Homophobia Alert: America’s Irrational Fear of a Phantom Gay Menace

Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, the man who catfished Notre Dame’s Manti Te’o, is part of a trend to justify indefensible behavior on grounds of ‘gayness.’

Media gather outside the home of Ronaiah Tuiasosopo in the Palmdale section of Los Angeles on January 17, 2013. Tuiasosopo has been linked to a possible hoax involving Notre Dame football player Manti Te'o.

Reporters gather outside the home of hoaxer Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, who has blamed his aberrant behavior on 'gayness,' a condition the admitted liar claims he is recovering from. (Photo: Phil McCarten/Reuters)

Matt Fleischer is a TakePart contributor who was awarded a Fund for Investigative Journalism grant for his series “Dangerous Jails.”

It’s a rare day when Dr. Phil makes legitimate news. The TV personality’s interview this week with Ronaiah Tuiasosopo—the man who apparently perpetrated a hoax against Notre Dame football player Manti Te’o by pretending to be a woman named Lennay Kekua—was a notable exception. Though in some respects a sensational affair of debatable substance, the interview did glean one fact worthy of further examination: Tuiasosopo claims his unadulterated romantic love for Te’o is what drove him to take the hoax to its perverse extremes.

Tuiasosopo blaming “gayness,” a condition he says he is now “recovering from,” for his aberrant behavior is an appalling and ignorant rationalization. Dr. Phil largely giving Tuiasosopo a pass on this contention is even more appalling and ignorant.

The fact that Tuiasosopo isn’t the only figure in the media lens in recent weeks to present homophobic justifications is a little frightening.

A man in Jackson, Tennessee, this week surrendered his dog “Elton” to a high-kill shelter because, the Jackson man said, the animal was “gay.” Local animal activists created a Facebook page in a desperate attempt to find Elton a new owner in time to prevent euthanization.

His owner says he’s gay! He hunched another male dog so his owner threw him away bc he refuses to have a “gay” dog! Even if that weren’t the most assinine thing I’ve ever heard, it’s still discrimination! Don’t let this gorgeous dog die bc his owner is ignorant of normal dog behavior! He’s in kennel 10L and he WILL be put down tomorrow bc there is no room at the inn!

The Facebook page caught national attention, the shelter was bombarded with adoption requests, and Elton was, thankfully, saved.

Using perceived gayness as a pretext for euthanasia is upsetting, and it might be tempting to take consolation in the prejudiced belief that this behavior is confined to places like rural Tennessee.

Consider this: In late December, the Army Corps of Engineers bulldozed 40 acres of wetlands in Los Angeles’s San Fernando Valley without seeking proper (or any) local community input. The wetland area in question contained a popular hiking trail, and was a major neighborhood resource in a part of the L.A. basin that contains little green space.

“This is the old Corps of the ’50s and ’60s that destroyed the Everglades,” Kris Ohlenkamp, former president of the San Fernando Valley Audubon Society, told local NPR affiliate KPPC. “They’ve promised to get away from that.”

Popular media sympathy for LGBT issues is a relatively new phenomenon in the United States. It’s imperative not to squander that sympathy on hustlers like Tuiasosopo.

How did the Corps justify its lack of transparency? When confronted by angry locals over the destruction, a Corps spokesman claimed the razing of precious wetland vegetation was absolutely necessary due to the public safety threat from a recent rash of “lewd activity” in the area—namely gay cruising.

Its explanation, of course, was ridiculous, and the Corps has since largely recanted it (sans apology), pivoting to claim the clear-cutting was for purposes of flood control and invasive plant removal. The damage and the smear, however, were already done.

The notion that a federal entity can use the mythical threat of gay sex to justify steamrolling the political agency of a local populace should be disturbing to Americans of all political stripes.

Media condemnation in all three of the above instances was swift, if not particularly wide or sustained. Obviously, the discourse on LGBT rights has come a long way, even in the past few decades. Sixty years ago, developers in Los Angeles destroyed one of the city’s most beautiful parks, Pershing Square, due to the supposed menace of gay cruising. No one said a word in objection.

These days, the threat or supposed “affliction” of “gayness” should no longer stand as a valid excuse for unethical behavior.

That should include Tuiasosopo. He has garnered some sympathy with his claim to have fallen in love with Te’o—though, according to Tuiasosopo’s retelling, the football player had been duped into believing Kukua was a real, live woman long before Tuiasosopo “grew” his romantic feelings.

(Shortly before this story went live, Tuiasosopo claimed he’d been molested as a child. Tragic, if true, these claimed episodes in no way absolve his actions.)

Popular media sympathy for LGBT issues is a relatively new phenomenon in the United States. It’s imperative not to squander that sympathy on hustlers like Tuiasosopo.

The hoaxer’s attempts to minimize his personal accountability only defame the ongoing struggle of this country’s LGBT people for equality and acceptance.

If you were able to try Ronaiah Tuiasosopo for any crime you wished, what would it be? Press charges in COMMENTS.

These are solely the author's opinions and do not represent those of TakePart, LLC or its affiliates.

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