Paladino’s Gay Problem

First published at 365gay.com on October 15, 2010

Republican New York gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino’s recent remarks [https://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/11/nyregion/11paladino.html] about homosexuality have been widely decried—even by his fellow East Coast Republicans—as offensive. They are certainly that.

But upon reading the text and watching the YouTube video [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BKL9TRaePww], I had an additional reaction.

Here’s what Paladino said, speaking before an Orthodox Jewish congregation in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn (the text is worth quoting in full):

“We must stop pandering to the pornographers and the perverts, who seek to target our children and destroy their lives. I didn’t march in …the gay pride parade this year. My opponent did. And that’s not the example that we should be showing our children, certainly not in our schools. [APPLAUSE] And don’t misquote me as wanting to hurt homosexual people in any way; that would be a dastardly lie. My approach is live and let live. I just think my children, and your children, will be much better off, and much more successful getting married and raising a family. And I don’t want them to be brainwashed into thinking that homosexuality is an equally valid or successful option. It isn’t. [APPLAUSE].”

The speech is offensive, yes—especially in opening with reference to “perverts, who seek to target our children and destroy their lives.”

And it’s insensitive, coming in the wake of a wave of gay teen suicides and a brutal hate crime against at least three gay men in The Bronx.

And it’s pandering, clearly designed to play to Paladino’s ultra right-wing audience at the event. The speech appears to have been written largely by Paladino’s Orthodox hosts, and he seemed uncomfortable delivering parts of it. At the last minute, he eliminated the line “There is nothing to be proud of in being a dysfunctional homosexual,” which appeared in the distributed written version. One of those hosts, Yehuda Levin, has since denounced Paladino for what he perceived as the latter’s backpedaling on the statement. [https://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/14/nyregion/14paladino.html?_r=1&src=ISMR_AP_LO_MST_FB]

But the biggest problem with Paladino’s speech—and the one that is likely to cost him the most votes—is the way in which it appears thoroughly out of touch with reality. Specifically, the reality of gay and lesbian lives.

And that’s why the word that jumped out most at me was not “perverts,” or “brainwashed.” It was “successful”—as in his claim that children will be “much more successful getting [heterosexually] married and raising a family” and his denial that homosexuality “is an equally valid or successful option.”

Paladino delivered his speech on the eve of National Coming Out Day, when LGBT people across the country witness to the reality of their lives, and amidst Dan Savage’s brilliant “It Gets Better” Campaign, which powerfully chronicles the lives of successful gay adults.

Paladino has a gay nephew. In follow-up interviews, asked whether being gay is a choice, Paladino responded , “I have difficulty with that….My nephew tells me he didn’t have that choice.” He added that being gay is “a very, very difficult life. Most of them don’t choose it. … The discrimination that they suffer is very, very difficult and I’m totally sensitive to it.”

No, Carl, you’re not.

Anyone sensitive to the reality of gay and lesbian lives would understand that there are gay people in the world; that such people flourish in same-sex relationships, not heterosexual ones; that pressuring them to marry heterosexually is a recipe for the very opposite of success; and that the obstacles to their success are not intrinsic to homosexuality but rather the function of misguided opposition.

Opposition just like that expressed in that offensive, insensitive, pandering, ignorant, and morally tone-deaf speech.

Paladino has since apologized for the speech—sort of—standing by its content but regretting his “poorly chosen words.” [https://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/13/nyregion/13paladino.html]

He has also complained that media reaction to his speech has been unfair. But please, don’t misquote me as wanting to hurt Paladino in any way; that would be a dastardly lie. I just think his children, and your children, will be much better off, and much more successful, if we base our politics on the reality of people’s lives rather than on myths about them. And I don’t want anyone to be brainwashed into thinking that gay-baiting is an equally valid or successful option. It isn’t.