Washington, DC -- Will the shock, sorrow and surprise of the recent mass suicide of members of the Heaven's Gate cult now turn to rage, resentment and retribution because of Easter weekend press reports that cult leader Marshal Applewhite may have been gay?
That was the question asked by Kerry Lobel, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Executive Director, in response to a news article which appeared in the Saturday March 29, 1997 edition of The Washington Post. The newspaper reported that Applewhite was fired from his teaching job at a Houston university in the late 1960's for having an affair with a male student. The paper also said that Applewhite's dismissal led him to seek psychiatric treatment so that he could be cured of his gay impulses.
Since the news story broke, Applewhite has been called a "homosexual freak" by the son of the cult's co-founder who also described him as "as gay as they come."
"My fear is that gays will be scapegoated for the atrocities brought about by the cult leader," said Lobel. "Once again, we may be vilified by those who associate everything bad, wrong, strange, or tragic with homosexuality," she added.
Greg Herek, a research psychologist at the University of California at Davis said the fact that Applewhite may have been gay may make it easier for some people to connect him to dysfunctional behavior, because of their perceptions of homosexuality and of gay people.
"The Heaven's Gate incident is a reflection of the trust that followers put in cult leaders," Lobel concluded. "To use this incident to perpetuate the wholesale scapegoating of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people is unacceptable and will not be tolerated," she said.
The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force is the oldest national gay and lesbian group and is a progressive organization that has supported grassroots organizing and pioneered in national advocacy since 1973. Since its inception, NGLTF has been at the forefront of virtually every major initiative for lesbian and gay rights. In all its efforts, NGLTF helps to strengthen the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender movement at the state level while connecting these activities to a national vision for change.