Did you hear about the two gay dads whose daughter got a nasty rejection note for her tie-dye birthday party? Or the homophobic slurs written around an Ivy League college dorm? Or the two lesbians who came outside one day and found homophobic words spray-painted on their garage door?
Thanks to the Internet, the whole nation can be driven to outrage over rude and outrageous events — events that, it turns out, never happened or were perpetrated by the "victims" themselves.
Urban legend debunking sites are perpetually busy with a host of issues. Consumer products, food, celebrity exploits and political misbehavior are still top search topics for websites such as Snopes.com, TruthOrFiction.com and UrbanLegends.about.com.
But critics say an increasing number of tall tales are gay-related and eagerly recycled in cyberspace without even minimal fact-checking.
Snopes.com confirms that there is a gay-friendly "Queen James Bible," but no one is planning to publish a gay revision of the Bible featuring "Adam and Steve" and "Mary and Josephine."
Blogger Matt Walsh sparked a sharp online debate after the viral news item about a "bigot mom's horrifying response" to a child's birthday invite, trumpeted as a particularly egregious example of gay victimizing, turned out to be bogus. Worse, Mr. Walsh wrote, the fake story was just the latest to portray Christians and conservatives as villains through fabricated outrage.
The gay-rights movement has been built with "mischaracterizations, fabrications and outright lies," said Mr. Walsh, listing nearly a dozen hoaxes perpetuated by or about gays on his Facebook page, The Matt Walsh Blog, which has 131,300 "likes."
What sent the blogger over the edge was the tale of two gay dads who invited neighbors to their 7-year-old daughter's tie-dye birthday party. A neighbor called "Beth" sent back their invitation, scrawling that her son would not attend such a party because she "will not subject my innocent son to your 'lifestyle.'"
The story was picked up by websites such as Jezebel and Opposing Views after it appeared on the Facebook site of New York radio station K98.3 FM.
Before long, though, it was revealed that the station's on-air hosts Steve Harper and Leeana Karlson concocted the story. Both apologized and were suspended for a week.
Mr. Walsh said in an interview that he had been accused of defending homophobia, attacking the victims of hate crimes or allowing a few bad actors to represent all gay people because of his expose.
"My real intent was to analyze the tactic of developing a false narrative — a tactic that I do think is rather common on the 'gay rights' side of things," he said.
Many "assaults" are even self-inflicted, such as the November story of a lesbian waitress in New Jersey who wasn't tipped because a customer didn't "agree" with her lifestyle.
The waitress, Dayna Morales, posted the nasty receipt on a gay-friendly Facebook site and was quickly showered with money, sympathy and media attention.
But her story didn't hold up under investigation: Her bewildered customers, who support same-sex marriage, produced their restaurant receipt showing a generous tip — and no ugly message — to Ms. Morales. She was soon released from her job.
Other phony gay victimizations included a Parker, Colo., lesbian couple charged with criminal mischief for spray-painting "Kill the Gay" on their own garage door; a Paris, Tenn., store owner charged with making a false police report after he said three men assaulted him for being gay and set his store on fire; and two Vassar College students, including one who is transgender, who admitted they spray-painted hateful messages on campus such as "Hey Tranny, Know Your Place."
Even the 1998 death of Matthew Shepard, as it has been told, is "the Mother of All Narratives," wrote Mr. Walsh, citing the 2013 book by gay author Stephen Jimenez that says a drug deal, not homophobia, was at the core of the horrific torture and killing of the 21-year-old Wyoming man.
The blog post sparked hundreds of comments, many seconding Mr. Walsh's arguments. Others said his argument was one more attempt to fault gays for prejudice they face.
"As the mother of a wonderful gay man, I am offended to my very core by this ignorant, obnoxious, hateful blog post," one commenter wrote. "I have taken many young gay men under my wing and heard story after story of 'God-fearing' parents throwing their children out into the streets. If you don't like being called a bigot, stop behaving like one."
GLAAD, the gay-rights advocacy group that chronicles defamations against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people, stoutly defends the Matthew Shepard story as an anti-gay hate crime that changed America's views of LGBT people and led to a federal law against such crimes.
A GLAAD spokesman didn't immediately respond to a request to talk about fabricated stories, but the organization has noted that people also make up stories against LGBT people, saying, for instance, that transgender students have been caught "peeking" over bathroom stalls or harassing other students.
Psychology professor Nicholas DiFonzo, who studies rumors, gossip and urban legends, said people have many reasons for creating or perpetuating an intentional "propaganda rumor" or hoax: They can sway sentiment, "sell" an idea or push a larger narrative into the mainstream.
Debunking a story doesn't always undercut its power, Mr. DiFonzo said, because people don't share such information to "figure out facts." Instead, they retell stories to bond with a desired group and confirm that "we are the same kind of people," said Mr. DiFonzo, who teaches at the Rochester Institute of Technology.
He noted that rumors that promote or maintain anger are more common than warmhearted, positive rumors. "That's a shame," he said, because the negative rumors "add to the polarization and the casting of the other side as inhuman."
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