Kevin Spacey has been accused of making sexual advances toward a 14-year-old over 30 years ago. That should be your main takeaway from the allegations that the actor responded to with a statement in the early hours of Monday morning (Oct. 30).
Reading the news coverage, however, you’d be forgiven for missing that important point. ABC News’s story (which has since been edited) originally read: “Kevin Spacey comes out in emotional tweet.” Reuters chose to lead with Spacey declaring he now lives as a gay man, making no mention of the assault claim in the original headline.
Spacey quickly responded to the allegations that he made an aggressive pass at the then-teenage actor Anthony Rapp in a statement released on social media, saying: “I honestly do not remember the encounter, it would have been over 30 years ago. But if I did behave then as he describes, I owe him the sincerest apology for what would have been deeply inappropriate drunken behavior, and I am sorry for the feelings he describes having carried with him all these years.”
“As those closest to me know, in my life I have had relationships with both men and women,” he continued. “I have loved and had romantic encounters with men throughout my life, and I choose now to live as a gay man. I want to deal with this honestly and openly and that starts with examining my own behavior.”
The House of Cards star’s sexuality has long been the subject of media speculation, and it’s a topic he has not directly addressed—until today, when he chose the moment of his apology to Anthony Rapp to publicly come out.
His apology has attracted widespread criticism, particularly from the LGBT+ community, for conflating homosexuality and pedophilia, including a powerful Twitter thread by Vanity Fair film critic Richard Lawson:
In an interview with BuzzFeed News, Rapp claimed that Spacey tried to have sex with him at a party in 1986. They were both starring in Broadway shows, and Spacey invited Rapp, then 14, to a party at his Manhattan apartment, Rapp recalled.
Rapp says that he became bored at the party and spent most of the evening in a bedroom watching TV, until Spacey appeared at the door. It then became obvious that the other party guests had gone home.
“He picked me up a like a groom picks up the bride over the threshold. But I don’t, like, squirm away initially, because I’m like, ‘What’s going on?’ And then he lays down on top of me,” Rapp explained. “He was trying to seduce me… I was aware that he was trying to get with me sexually.” Rapp quickly left the apartment, he says, and didn’t tell anybody about Spacey’s behavior.
There’s a long and ugly history to the notion that there is some sort of relationship between homosexuality and pedophilia—and Spacey’s conflation of the two is as distressing as it is infuriating. Members of the LGBT+ community have had to face the misconception that they’re more likely to be abusers time and time again, whether in debates over gender neutral bathrooms or when trying to become parents through adoption. For years, homophobes have played up to the wrongheaded and pernicious belief that gay men somehow pose a danger to young people, and this notion has played into discussions of the child sex abuse scandals in the Catholic Church.
As one user on Facebook remarked, Spacey’s statement is a “grotesque setback” for the community: “The journey towards genuine equality is still a long way off, so kudos Spacey for making it just a bit longer & harder, and further blurring the very distinct lines between homosexuality & pedophilia.”
Whether intentional or not, Spacey’s apology implies that his sexuality offers an explanation for his behavior. But the LGBT+ community is united in saying: Whatever your sexuality, making sexual advances on a 14-year-old is wrong.
The issues with Spacey’s apology don’t end there. In writing, “I choose now to live as a gay man,” he exacerbates yet another misconception about homosexuality—that it’s somehow a choice, something you can switch on and off. It’s another insult to the LGBT+ community, and a remark that feeds prejudice, at a time when the fight for equality feels increasingly compromised.