One of the most pervasive cultural stereotypes of gay people is that of pedophilia. It surfaces in many religious condemnations of homosexuality. It winds around the spurious claim that gays, allegedly denied the means of propagation, must recruit children to replenish their ranks. It is advanced through the arguments of far-right political opponents of gay rights such as the discredited "psychologist," Paul Cameron. In desperate attempts to justify their bigoted campaigns, they fall back on disproved claims that gays pose a threat to young people and that their crusades are a bid to "save the children." The public remains unduly receptive to arguments like Cameron's because the stereotype of gays as sexual predators retains such wide circulation. While often dormant, this stereotype can be roused to rally support for specific attacks on lesbians and gay men and their institutions.
One of the latest victims of this homophobia is Teresa DeCrescenzo, one of the nation's leading advocates for gay youth, an award-winning social worker, and the founder of the renowned Los Angeles institution GLASS (Gay and Lesbian Adolescent Social Services). She has been barred from the agency she began. A former GLASS volunteer has alleged various and routine "acts of sexual misconduct" with the young residents on the part of some male staff members and others associated with the organization with the full knowledge of DeCrescenzo. This unproved and ludicrous allegation resulted in a terrifying nighttime raid. The gay and lesbian kids, who had found a home at GLASS, were taken from their beds on Friday evening, March 15, by the LA County Department of Children and Family Services, with most relocated to an institution known for its rabid homophobia.
There was nothing that DeCrescenzo could do to stop the traumatic sweep by county officials against the vulnerable gay kids who thought that they at last found safety and shelter from the streets. The action was triggered by accusations filed by the California Department of Social Services, Community Care Licensing Division, an agency with a transparent homophobic agenda. This ruthless power-play by government agencies threatens not only the organizations we create, but each and every one of us.
In the interest of full disclosure, I should explain that Teresa DeCrescenzo is a friend of mine who I admire greatly for her work and commitment to lesbian and gay acceptance in America. She is also the long-time partner of one of my oldest friends, Dr. Betty Berzon, who has made substantial contributions to the same cause. Now, Teresa is forced to defend herself against charges that she tolerated child sexual abuse at GLASS, an accusation that is ridiculous given her impeccable reputation and her 26-year career advocating for the safety of children.
This is not to say that no one involved with GLASS has done nothing improper. That, as the officials who staged the raid on the group's facilities seem to have forgotten, has yet to be determined and proven. But the state and county's extreme actions suggest that a reasonable assessment of facts appears to be a low priority for them. Already some observers are charging a double standard in the rush to remove children from GLASS's facilities. Why, they charge, have GLASS wards been so speedily removed when children at non-gay groups embroiled in similar investigations, such as Rev. Bruce Ritter's Covenant House six years ago, were never relocated? The action against GLASS seems to have an additional impetus, a homophobic attack on a brash, bold advocate for gay and lesbian youth.
The shock waves from the GLASS raid are already spreading, showing that stereotypes take on a life of their own in the heated political environment over gay rights. According to The Advocate a national gay magazine, anti-gay ringleader Lou Sheldon, of the Traditional Values Coalition, is already using the charges against GLASS to assail gays from coast to coast and to raise money for his campaign of bigotry.
Meanwhile, the problems of alienation and despair among gay youth, fueled by Sheldon and other "conservative" leaders unremitting campaign to spread loathing of homosexuals, grow worse. GLASS, set up to respond to these children's needs, finds itself hamstrung in its efforts. And DeCrescenzo, now barred from working with her own agency, is left to assess how far the state will go in its career-ending attack on her. The lengthy trial that will likely take place will be a referendum on whether gays are fit to care for children. The ramifications of this attempt to frighten those that want to help lesbian and gay kids are enormous -- to other groups around the country and, more important, to the kids themselves who are left to survive in a hostile society with no one or no group to help them.