Quick: What’s the worst word you can think to call someone? Ask the majority of folks this question and aside from racial and ethnic slurs, they’ll say ‘pedophile’.
And sadly, that’s one of the slurs most commonly used against the LGBTQ+ community.
Below, we dive into why LGBTQ+ folks are so often the target of the insult—plus, how it hurts so many of us.
First, a definition
The word ‘pedophile’ elicits a strong emotional reaction from most of the population, but most people don’t actually know what it means. So, before we can talk about why calling certain populations ‘pedophiles’ is so damn harmful, let’s start with a definition.
A pedophile, as defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, is a person who has intense and recurring sexual interest in and/or fantasies about prepubescent children.
Sometimes, you’ll hear the term ‘minor-attracted person’ (MAP) used instead of pedophile. MAP is an umbrella-term that encompasses anyone attracted to children under the age of 18, meaning it includes pedophiles, hebephile (people attracted to pubescent children) and ephebophiles (people attracted to teens).
Some people think that MAP is used because it carries less stigma than the word ‘pedophile’, but this is not true. MAP is used to speak to the wider age-range of children.
Why are LGBTQ+ people often called ‘pedophiles’?
Yes, LGBTQ+ folks are often called ‘pedophiles’. But it isn’t because LGBTQ+ people are more likely to be pedophiles than, heterosexual folks—they aren’t (research proves it).
So, why are LGBTQ+ often called ‘pedophiles’? A few main reasons explained below.
1. Generalized homophobia
Due to the stigma the word ‘pedophile’ carries, it is often used as an insult to harm and disenfranchise people, like the LGBTQ+ community.
Kevin Salazar, Psychotherapist at The Gender & Sexuality Therapy Center in NYC suspects this is due to the total misunderstanding of queerness. “Homophobes have perpetuated a narrative that being LGBTQ+ is sexually “abnormal,” “hidden,” or “deviant”,” he says. “These homophobes see the deviance of queerness as being parallel or linked with the attraction to minors—which it is not.”
Additionally, because LGBTQ+ experience is seen in some communities as something ‘unnatural’, “it is a common myth that queerness must have been imposed on an unsuspecting minor by a predatory, older person,” says Salazar. In other words, there’s a belief that someone could not be born queer or choose to be queer, only be abused into being queer. This is not true.
2. Fake news
Pedophiles never have and never will be a group recognized as part of the LBGTQ+ community.
Unfortunately, in the Summer of 2020 a meme claiming that the LGBTQ+ community was rebranding as LGBTP community, to include pedophiles, went viral.
As Rich Ferraro, the chief communications officer at GLAAD, told USA Today, “No LGBTQ organization has […] advocated for a ‘P’ to be added to the acronym.”
3. Child molestation by leaders
If you get cable or the morning paper, odds are you’ve heard about the (known) instances of adult male on young male abuse within the Catholic church and Boy Scouts of America.
Some conservative, anti-gay organizations have used these instances to claim that gay adults are more likely to be minor attracted. But, that rhetoric actually doesn’t hold up.
For starters, it relies on the false assumption that male-on-male abusers are homosexual. This is not necessarily the case! First of all, sexual acts do not dictate sexual orientation, only people can dictate their sexual orientation. We cannot know the sexual orientations of the adult male abusers if they tell us.
Second, sex acts that aren’t consensual are not sex—they’re assault. Focusing on the genitals and gender similarities between the abusers and perpetrators distracts from the very fact that what took place was sexual abuse on a minor.
Using ‘pedophile’ as an insult against LGBTQ+ people hurts everyone
Far from a quippy dig, slinging ‘pedo’ around may sound like no big deal. But it not only harms minor-attracted people and the LGBTQ+ community, it harms children, too.
Those who call LGBTQ+ folks pedophiles are usually doing it to show that just as children need to be protected from harm by pedophiles, they need to be protected from harm by LGBTQ+ people, says counselor Maggie McCleary, LGPC, who specializes in queer-inclusive services.
For the record, there is no reason to believe that LGBTQ+ folks or exposure to LGBTQ+ love poses any danger to kids. On the contrary, research found no differences in between a children’s general health, emotional difficulties, coping behavior, and learning behavior in house holds with same-sex parents, as those with different-sex parents.
Beyond being factually inaccurate, “calling LGBTQ+ people ‘pedophiles’ is under the disguise of protecting children actually does kids a disservice,” they say.
How? Well, “it allows lip-service to function in-place of actually doing anything that protects children,” says McCleary. Such as, for instance, making sure all children have access to nutrient-dense food and a roof to sleep under, which not all children do have.
2. LGBTQ+ community
Again, people use ‘pedophile’ as an insult because it is viewed as the worst thing you could call someone.
“If you’re a queer person and someone is calling you the worst insult than can think of (‘pedophile’) because of your queerness, that can cause feelings of shame, guilt, and self-hatred,” says McClearly.
And if internalized, those feelings can affect the mental health of the insultee. There are long-term mental health implications of being insulted, they say, including depression and anxiety.
3. Minor Attracted People
There’s a widespread misconception that all pedophiles are sex offenders—this is not true. A pedophile is only classified as a sex offender if/when they have acted (or attempted to act) on their urges for under-age children, explains Candice Christiansen, Founder of The Global Prevention Project® and Meg Martinez-Dettamanti, Co-Author of Giving Voice To The Voiceless: A Minor Attracted Person Wellness Curriculum. Some pedophiles have no interest in actually harming children and are interested in getting help. (These folks are sometimes known as ‘non-offended pedophiles’ or ‘no contact pedophiles’).
Using ‘pedophiles’ or ‘pedo’ as an insult for anyone you find unsavory, ultimately increases the stigma against people who identify as minor attracted but have not acted on those urges, say Christiansen and Martinez-Dettamanti. This, they say, could ultimately keep minor-attracted people who want help from getting that help.
Minor-attracted people deserve support so that they can have the same quality of life that we are all seeking. “When we allow any human being a safe space where they can feel humanized, seen, heard, and supported while addressing issues related to mental health, the natural byproduct is always prevention on many levels,” they say.
But for that to happen, minor-attracted people need to feel like they can seek out help without further stigmatization. And that starts, in no small part, by removing ‘pedo’ and ‘pedophile’ from the insult-bank.
The bottom line
Using ‘pedo’ and ‘pedophile’ as insults against anyone is “hugely detrimental and often comes from an uneducated place,” say Christiansen and Martinez-Dettamanti.
It keeps minor-attracted people from accessing the help they need, negatively affects the mental health of the target—most commonly, LGBTQ+ people—and it ultimately hurts under-aged individuals, too.
“When young people receive slurs like this it often results in a lot of internalized self-hatred, which makes it more difficult for them to live a healthy, non-offending life,” says Meagan Ingerman, Program Director for Prostasia Foundation.
A slur is a slur. If you’re using them, pull over and think seriously about who and how this helps. Children are not protected when slurs are thrown around carelessly. This kind of messaging also puts LGBTQ+ individuals in danger because people begin to believe the stigmatizing rhetoric that anything different must not be trusted.
So, if you’re reading this, stop using ‘pedophile’ as an insult and ask the same of those around you.