Mary Gowan of Whiteville, North Carolina will certainly not be winning any parent of the year awards after she told her 12-year-old son to “beat the gay out” of his 15-year-old brother.
The case is starting to attract national attention in light of ongoing attacks on gay rights in Russia and concerns about LGBQT teens in the United States, a nation that despite progressive laws and culture can still be very dangerous for out members of the LGBQT community. For teens especially, repressive and abusive tactics like this can be incredibly damaging, shaping their future sexuality in addition to making them feel ashamed of who they are.
She’s being charged with misdemeanor child abuse for ordering the beating, and may receive hate crimes charges as well. She claimed the beating was necessary because her son had been visiting the home of an adult gay man. Gowan says she thinks her son was being molested, which is a reminder that many homophobic people consider adult gay men to be pedophiles, assuming that homosexuality is perversive.
Such attitudes have been at the root of numerous attacks on the gay community from people and organizations claiming to be interested in protecting children from predators.
If indeed her son was being molested, that’s a crime and should be treated as such, but the appropriate way to handle it is to report it to the police, not to tell a young boy to beat his older brother with a belt. Gowan forced her older son to strip down to his underwear so his younger sibling could beat him, warning him that he wasn’t allowed to fight back. Not satisfied with her younger son’s work, she took up the belt and a stick to continue the beating, which is when police arrived. He ended up with an abrasion on his back from his mother’s attentions along with undoubted emotional trauma. It’s likely his brother is suffering as well.
The mother says she doesn’t support the “gay lifestyle” and believes her son is young and easily influenced, giving her all the more reason to want to protect his interests. However, beating children doesn’t sound very much like looking after their welfare. In fact, it seems an awful lot like the opposite, especially if a parent suspects that a child is being exploited or abused by another adult and responds to that by punishing her own child.
Allegedly she did approach the police but wasn’t satisfied with their investigation — possibly because they looked into the case and didn’t find anything to pursue?
Her son’s orientation aside, beating children is never acceptable. One can only hope that the full force of the law will be brought down upon Gowan to send a sharp signal to parents that domestic violence will not be tolerated in her community. This would also sound a warning to parents of LGBQT teens; the police are watching, and the court will take action if necessary.
Given that queer youth are at radically increased risk of abuse from their parents and others, it’s critical for authorities to take a hardline stance on hate crimes like this one.
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