In “Shades of Gay” Mr. Blow says that in a recent national survey, people of color were more likely than whites to identify themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. Mr. Nocera explains “Why Syracuse Isn’t Penn State” and says the differences in the responses to allegations of sexual abuse at Penn State and Syracuse offer important lessons. Ms. Collins has a question about “The Least Popular Subject:” People, have you noticed how gun control rarely comes up in the presidential race? Let’s thank Nina Gonzalez for bringing it up. Here’s Mr. Blow:
Let me be upfront: The data here seem to raise more questions than provide explanations.
Gallup and the Williams Institute at the law school of the University of California, Los Angeles, on Thursday published the results of “the largest single study of the distribution of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) population in the U.S. on record.”
From June through September, Gallup asked 121,290 Americans if they personally identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. The results, at least when viewed through a racial and ethnic lens, did not conform to some social stereotypes. The numbers were small, but the implications large.
The poll found that nonwhites are more likely than whites to answer “yes.”
And, although, in general, younger people were more likely to answer affirmatively than older ones, young black men (those between 18 and 29 years old) were 56 percent more likely than young white men to answer yes. Young Hispanic men were 49 percent more likely than young white men to answer with a yes and young Asian men were 23 percent more likely than young white men to answer yes.
This wide discrepancy did not exist among young women. Young black women were only 12 percent more likely than young white women to say yes, and young Asian and Hispanic women were less likely to say yes than young white women.
(The only group in which older people were more likely to answer yes than younger people was among Asian men.)
It’s a head-scratcher.
Was there a fluke in the methodology? It seems solid to me, and because the sample size is huge, the margin of error is tiny.
So I did what columnists do when they’re stumped: I reached out to social scientists, cultural critics and activists in the subject area hoping that they could clarify. They had theories, but they were also scratching their heads.
They did, however, offer some intriguing ideas and posed some interesting questions.
Could it be that outreach programs on H.I.V. and AIDS are better at reaching young people of color? Could it be a new level of openness among celebrities and acceptance by politicians? Could it be that some men of color have less at stake financially that could be jeopardized by identifying as gay than their white counterparts?
The theories kept spinning, but there were few clear answers. Dan Savage, a syndicated sex columnist and the originator of the “It Gets Better” antibullying campaign, summed up the consensus concisely: “Boy, this is fascinating stuff.”
On the one hand, it’s a positive statistic. It shows that the gay and lesbian community is more diverse than many believe, and it shows that many young men of color feel empowered to identify as they feel most comfortable.
On the other, the causes behind it remain a mystery.
Next up is Mr. Nocera:
On Nov. 17, 2011, less than two weeks after a grand jury indicted Jerry Sandusky, thus igniting the Penn State sexual abuse scandal, ESPN broke the news that a second big-time college assistant coach had been accused of abusing young boys. His name was Bernie Fine, and he was the longtime top assistant to Jim Boeheim, Syracuse University’s legendary basketball coach.
Like Sandusky, Fine had deep roots in the community. Like Sandusky, he spent plenty of time around young boys; for instance, he coached every summer at Syracuse’s basketball camp. Fine’s two accusers were stepbrothers who had been Syracuse ball boys during their teens. One of them, Bobby Davis, 40, said that Fine had abused him from the seventh grade until he was 27.
Within 10 days of the ESPN article, Fine had been fired by the university. In the meantime, two more accusers came forward. It also emerged that The Syracuse Post-Standard had investigated Davis’s charges in 2003, but had not written an article. The university had learned of the charges in 2005; it kept the information to itself. Boeheim, for his part, had issued a vehement defense of his assistant — “It’s a bunch of a thousand lies,” he told ESPN — but backpedaled after Fine was fired.
In the heat of the moment, it was easy enough to assume that what had happened at Penn State had also happened at Syracuse: that the university — and the larger community, which lived and breathed Syracuse basketball — had entered into a conspiracy of silence. When I wrote a column about Fine last year, I essentially accused The Post-Standard and the school of covering up the allegations.
It’s now 11 months later. Sandusky is behind bars, as he should be. And Bernie Fine? Although a grand jury is still investigating, it is unlikely that charges will ever be brought. Two of Fine’s accusers have recanted. One of them admitted that Davis had put him up to it. Serious questions have also been raised about a third accuser, Mike Lang, Davis’s stepbrother, who had always denied that he had been abused by Fine — until the Sandusky story broke.
The refusal of The Post-Standard to publish an article about Davis’s allegations — charges it could never corroborate — now looks like responsible journalism rather than a dereliction of duty. The university hired the law firm of Paul Weiss to review its actions in 2005. The firm concluded that while the university had made mistakes, it had investigated Davis’s allegations diligently and had come to the same conclusion as the newspaper: there was simply no proof. With the passage of time, ESPN is the one that appears to have acted irresponsibly (although the network disagrees with this assessment) — along with the rest of us who piled on.
In a recent New Yorker article, Malcolm Gladwell described the dynamics that allowed Sandusky to get away with it for so long. “A pedophile,” he wrote, “is someone adept not just at preying on children but at confusing, deceiving and charming the adults responsible for those children.”
That is one reason, he concluded, that adults can be reluctant to go to the police; they have a hard time believing that their charming friend could be a child molester. As Gladwell put it to me in an e-mail, “These guys are so slippery — and the nature of the evidence so subjective — that it is much harder than people realize to make a definitive diagnosis.”
But there is another reason as well. What if they’re wrong? What if it turns out that the accuser is lying? What happens then? In the public mind, pedophilia is such a heinous crime that it has become almost impossible to recover from a false accusation. And people realize that. “It is the enormity of the crime,” says Gladwell, that weighs on people. They want to be sure, but it’s hard to be sure.
In Bernie Fine’s case, the accusation alone cost him his job and his reputation. The chances of him ever coaching again at the college level are close to nil. The charges will cling to him for the rest of his life.
Earlier this week, we saw the release of thousands of pages of documents detailing 20 years of sexual abuse in the Boy Scouts, from the mid-1960s to the mid-1980s. They document what The Times called “a corrosive culture of secrecy,” that allowed pedophilia to exist within its ranks with virtually no consequences. They are a painful reminder of the many decades our culture refused to confront child abusers squarely.
Today we’re all sensitized to the damage that child sexual abuse can do. That is all to the good. But as long as an accusation alone can be ruinous, there will always be some reluctance to report a suspected child molester. What the Bernie Fine case really shows is not how far we’ve come, but how much further we have to go.
Last but not least, here’s Ms. Collins:
Let’s give a cheer for Nina Gonzalez, the woman who asked Mitt Romney and Barack Obama about gun control at the presidential debate.
People, have you noticed how regularly this topic fails to come up? We have been having this campaign since the dawn of the ice age. Why wasn’t there a gun control moment before now?
True, the candidates were asked about it after the horrific blood baths last summer in Colorado and Wisconsin. But there have been 43 American mass shootings in the last year. Wouldn’t you think that would qualify guns for a more regular mention?
“I felt very empowered,” said Gonzalez, a 57-year-old mental health practitioner from Long Island. We were talking on the phone a few days after the debate. She had been fielding calls from strangers who were eager to give her their opinion about guns, and she still couldn’t quite understand why the candidates were less enthusiastic. “What’s the problem?” she asked.
Democrats running for national office are terrified of the whole subject. Party lore has it that passing the assault weapons ban in 1994 cost them control of Congress and Al Gore’s election. (There is ample evidence that this isn’t true, but that’s what makes it lore.)
So President Obama, a vocal gun control supporter in his Chicago days, is now a gun control nonmentioner. And, when it comes to legislation in Congress, a nonhelper.
Republicans are usually eager to bring up gun control, the better to denounce it. But Mitt Romney has — surprise! — a complicated history of policy molt on the issue. He was once on the same page as Ted Kennedy, and then the page turned.
For purposes of running for president, Romney is against new gun laws. And he would rather not have any discussions that lead to a mention of his pre-molt state. Or the fact that he once unsuccessfully attempted to woo rural voters by recounting his skill as a hunter of “small varmints.”
Into all this stepped Gonzalez, who was haunted by the Colorado theater shooting in July that killed 12 people. The gunman carried a 100-bullet assault rifle. The ban on assault weapons, which allow you to fire as fast as you can keep pulling the trigger, expired in 2004. Congress has been afraid to renew it because, you know, there’s the lore.
“What has your administration done or planned to do to limit the availability of assault weapons?” Gonzalez asked Obama.
“You know, we’re a nation that believes in the Second Amendment,” Obama began. “And I believe in the Second Amendment. You know, we’ve got a long tradition of hunting. …”
When in doubt, say something nice about hunters.
The president signaled that he favors renewing the ban by saying that weapons designed for soldiers at war “do not belong on our streets.” Then he swerved away to the importance of better law enforcement, good schools and faith groups that work with inner-city children.
That was pretty much it for the guns, except that Obama did call for getting “automatic weapons that kill folks in amazing numbers out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill.” Actually, automatic weapons, like machine guns, are already heavily regulated. Although, in a different world, we would be discussing why they’re in the country at all.
Mitt Romney wasted only 42 words on assault weapons before veering off into the importance of good schools. When it comes to gun control, both presidential candidates are strongly in favor of quality education.
Romney followed up with a long disquisition on the virtues of two-parent families. (“But, gosh, to tell our kids that before they have babies, they ought to think about getting married to someone — that’s a great idea. …”)
It was about here that he lost Nina Gonzalez. “Single mothers have enough problems. Leave them alone,” she said. “Why are we even talking about that? That’s not the issue.”
Romney then lurched into an attack on “Fast and Furious,” a much-criticized Justice Department program involving Mexican drug lords. The moderator, Candy Crowley, was forced to round him up and send him back toward the United States. Crowley noted that Romney had signed a ban on assault weapons when he was governor of Massachusetts. “Why is it that you’ve changed your mind?” she asked.
This was an excellent question, and Romney’s answer was basically that in Massachusetts nobody was against it. I think that, by now, we have plenty of reassurance that whenever something universally popular comes up, Mitt Romney will be there with his signing pen.
The president then interrupted urgently for what turned out to be a comparison of his and Romney’s positions on hiring teachers.
Gonzalez still thought Obama did better. (She’s really irked about the single mothers.) But she says she’s maintaining her undecided status, just in case Romney comes up with a credible jobs-creation strategy in the next few weeks.
And if that happens pigs will fly and we’ll all get a unicorn sprinkled with fairy dust the day after the election.