“I was drunk. I don’t remember what happened. But if it did happen, I’m sorry. Oh, and by the way, I’m gay.” That’s the abridged version of Kevin Spacey’s “apology,” issued after Star Trek: Discovery star Anthony Rapp recounted the story of a night in 1986.
According to Rapp, Spacey invited the actor, then starring in Precious Sons on Broadway, to a house party. Spacey was 26. Rapp was 14, and the only teenager at a party filled with adults. Out of boredom, he wandered into a bedroom to watch TV, he told BuzzFeed News. A drunk Spacey entered the room, picked Rapp up “like a groom picks up the bride over the threshold,” and lied down on top of him on the bed. Rapp was able to “squirm” away and leave before anything happened. Back then Rapp didn’t quite understand what had happened, he said. Now, he understands that Spacey was coming onto him.
Spacey responded with an apology, but then, in an effort to change the story, tacked a coming out onto it. “I have loved and had romantic encounters with men throughout my life,” the 58-year-old wrote on Twitter, “and I choose now to live as a gay man.”
The LGBTQ community’s backlash was virtually instantaneous. Prominent queer actors, from George Takei to Zachary Quinto, called out Spacey’s wrongheaded attempt to change the subject. Yet, for a fraction of a second, Spacey’s deflection worked. Headlines from major news organizations focused only on his pronouncement. Reuters was particularly cringe-worthy: “Actor Kevin Spacey declares he lives life as a gay man.”
The continued fallout from the Harvey Weinstein allegations and the brave survivors of sexual assault who made the #MeToo campaign go viral, helped bring the focus back to where it mattered. Spacey abused his power to make advances on a 14-year-old child. Within two days, Netflix announced that House of Cards would not be renewed past its sixth season and that filming of the final season was suspended indefinitely. Spacey’s reputation has been ruined beyond repair, and for good reason. Those in positions of power are supposed to be held to a higher standard. Perhaps we are starting to make good on that notion. And yet, Spacey’s “apology” revived an old story: the conflating of homosexuality with pedophilia.
I am not particularly worried about the repercussions of Spacey’s fumbled apology and abhorrent coming out for this country. Spacey’s story is simply a case of confirmatory bias for a minority opinion. The results of decades of tireless work by advocacy organizations and grassroots activism has helped erase the pedophilia myth. A single actor will not undo that work. The number of Americans who believed “gay people are dangerous to children” dropped from 70% in 1970 to just 19% in 1999. The rhetoric in the United States has shifted considerably from the days of Anita Bryant’s 1977 “Save Our Children” campaign.
I am more worried about the countries where the false connection between pedophilia and homosexuality is used as an excuse to enact anti-gay laws. In Russia, laws banning “homosexual propaganda” were passed on the basis that kids would be targeted by gay pedophiles. For Spacey, coming out was meant to be a distraction for his alleged misconduct. For the countless gays facing harsh discrimination, Spacey’s actions added justification for tougher laws and greater surveillance. Spacey’s half-baked attempt to change the subject will not be doing any favors for gay rights organizations working on the ground. With Spacey and the House of Cards franchise now a household name in many countries, Spacey’s sexual misconduct and coming out narrative could very well be used to stir anti-gay sentiments.
Coming out is a profoundly personal choice, a decision no one should be forced to make. Those in power, however, must also be cognizant of what their coming out means. Coming out could have a ripple effect on the LGBTQ community and acceptance. Spacey lost the right to make the choice when he allowed for the allegations made against him to be conflated with his sexuality. In allegedly assaulting a 14-year-old boy in 1986, Spacey lost the coming out he could have had. As Wanda Sykes said, “You do not get to ‘choose’ to hide under the rainbow.”
Being gay is not an excuse for Spacey’s actions.
There is no excuse.
Norman Rozenberg is a writer based in Washington, D.C. He can be reached at @_nprtweets.
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