.”

Stigmatize, it surely does.

By spreading their lies about “violent cramming” and such, LaBarbera, Barber and their ilk have visited needless suffering upon countless LGBT people, particularly LGBT youth.

Among the unspoken casualties of such stigmatization is that it makes it harder for us to have frank conversations about the relative risks of various sexual practices, for fear of feeding such nastiness. The upshot is more silence, and shame, and—paradoxically—risk.

All of which LaBarbera and Barber can answer to their Maker for, when and if Judgment Day should come. “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me” (Matthew 25:40).