As you may know, last week Joe Paterno, college football’s most winningest coach, was fired from his position at Penn State in response to a sexual abuse scandal involving former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky, who stands accused of sexually abusing at least eight boys over a 15-year span. In 2000, a Penn State janitor witnessed Sandusky performing oral sex on a boy between the ages of 11 and 13 in Penn State’s football showers and reported the incident to his immediate supervisor. In 2002, a graduate assistant witnessed Jerry Sandusky raping a 10-year-old boy in those same showers and reported the incident to Paterno, who reported the allegations to Penn State athletic director Tim Curley. Neither Paterno nor Curley reported them to the police. The University prioritized the health of their football program over stopping a serial pedophile.
The media has been watching in horror as “losing Joe Paterno” has apparently become the real tragedy in the minds of many Penn State students and football fans. Paterno was one of many officials, including University president Graham Spanier, who allegedly knew of Sandusky’s crimes and didn’t report them to anyone outside of Penn State, such as the law enforcement officials or child welfare workers that they were required by law to contact. Tim Curley and senior vice president for finance and business Gary Schultz have been charged with perjury and failing to report to authorities what they knew of the allegations. Last night on NBC, Sandusky insisted on his own innocence. Why, exactly, NBC thought it’d be appropriate to give on-air minutes to a serial rapist is beyond me.
This story illuminates The Institution’s extreme vulnerability for corruption, similar to what we’ve witnessed with the Catholic sex abuse cases, where higher-ups chose to conceal (and therefore condone) sexual abuse rather than take action or report it to authorities. I grew up in Ann Arbor, Michigan, another football town, and can tell you that the devotion Penn State fans have to their football program, as weird as it sounds, isn’t unlike religious conviction.
There’s so much wrong here. So many angles from which this situation just looks worse and worse still. Yet despite the endless journalistic fount this story provides in terms of abuse of power, the lengths we go to to absolve our heroes, or the continuing silence around child sexual abuse, Warren Olney, the host of Public Radio International’s “To the Point” show, decided the best way to talk about Penn State in his show was to use it as a jumping off point to discuss gay & lesbian adoption, of all things. Here’s the show’s description:
Penn State’s alleged sex abuse scandal casts a spotlight on the plight of at-risk kids and foster care. We update events at Penn, then look at the foster care system nationwide and current efforts to expand the pool of parents to include gay and lesbian couples, in the face of efforts in many states to prevent same-sex couples from fostering and adopting.
Sandusky and his wife Dorothy had adopted six children themselves and often brought foster children and fresh-air kids into their home. Sandusky founded The Second Mile charity in 1977, through which he met many of his alleged victims. A 2007 article in Fight On State lavishes praise on Sandusky for founding Second Mile in order to “provide a helping hand and human contact for at-risk children and education and support for their parents.” He also operated a summer camp for young boys on a Penn State satellite campus.
During the radio program, Olney spoke to a reporter about the basic details of the case and then introduced Frank Cervone of the Support Center for Child Advocates to discuss how the hell Sandusky made it through the rigorous background check foster/adoptive parents are supposed to endure. The show’s next guest, John Ireland of the Raise a Child Campaign, described the process he underwent with his partner when they adopted their daughter.
Next up was Jerry Cox of the Arkansas Family Council, a group which had lobbied for a law to prohibit unmarried couples from adopting children (the state Supreme Court found it unconstitutional). Cox was introduced on the show as a family values and “traditional marriage” advocate.
Cox’s moment of hell starts at about the 29 minute mark:
Some choice words from Cox:
“Our measure was designed to point the state in the best direction possible and say [they]… have an obligation to put them in the very best home possible. And what does the research show, what do thousands of years of history show, what does common sense — it all points to a home with a married mother and father… I find it interesting that we talk about the Penn State situation and then we talk about other situations where certain categories of people say ‘it’s alright to adopt, it’s alright to be a foster parent. In both of those situations, the rights of the children seem to have been put second place. […]
Cox then argued that this issue was tied into the Penn State issue because both are examples of “the needs of adults are put ahead of the needs of the children.” In Penn State’s case, this is putting football ahead of child welfare and in the case of LGBT parents, this is putting our on-principle-only desires for equal rights ahead of child welfare. Cox continued:
“If you have a same-sex couple with an adoptive child, what you’re in effect saying is that moms don’t matter or dads don’t matter. You’re saying that one of the genders doesn’t matter. And the research is really to the contrary. The research seems to indicate that children fair much better if they are much better if they are in a stable home with a married mother and father.“
This is patently false, but Olney unfortunately does not correct Cox. Nor does he mention all the recent research proving that gay couples are no better or worse at parenting than straight couples. The American Psychological Association has empirically stated that ” results of research suggest that lesbian and gay parents are as likely as heterosexual parents to provide supportive and healthy environments for their children.” Cox worries that if LGBT adoption becomes widespread, all the religious adoption agencies will shut down and all the foster kids will end up worse off than they are already. This is especially absurd to me personally — not only is my Mom gay (she came out in my mid-teens), but I have two half-brothers (via my Mom’s partner) who were both adopted out of foster care.
In order to maintain established systems of social, economic and cultural hierarchy, the majority has a sordid history of stereotyping minorities as somehow representing a danger to their most vulnerable members, such as the lynching of black men who were falsely accused of raping white women. In the Middle Ages, Jews were accused of murdering Christian babies in ritual sacrifices. As the outrage around Paterno’s job loss illustrates, the majority also has a history of unconscionable skepticism when it comes to members the dominant majority culture doing the same things, no matter how strong the evidence is.
Linking homosexuality to child abuse and sexual abuse is a has been a technique of anti-gay activists since forever-ever. It’s not true, and it’s incredibly undermining to our fight for equality. Gay men in particular are painted as sexual predators unfit for things like teaching in schools or leading Boy Scouts. The argument was used (and totally smacked down) in the Prop 8 Trial by our favorite witness Dr. Tam. Even just having pedophilia and LGBT adoption in the same radio show is remarkably irresponsible.
With hundreds of thousands of troubled children in need, we thought it was a good time to point out that gay and lesbian couples are often prohibited from both fostering and adopting, even though they can provide loving homes. But we failed to point out explicitly that pedophilia and homosexuality are not connected, and that led some listeners to think we were buying into an infamous falsehood. Over the weekend, we received a lot of critical comments from people who thought that, by discussing both topics in one show, we had equated the two. We respect our listeners, and we want to respond. There is no connection between pedophilia and homosexuality, and we never intended to say or imply there is. But our failure to make that crucial distinction explicit was a serious oversight. We regret it, and we apologize.
[Sidenote: You know, sometimes reading the news it seems like just about every shitty thing happening in this country can be traced back to a group of (usually white, rich) men at an institution — government, Wall Street, religion, corporations, college athletics — who did evil things or knew about other people doing evil things and either participated themselves or did nothing to stop additional evil things from happening. If already-corrupt college football is supposed to be redeeming because it “builds character,” I have a lot of questions about what “character” means.]
Did Olney’s show make the point it claims it was intended to make — “that gay and lesbian couples are often prohibited from both fostering and adopting, even though they can provide loving homes”? It didn’t, because Olney didn’t correct or even challenge Cox’s lies about “the research.” And how fucking insane is it that Cox actually insisted on the superiority of the one man one-woman adoptive family when Jerry Sandusky is straight and is married to a woman and clearly wasn’t a good adoptive family? There are a lot of indefensible and frankly unforgivable things happening here — mostly unspeakable crimes against children, and the decision to let them continue for the sake of keeping the peace and keeping Penn State’s football legacy intact. But isn’t the decision to spend time debating the hypothetical failings of LGBT parents by waving around debunked research when there’s a very real failing on many different people’s parts, supported by very convincing evidence, but they happen to be powerful straight white men, also pretty indefensible?
Regardless, nobody here needs to be convinced that kids have better outcomes when adopted by LGBT families than when they’re not adopted at all. That’s actual common sense.
But perhaps what’s more interesting about this Penn State case as it relates to the plight of foster children isn’t, really, how much better adopted children turn out because of what good parents have to offer orphaned children. It’s what this case says about how much better adopted children turn out because of how much differently the rest of the world — outside of the home — treats children with permanent legal guardians than it does treat children without them.
The vast majority of boys who are sexually abused will never report the crime, so it’s unsurprising that when Penn State was crafting its cover-up, one thing you don’t hear is anyone being worried that Sandusky’s actual victims might blow their cover. But these kids — these kids specifically — were even more dramatically unlikely to report Sandusky.
Why? These boys were young, they were poor, and many of them didn’t have dedicated parents who might have noticed behavior changes or other signs that their child had been abused. Many of them didn’t have parents at all, let alone parents with money and/or influence. The grad asssistant made eye contact with Sandusky’s victim as he was being raped, which means the victim saw an alleged authority figure witness his violation and run the other way. (Although he at least claims otherwise.)
Who would these kids even tell. It sure doesn’t seem like anybody was listening.