A common talking point of antigay activists is that being gay is a public-health risk. Whether trying to derail antidiscrimination legislation, protesting against letting gays marry each other or trying to shut down a GSA at a local high school, the argument that gays are a bunch of sickos in the most literal sense is not far behind. Because if gays can be portrayed as a bunch of perverts spreading their homo germs everywhere, that’s just one more way to dehumanize them.
Enter Bob Vander Plaats of the Iowa Family Leader, a longtime foe of LGBT people, who is wrapping up a four-month “Capturing Momentum Tour,” a 99-county trek across Iowa to raise hackles of conservative voters. The “momentum” stems from the antigay right’s “successful” 2010 ousting of Iowa Supreme Court justices who voted in favor of marriage equality. Vander Plaats and his ilk are hoping to ride that momentum all the way to dismantling marriage equality in the state.
And part of how Vander Plaats plans to do that is by playing the “public-health risk” card. This isn’t a surprise coming from a man who has likened homosexuality to polygamy and incest, suggesting that if we let gay people marry, we’ll have to open up marriage to a “dad that wants to marry his son” and a “bisexual [who] wants to marry a man and a woman.” But that doesn’t mean he should get a pass to paint all gay people with a wide, diseased brush stroke.
At a March 24 tour stop, ThinkProgress asked Vander Plaats to clarify the Iowa Family Leader’s position on the health risks of homosexuality. His answer was unambiguous: “It is a public-health risk.”
But hey, he says, it’s not the Family Leader that is making that claim, it’s the New York Health Department. “They’ve put out an ad basically highlighting all the dangers of the homosexual lifestyle, that you’re this many times more [likely] to get this particular disease or this many times more [likely] to get this other type of disease. Now, they conclude with ‘practice safe sex.’ But they’re almost taking our talking points. Because anybody, the Journal of Medicine will back us up on this, that this is a risky lifestyle, a health-risk lifestyle. If we’re teaching the kids, ‘Don’t smoke, because that’s a risky health style,’ the same can be true of the homosexual lifestyle. That’s why I think we need to speak the truth once in a while.”
OK. First of all, I don’t know what New York Health Department ad he’s referring to, but I have no doubt that the NYHD and all reputable health departments nationwide base their health warnings on information gleaned from antigay fringe groups like the Family Leader. That just makes sense. Secondly, I don’t know what Vander Plaats means by “the Journal of Medicine,” because there are several.
Here’s something I do know: Homosexuality is not a public-health threat. The “homosexual lifestyle” that Vander Plaats refers to is not really a thing. See, in his eyes, all gay people are the same: sick, depraved sex-havers with no regard for their health or the health of their partners. Vander Plaats takes the behavior of the most promiscuous, most reckless gay people and deems that the “homosexual lifestyle.” It’s as if I were to point at Charlie Sheen and claim that he was the epitome of the “heterosexual lifestyle” (which, of course, he is).
But looking at individual people, which is what gay people are, is a lot of work. Much easier to lump them all together and write them off as a bunch of sex lepers.
As far as I can tell, the real health concern for Vander Plaats is that gays make him sick.
D’Anne Witkowski has been gay for pay since 2003. She’s a freelance writer and poet (believe it!). When she’s not taking on the creeps of the world, she reviews rock ’n’ roll shows in Detroit with her twin sister.