Fear of the Queer Child
92 Pages Posted: 18 Oct 2012 Last revised: 3 Oct 2013
Date Written: October 18, 2012
This article is about the fear of the queer child — the fear that exposing children to homosexuality and gender variance makes them more likely to develop homosexual desires, engage in homosexual acts, deviate from traditional gender norms, or identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. This fear is thousands of years old, but it has undergone a remarkable transformation in the last half-century, in response to the rise of the LGBT movement. For centuries, the fear had been articulated specifically in sexual terms, as a belief that children would be seduced into queerness by adults. Since the 1970s, it has been reformulated in the more palatable and plausible terms of indoctrination, role modeling, and public approval.
Since the earliest days of the LGBT movement, advocates have responded to this fear by insisting that it is empirically false — that sodomy laws have “nothing to do” with children, that marriage laws have “nothing to do” with schools, that children raised by lesbian and gay parents are “no different” than children raised by heterosexual parents — and above all, that children’s sexual orientation and gender identity are fixed early in life and cannot be learned or taught, chosen or changed. In recent years, this empirical strategy has begun to falter, as advocates run up against the inherent vagueness, incompleteness, and unpredictability of empirical data. To break through this strategic impasse, this article highlights a growing vanguard of scholars, lawyers, and judges who are developing a normative challenge to the fear of the queer child. It argues that the state has no legitimate interest in encouraging children to be straight or discouraging them from being queer, because it may not presume that queerness is immoral, harmful, or inferior — in children or in anyone else. The state must adopt a neutral stance toward children’s straightness or queerness, without attempting to promote one set of desires, behaviors, or identities over the other.
Keywords: children, gay, transgender
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation