"I purposefully would not put my son in dance class because dance class might make your kid gay," said internet personality Perez Hilton during his March 27 podcast.
The shocked co-host, Chris Booker, gave Hilton the opportunity to walk back the comments or say he was joking, but Hilton was persistent: "I think dance class can make your kid gay."
It was a bizarre, stereotype-laden assertion, not particularly grounded in anything aside from Hilton's observation that a lot of professional male dancers happen to be gay.
The backlash was swift, and at least some portion of it was deserved. Dance Magazine's Courtney Escoyne wrote, "Are there gay men in dance? Yes. Did dancing make them that way? No." GayRVA's Marilyn Drew Necci pointed to Hilton as proof that "you don't have to be straight to be homophobic."
The idea that a parent's decision to let their child take up one hobby or another can influence the child's gender identity or sexuality is steeped in harmful ideas that makes up the basis of a lot of junk science-driven "conversion therapy."
It's obviously not something Hilton meant to contribute to, but nevertheless, he got a few rounds of applause from social conservatives.
"I would prefer if my son was heterosexual," Hilton continued in another particularly startling comment coming from an out gay man.
There's a bit more nuance to this one, however.
When Booker asked what's wrong with being gay, Hilton replied, "Well, nothing, clearly, but I would prefer if my son was heterosexual. If I had to choose, I would prefer to be heterosexual, too. It would be easier."
There, he actually has a great point: As much progress as has been made when it comes to LGBTQ rights and acceptance over the past several decades, there's still a lot of work left to do. Homophobia, sexism, and racism are still hardwired into our culture as well-connected systems of oppression, and it's completely understandable that a parent would hope their child wouldn't have to experience that.
Even still, dance class will not make a straight boy gay any more than playing football will turn a gay boy straight.
The world isn't hard because being LGBTQ inherently makes it so, but because society still chooses to make it hard for LGBTQ people.
According to the Human Rights Campaign's "Growing Up LGBT in America" survey, 42% of LGBT youth say that their community is not accepting of people like them, they are nearly twice as likely to have reported being physically assaulted by peers, and a remarkable 92% say they see and hear negative messages about LGBT people on a regular basis.
The problem isn't LGBTQ people: The problem is a world that still can't fully accept and respect their existence. A more accepting world can produce significantly better outcomes for LGBTQ youth.
For example, a 2018 study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health found that the simple act of recognizing and using transgender people's chosen names can reduce the likelihood of depression and thoughts of suicide.
"Many kids who are transgender have chosen a name that is different than the one that they were given at birth," study author Stephen T. Russell told UT News. "We showed that the more contexts or settings where they were able to use their preferred name, the stronger their mental health was."
UCLA's Williams Institute came to a similar conclusion in a 2014 study, finding that the effects of discrimination can increase the likelihood that a trans person will attempt suicide. A 2017 study in the American Journal of Men's Health found the same about gay men and suicide attempts.
"I never have really spoken in depth about how hard it was me being a gay boy in a Latino and religious family and school environment."
Like other parents, Hilton admits that he doesn't have all the answers. He hopes that the nuance needed to make his point shines through.
"Is what I said problematic? Yes! Is parenting and our past baggage and family dynamics complex? Yes!" he writes in a direct message.
He clarifies that he would sign his son up for dance classes if asked, adding that the example was a bit of a hypothetical and noting that if it were possible to "make" his son gay, having Hilton for a father would probably do the trick faster than any dance class ever could. But he knows it doesn't work like that.
"Parenting is hard," he says. "Being a gay parent is harder. Being a gay parent in the public eye is even harder. None of this is easy. But at the end of the day, the only opinion that matters about how I parent my children is my own."
Hilton with daughter Mia and son Mario. Photo by Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images for Santa's Secret Workshop 2017.
If we're to give Hilton the benefit of the doubt, it's because he just wants his son to live a happy and healthy life.
It's just sad that, for now at least, that means he hopes his son doesn't end up being gay. "So much would have to change," Hilton tells Upworthy in a Twitter direct message:
"Not just externally but also in the households, in the relatives' homes, in the schools. I never have really spoken in depth about how hard it was me being a gay boy in a Latino and religious family and school environment. It is still hard for young gay boys in those communities. Not for all, clearly, but for many. So communities have to change. And the country needs to follow."
It's a hard truth, but he's right.
Hopefully, eventually, all that will happen. But in the meantime, it's on all of us to tear down those systems of oppression in society and for us to realize just how harmful our actions can be to members of groups that face discrimination — both visible and invisible.
There's nothing Hilton can do to determine whether his son will be gay or not, but there is something we can do to help make this less of a worry for families across the country: Take a stand for LGBTQ kids, for women, and for people of color.
Hilton and his son Mario attend the 2017 GLSEN Respect Awards. Photo by Valerie Macon/AFP/Getty Images.