No, Straight People, Gay Folks Are Not Trying to Convert You

Let me start off by saying this: I cannot believe that I am not only writing an editorial about beauty vloggers, but specifically about 19-year-old James Charles—a transphobic racist that we should have stopped paying attention to a long time ago. But before you stop reading, let me assert that the YouTube drama about Charles is evidence of a sinister homophobia that pervades all communities. Yes, that includes progressive Seattle.

To briefly summarize the events of the past week, a popular beauty vlogger Tati Westbrook shared a 43-minute video ending her friendship with Charles as a result of an ad he did with a beauty company that competes with Westbrook’s own company.

On top of the personal feud, however, Westbrook made allegations that Charles has “targeted” heterosexual men and harassed them online with unwanted attention. After this, several straight men have posted their own videos detailing experiences where Charles had sent them messages or pursued romantic activity despite their stated lack of interest.

Charles has addressed these accusations in his own video, in which he posted screenshots of text conversations and Instagram messages that he believes prove that his interactions were strictly consensual and transparent.

I want to make it clear first of all that there is nothing more important than believing survivors of sexual assault and harassment and highlighting their voices without asking for extensive evidence.

That being said, the responses to these allegations have focused on the fact that Charles was accused of specifically targeting heterosexual men, as opposed to his alleged harassment in general. This is because it activates a fear in heterosexual people: that LGBTQ+ folks see them as targets and seek to “convert” straight people to their immoral lifestyles.

Aside from the fact that Charles has pretty well proven that his interactions were consensual, non-sexual, and transparent, the focus on his attempts to “convert” heterosexual men is extremely harmful to the
LGBTQ+ community.

This trope demonizes gay people and reduces them to a sexual predator archetype. This trope has been used for decades, if not centuries, to criminalize LGBTQ+ folks and marginalize them. Governments have placed them in prisons, labeled them sex offenders, and today, many villains in the media are coded as gay—think Ursula, Scar, Hades, and the Joker—further demonizing the LGBTQ+ communinity as irreconcilably evil.

This demonization causes serious physical harm, as well. “Gay bashing” refers to violence against members of the LGBTQ+ community, but one particularly menacing form is when straight men physically attack LGBTQ+ people, and gay men in particular, in response to “unwanted attention”— which could simply refer to a sideways glance.

This is called the “gay panic” defense (or if the person attacked was trans, the “trans panic” defense), and it has been used in court as recently as last year. In a case in Austin, Texas, a gay man was stabbed by his neighbor, who used the gay panic defense. The jury found the neighbor guilty of “criminally negligent homicide,” as opposed to murder or even manslaughter, and he only went to prison for six months.

Awareness of this trope does not have to come at the expense of believing survivors. According to the Human Rights Campaign, gay, bisexual, and especially transgender folks face rates of sexual violence much higher than straight people. As a result, believing survivors is absolutely an intersectional issue of crucial importance to the fight for LGBTQ+ rights.

The balance of believing survivors and being aware of homophobic and transphobic predatory tropes is a difficult one; to be frank, I don’t have the answer for how to find this balance.

But at the very least, knowledge of the history of the fight for LGBTQ+ rights is crucial. In understanding the tactics used to marginalize LGBTQ+ folks as sexual predators, we can pursue justice for the LGBTQ+ community, rooted in the messy history of queer politics.

Josh Merchant, News Editor