Amy Pascal, the co-chair of Sony Pictures, gave a speech at a fundraiser for the L.A. Gay and Lesbian Center last week in which she encouraged her colleagues in the entertainment industry to discourage lazy defaults to homophobia in the form of insults. While I do think that sometimes it’s important to depict the worst impulses of bigots in order to demonstrate just how unappealing and damaging they are, it’s nice to see Pascal treat homophobic language as something that should used thoughtfully rather than casually. And I’m particularly glad to see her call out one of the most insidious and persistent forms of homophobia acceptable in the entertainment industry: prison rape jokes that assume gay men are the primary perpetrators:
Turning her attention to the media and industry, she elaborated on stereotypes and slurs commonly seen in entertainment. “How many times have you heard a character imply to another that the worst thing about going to prison isn’t being locked up for the rest of your life, it’s the homosexuality? And old stereotypes still exist,” Pascal said. “The most benign stereotypes would have a gay kid believe that they will end up being the asexual, witty best friend of the pretty girl, or a drag queen, or a swishy hairdresser. The list goes on.”
This stereotype of gay prison rapists is so disturbing not just because it reinforced long-standing and ugly prejudices that paint LGBT people as predators whether they’re incarcerated or not, but because the stereotype is the inverse of the reality. As David Kaiser and Lovisa Stannow wrote in the latest installment of their long-running series on prison rape in the New York Review of Books “According to the new BJS study, 3.5 percent of men who identified themselves as heterosexual had been sexually abused by another inmate, but 34 percent of bisexual men had, and 39 percent of gay men.” I have no problem with Hollywood emphasizing the horror of prison rape. But it’s an issue that affects both men and women, and should be a source of solidarity between LGBT folks and heterosexual people, rather than a way to drive wedges between them.