Radio host and Fox News commentator Todd Starnes, one of the most outlandish anti-queer bigots on the airwaves, zeroed in on the issue this week, bringing onto his show Elizabeth Johnston, otherwise known as “The Activist Mommy.”
Johnston is an Ohio-based conservative vlogger and mother of ten children who has gained notoriety and a huge following for her campaigns against LGBTQ people, in particular attacking Target’s gender neutral rest room policy last year. A video she posted to her Facebook page in 2016 was titled, “LGBTQQIAAPP?? Asexual? Non-binary? Gobbledygook! Gender insanity! This is out of hand! 😡 ”
Johnston has predictably led the charge against Teen Vogue, with a video in which she burns copies of the magazine. She told Starnes:
I was truly flabbergasted. They should not be teaching sodomy to our children…All of us are trying to do our best to protect our children from immorality and over-sexualization in our culture. And to see this disturbing article where sodomy is being normalized, not discouraged ― even the CDC says that sodomy is the riskiest sexual behavior for getting and transmitting HIV for men and women.
And therein lies the reason why it’s so vital to talk to all teenagers, straight and LGBTQ, about anal sex and how to engage in it safely. But just as importantly, they must be taught that it is normal, natural and healthy―yes, healthy―and that it is nothing about which to be ashamed nor to stigmatize others about. Telling young people, as Johnston does, that “sodomy” is “disturbing” and a part of the “immorality” in our culture, and should not be “normalized,” is encouraging bullying, violence and discrimination against LGBTQ people.
Anal sex is, after all, a predominant form of intimacy between men who have sex with men and among many transgender women and men, and the message Johnston sends is that queer people are immoral. There is absolutely no getting around this, though Johnston told Starnes in response to Teen Vogue’s editorial director Phillip Picardi’s remarks describing the backlash as a reflection of homophobia: “We don’t hate anyone. We love the children of this country.”
If that is true, then Johnston should want to protect children ― all of them ― from stigmatization, as well as from STDs. Her claim about the risks of anal sex and HIV are precisely the reason why Teen Vogue should be teaching young people about safe sex of all kinds. Johnston and her ilk in fact use the risk of acquiring HIV as cover ― something they’ve been doing since the beginning of the epidemic ― sending an implicit message that no one should engage in anal sex, ever, because of HIV.
But by that logic women should never engage in vaginal sex because of the risks of being infected with HPV ― which is far more easily transmittable than HIV, including within monogamous relationships by married heterosexual couples ― which can lead to cervical cancer.
So, no, Johnston’s real fears are not about disease, otherwise she’d be talking about STD prevention and engaging in sex safely. Condemning anal sex, she calls for abstinence about sexual activity that straight and queer teens are engaging in ― and that just doesn’t work. People will still engage in it, often without the proper eduction about how to do it safely. She puts all young people at risk, while stigmatizing queer people.
John Paul Brammer wrote a piece about this controversy on NBC Out that everyone should read, as it also delves into the lack of sex education in our nation’s schools and how, when there is sex education of any kind, it often excludes any discussion of LGBTQ sexuality, sometimes by state law.
Brammer spoke with Dr. Michael Newcomb of Northwestern University’s Institute for Sexual and Gender Minority Health and Wellbeing, who discusses how young people, both hetero and LGBTQ, don’t believe they’re receiving proper sex education in schools, as well as how anal sex is an activity that many heterosexual young people engage in and thus need to learn about:
We think of it as an LGBT issue, but research shows that, in part, anal sex is a power and cred[ibility] issue with heterosexual youth, where boys want to say they’ve done it with girls. Education about anal sex isn’t coming through schools, they’re not getting it.
Teen Vogue and all outlets, including Queer Voices, that have discussed anal sex ― as well as LGBTQ sexuality ― openly and honestly are providing a vital forum for young people to access information and open up a dialogue. That’s a far cry from what “The Activist Mommy” and her minions are doing, putting all young people at risk by promoting abstinence while encouraging bigotry against LGBTQ Americans.
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