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Sexual Assaults in the LGBTQ+ Community — A Survivor Finds His Voice and Speaks Out

Sexual Assaults in the LGBTQ+ Community — A Survivor Finds His Voice and Speaks Out

Samuel Schultz

A renowned opera singer and his husband recently pleaded guilty to assaulting Samuel Schultz.

We need to talk about sexual assault in the LGBTQ+ community, says Samuel Schultz.

Schultz knows whereof he speaks. The opera singer is a survivor of just such an assault.

In 2010, while a 23-year-old graduate student at Rice University in Houston, he met renowned countertenor David Daniels and Daniels’s husband, conductor Scott Walters, at a cast party after a performance by Daniels at the Houston Grand Opera. They invited him back to the apartment where they were staying in the city, and there, he says, they drugged him and then assaulted him while he was unconscious. He woke up in pain and bleeding from his rectum.

Schultz didn’t go public about the assault until 2018, although he discussed it at the time with friends, family, and his therapist. Daniels and Walters were arrested the following year, but they claimed all along that they were innocent and that what happened between them and Schultz was consensual. But on August 4 of this year, the date the case was set to go to trial in Harris County Court in Houston, they pleaded guilty.

As a result of a plea deal, each pleaded guilty to sexual assault of an adult, which is a second-degree felony, and they will be on probation for eight years and have to register as sex offenders. They will therefore not be prosecuted for the first-degree felony of aggravated sexual assault, for which they could have received prison time. They also are barred from contact with Schultz.

“I find solace in the plea deal,” Schultz tells The Advocate. Daniels and Walters are being held accountable for their act, he says, and they will not be exposed to the possibility of sexual assault in prison, where it is common. He had no desire for what happened to him to happen to them, he says. And no one could be certain about how the trial would come out, but the guilty plea provides certainty.

In addition, given the terms of the deal, “they are now prevented from being able to do this to anyone else,” he says. That’s why he came forward in the first place, he notes.

Sexual assault within the LGBTQ+ community is rarely spoken about, and that needs to change, he says. “We focus on positive representation, and it’s important that we do so,” says Schultz, a gay man who’d been out for just three years at the time of the assault. “But I feel these are issues we need to address.”

More than 25 percent of gay men and 37 percent of bisexual men experience rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner, according to research by the Human Rights Campaign. That's compared to 29 percent of straight men. The group found forty percent of gay men and 47 percent of bisexual men have experienced sexual violence other than rape.

There are legitimate fears that homophobes will use reports of sexual assault to further demonize the community, but fear shouldn’t silence us, Schultz says. “If we don’t discuss this, we do a disservice to ourselves,” Schultz points out.

“This isn’t just an issue that affects women,” he says. “This isn’t an issue that just men perpetrate.” Sexual assault happens to cisgender men and to transgender and nonbinary people too, he emphasizes.

The data backs that information up. One study found that about 50 percent are survivors of sexual assault.

We need to reevaluate how we treat each other and what we expect from each other, he says. “I have gone into gay bars and been grabbed and groped,” he says. “I’ve been told that’s what I consented to by walking in the door. But nothing gives anyone the right to grope me, to grab me.”

Awareness of sexual assault and steps to prevent it are not in conflict with ideals of sexual liberation, he adds: “We can have sexual liberation within a consent context.”

In addition to individuals changing attitudes, institutions within the LGBTQ+ community need to offer avenues for survivors of assault to come forward and to know their cases will be investigated thoroughly and securely, Schultz says. And those that have policies in place to address this issue may need to update them.

There also must be an awareness of power differentials, he notes. In 2020, he resigned as vice president of the American Guild of Musical Artists, the union representing performers and staff in opera, ballet, and choral work, because it made what he calls a sweetheart deal to settle claims against Placido Domingo, who had been accused of sexual harassment by several women. Domingo, a major opera star, was general director of the Los Angeles Opera until stepping down amid the accusations. He ended up turning down the settlement offer, and this year more allegations emerged, including one of assault.

“I saw the union prioritize the protection of a powerful individual over less powerful people within the same union,” Schultz says. Domingo at one point apologized for any discomfort his conduct caused, but he has gone on to deny behaving aggressively with anyone.

Schultz further notes that Daniels was fired from his tenured professorship at the University of Michigan in 2020 after the university investigated claims that he sexually harassed multiple students. He was the first tenured professor to be dismissed by the university since it adopted its current governing policies in 1959. The university also settled a suit brought against it by a former student who accused Daniels of sexual assault and the school of knowing about allegations against Daniels and not acting on them. Daniels has long denied the accusations of misconduct with students.

Schultz waited eight years to go public about his assault, he says, because he feared repercussions to his career. When he went public in 2018, he was accused of taking advantage of the burgeoning #MeToo movement. “Of course I took advantage of the #MeToo movement,” he says. “That’s why movements exist.”

The defense attorney for Daniels and Walters, he notes, said that not only was Schultz taking advantage, he was doing it to gain fame. But if he really wanted to be famous, he points out, he wouldn’t have gone into opera.

He knows that coming forward was the right thing to do. “As lonely, as isolating, as overwhelming as it is, there are other people who know and experience the same things,” he says. “People are willing to pursue justice to make it easier for those who come behind us.”

Recovery from an assault, he adds, is a lifelong process. The attack affected his confidence when auditioning, and he feared encountering Daniels and Walters. But Schultz, based in New York City, is still auditioning and pursuing his career.

He is hopeful that his actions will bring strength and resolve to others. A few days after the guilty pleas were entered, he recalls, he was walking down a street in Manhattan and started singing to himself, not a song from an opera, but one from musical theater, “The Impossible Dream” from Man of La Mancha. It includes these lyrics: “To dream the impossible dream / To fight the unbeatable foe.”

“I hope there are people who are willing to fight an unbeatable foe,” Schultz says.

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