How Rush Limbaugh’s relentless homophobia shaped a father’s relationship with his gay son

Rush Limbaugh

A gay man has spoken about how his relationship with his father was strained due to the late Rush Limbaugh.

Limbaugh, whose conservative radio show dominated the airwaves for decades until his death earlier this month, regularly fuelled anti-LGBT+ bigotry and celebrated the deaths of people with AIDS.

Writing for USA Today, gay rights campaigner Hans Johnson reflected on how four years after he came out to his parents in the early 1990s, his father became a routine listener to Limbaugh’s talk show.

He recalled that his parents moved to Cincinnati, which was the centre of a battle over an anti-gay law, and that his father had refused to tell him how he would have voted on it.

How Rush Limbaugh shaped one man’s homophobia

Johnson wrote: “He never answered directly. But the language he used – ‘I don’t want a gay agenda forced on me’ – made clear his contempt.

“I challenged him about where the use of force was actually coming from, citing statistics that showed harassment and violence against LGBT people was a rampant danger and worsening in some states. I also challenged him about where he got his information.

“Again, I did not get a direct answer. Circling back to my mom, I found a likely source: His daily rendezvous with talk radio host Rush Limbaugh.”

He added: “Scathing criticism of ‘homosexuals’ was Limbaugh’s consistent textual preference for on-air treatment of LGBT people. He mocked gay men who died of AIDS.

“He promoted the false narrative that gay men recruit children for sex, telling Playboy, ‘I do think that if you get hold of people young enough and attempt to sway them, that homosexuality can be steered into them.’

“This is what my dad imbibed on a regular basis. Limbaugh’s attempt at reversal of victimhood — that it was heterosexual people, not gays, who were the subjects of repression because their authority to lash out at people they despised was limited by law— could be read in the language of the Cincinnati policy itself.

“Limbaugh repeated the false accusation used to win passage of the law: that by trying to stop discrimination, gay people sought privilege, or ‘special rights.’

“In one of Limbaugh’s most dangerous turns, he questioned whether Matthew Shepard, a 21-year-old gay man whose assailants went to jail for his killing, was the victim of a hate crime. Shepard’s murder in Wyoming in October 1998 garnered the attention of the country.”

Ugly response to Matthew Shepard’s death prompted a confrontation

As Johnson recalled, it was Shepard’s death that prompted him to confront his dad over his allegiance to Limbaugh, asking: “He is saying gay people like me deserve violence. And you support him.

“So, when is it too late to turn back? Is it when your son, when a member of your own family, suffers harm at the hands of a hateful person?”

He added: “I do not remember getting a direct answer to my question from my dad. But in the ensuing years, he did struggle to make amends and to show he loved me.”

The family has now reconciled, though he adds: “Whenever I call them by phone, my dad or mom turns off or puts on mute their preferred Fox News. Rush Limbaugh no longer echoes in our relationship. But his legacy has shaped it.”