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Debunked: 15 Myths About LGBT Culture

LGBT Debunked Myths

From the first brick at Stonewall to Patient Zero, here is a list of mistruths about the queer community, its history, and its members.

Many mistruths and stories surround LGBT history, even many tall tales widely believed within the community. With a recent study debunking the notion that a single Patient Zero could launch the AIDS epidemic, now seems a good time to look at the myths that have confused people about queer culture.


1. Patient Zero

The idea that the entire AIDS crisis in the United States could be traced to a single promiscuous flight attendant held tantalizing appeal to people trying to understand "gay cancer." The seeming identification of Gaetan Dugas (pictured) and his inclusion in The Band Played On, a book by Randy Shilts and later an HBO film, cemented the myth into public consciousness. The story seemed to start with revelations that Dugas had sex with numerous men in Africa and various parts of the United States. But researchers at the time had no understanding of how widespread HIV already was in Africa. A new genetic analysis released in October shows the virus was in New York in 1971, years before Dugas was working and living in the city. The realization the virus can incubate for years before patients develop symptoms also undermined the possibility that many of Dugas's partners were infected by him.

Hail Cesar

2. Stonewall was all about cisgender gay men

The Stonewall riots today are remembered as the launch of the modern LGBT rights movement. But who launched this historic resistance? Members of New York's LGBT community feel modern tellings of the riots leave out the role that trans individuals played, following an unfortunate trend of that population getting erased from history. Many fear that Roland Emmerich's telling of events on- screen in Stonewall only furthered that myth. In truth, many accounts verify it was drag performer Marsha P. Johnson and trans woman Sylvia Rivera who first ignited the civil disobedience at Stonewall.

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3. Testicular transplant trials

Austrian physician Eugen Steinach proposed the theory that homosexuality could be "cured" by undergoing a testicle transplant, according to The Origins of Organ Transplantation by Thomas Schlich. The medical reasoning was that gay men must suffer from "mental hermaphrodism," and Steinach in 1916 even began performing surgeries, with one 30-year-old military gunner agreeing to surgery after losing testicles in a World War I injury. The patient swore the surgery gave him the first heterosexual desires of his life. But when other researchers in the 1920s tried to produce similar results, they had no success, ending the theory of gay balls and this particularly gruesome gay "cure."

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4. Same-sex attraction is a mental disorder

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders II in 1968 codified this myth when it designated homosexuality as a psychological disorder. The terminology got updated mildly in the 1970s when the term homosexuality got dropped from the manual, but the euphemism "sexual orientation disturbance" stayed in the book until 1987, when medical experts finally determined that homosexuality in fact was not a mental illness. The World Health Organization's International Classification of Diseases, though, defined homosexuality as a mental illness until 1992. But today, physicians and psychology experts in the U.S. and Europe take a very different view and suggest that everyone should develop comfort and acceptance around their own sexuality.


5. The Pink Swastika

Despite the fact that Germany's Third Reich infamously rounded up gay people along with Jews and others it considered undesirable, homophobic authors Scott Lively and Kevin Abrams in 1995 published a widely cited book putting forth the notion gay men secretly led the Nazi Party. The writers included supposed evidence that Hitler intentionally surrounded himself with gay men because of their "unusual brutality." Never mind that Abrams was a member of the International Committee for Holocaust Truth, which denies that the Nazis persecuted gays; the book found an audience, particularly among religious leaders in Eastern Europe, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. But historian Andrew Wackerfuss this year definitely debunked the falsehoods put forth in the Pink Swastika theory by studying military diaries from the time period.

\u00a1OUT! Las Transformistas of Havana

6. Being gay means dying young

A frequent cudgel in homophobes' condemnation of homosexuality is that being gay inevitably will cut your life short. A study published in 2012 that was used to perpetuate this myth found that life expectancy among gay men in Vancouver was 8 to 20 years shorter than in the male population as a whole. But the information came from a study of deaths between 1987 and 1992, and researchers say the data was published with the intention of showing the impact of the AIDS crisis. When the findings earned citation in antigay publications, researchers released a rebuttal, noting that deaths from HIV declined dramatically after 1996. "We do not condone the use of our research in a manner that restricts the political or human rights of gay and bisexual men or any other group," the rebuttal reads.

Self-Portrait 11.20.15 NYC

7. Gay people are more likely to abuse kids

A study by discredited psychologist Paul Cameron suggested gay people posed a threat to the well-being of children, and later a group called the American College of Pediatricians published data suggesting they are more likely to molest minors. Of course, ACPeds formed out of a break with the rest of the pediatric profession over LGBT adoption rights, and Cameron's work has been soundly rejected in professional circles. A study by University of California, Davis, scientists exposed improper sampling techniques in Comeron's work and found he relied on a "convenience sample" to reach preconceived results. The Child Molestation Research and Prevention Institute finds that the majority of child molesters are married men in opposite-sex relationships.


8. Sodomites committed sodomy

Even the word sodomy contains a degree of myth. In the Biblical story of Sodom and Gomorrah, Lot takes in two angels as house guests, but the men of Sodom surround his house and demand that Lot bring the figures out to be raped. Instead, the angels encourage Lot to leave the city before a rain of burning sulfur destroys the doomed 'burb. But as scholar David Lamb points out in his book Prostitutes and Polygamists, the rape never explicitly occurs, nor is it ever said that homosexuality was the sin that justified the destruction of the city. In fact, later scripture suggests injustice, inhospitality, and pride were the great sins of Sodom that drew the scorn of the divine.

Anthony Friedkin The Gay Essay

9. The Founding Fathers hated gays

Surely the Founding Fathers wouldn't approve of gay rights, being so religious and such, right? Except some of them very much showed support even in the 18th century. In fact, George Washington, the ultimate F.F., exhibited progressive attitudes about homosexuality more in line with 21st-century politics than might be presumed of a culture with Puritan roots. Granted, being pro-gay in 1776 meant opposing throwing gays in prison, but Washington's viewpoint, which was laid out in multiple letters, was cited by Justice Anthony Kennedy in Supreme Court opinions overturning sodomy laws. He even encouraged Alexander Hamilton at Valley Forge to share a cabin with his rumored longtime lover John Laurens without fear. Spit that rhyme, Lin-Manuel.

Sam Johnson,  Occidental College, Football

10. Kinsey: 10 percent of people are gay

Famed sex researcher Alfred Kinsley in 1948 suggested that as much as 10 percent of the population was "more or less exclusively homosexual." The number got cited with frequency for decades, but modern demographers suggest the numbers have always been more modest. Demographer Gary Gates in 2011 found that around 3.8 percent of the population reasonably fell under some LGBT designation and further studies he published with the Williams Institute backed that up. Indeed, a Public Religion Research Institute study released in 2015 found that while millennials boast a higher percentage of out queer people than any generation in recorded history, that still amounts to just 7 percent of U.S. adults ages 18-35.

11. Abbie Hetherington,  Oklahoma State, Cross Country

11. Twinkie Defense

No, the man who killed Harvey Milk did not get a short sentence because he was on a sugar rush. Dan White, the man who assassinated Milk and San Francisco Mayor George Moscone in 1979, received a stunningly short sentence after his defense argued he had a diminished mental capacity at the time. But his lawyers never argued that consumption of junk food was the cause of impairment. Rather, they argued White's recent change from a healthy diet to poor eating habits demonstrated he was not himself in the days leading up to the killings. The word "Twinkie" never got uttered in the course of the trial, but after a columnist used the term dismissively to describe the defense strategy, the myth was born.

Wyatt Pertuset,  Capital University, Football

12. Gay men sleep around

The Kinsey Institute published information in the 1960s and '70s that showed a higher promiscuity rate among gay people than straight individuals. But as same-sex relationships come out of the shadows and into the open, the hypothesis that gays won't engage in long-term commitments just hasn't panned out. In fact, the Williams Institute in 2011 found that marriage and divorce rates for gay and straight couples were nearly identical.


13. Lesbians just haven't had enough straight sex

As far back as Ancient Greece, legendary physician Galen suggested women with a desire to have sex with other women must be deprived of intercourse with men. And thus, centuries of "You just haven't found the right man" lines were born. The myth lives on at frat parties everywhere.

'Invictus' by Michael Stokes

14. Lesbians basically have penises inside of them

Ancient Greek medical writers actually hypothesized that women who desired members of their own sex must suffer from the condition of ragadia. According to the Handbook on Medieval Sexuality, the hypothesis proposed that either because of friction during intercourse or because of a problem with childbirth, lesbians' bodies formed a fleshy protuberance in their vaginas that was stimulated during sex with other women. Medical science would later debunk this phallocentric notion as utter hogwash.

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15. Exodus International could cure gayness

Dr. Robert Spitzer, one of the fathers of modern psychology, helped get the DSM to stop labeling homosexuality a disorder. But in the 1990s, he offered a certain credence to the notion of "ex-gay" therapy. In 2001, he published findings about an Exodus International program that were cited as frequency as evidence you could pray the gay away. But the findings also attracted criticism, causing Spitzer's doubts to grow as well. In 2012, he told The New York Times in an interview that his work was flawed, chiefly because it did no follow-up beyond asking people to self-describe their orientation immediately after therapy, instead of checking to see if same-sex desires returned.

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