Spacey, who was 26 at the time, apologized on Twitter for “deeply inappropriate drunken behavior.”
But Spacey also used his response to publicly acknowledge that he is gay, something he said he was motivated to publicly confess after Rapp's accusation.
Many members and supporters of the LGBT community did not take well to Spacey's words, including Valerie Jarrett, former top adviser in the Obama White House.
Author and podcaster Dan Savage said that being “closeted” does not justify Spacey's behavior.
And Black Lives Matter activist DeRay Mckesson said Spacey's words threw the LGBT community “under a bus.”
The president of GLAAD tweeted that Spacey focusing on his sexuality was the wrong response to Rapp's allegations.
According to a recent Gallup poll, nearly one in four — 23 percent — of Americans believe that homosexuality should be illegal. Thirty years ago, when Rapp was 16 years old, that number was 57 percent.
Today, the lack of acceptance of homosexuality is strongest among conservative Americans, of whom 7 in 10 believe homosexuality should be discouraged by society, according to a recent Pew survey.
Some of the highest disapproval numbers for homosexuality — 57 percent — were in the 1980s, when the Religious Right was arguably at its most culturally influential. Homosexuality was routinely criticized then as harmful to children by conservative public policy groups like the Family Research Council and by former presidential candidate Pat Robertson, who claimed that same-sex marriage would lead to child molestation.
Televangelist Jerry Falwell -- father of Jerry Fallwell, Jr., adviser to President Trump -- regularly professed that homosexuality was harmful to children and previously campaigned with anti-gay activist Anita Bryant, well known for perpetuating the myth that “gay people are child molesters.”
Some suggest that Spacey's response perpetuates that myth about homosexuality.
Conservative writer Erick Erickson acknowledged as much on Twitter today:
But research does not support the idea that there is a high correlation between being gay and sexually assaulting minors.
Gregory Herek, a professor at the University of California at Davis, discredited multiple false studies that have attempted to connect homosexuality with child molestation.
“Even though most Americans don't regard gay people as child molesters, confusion remains widespread in this area,” he wrote. “To understand the facts, it is important to examine the results of scientific research.”
And children are not more likely to be molested by LGBT people, according to the American Psychological Association.
University of Michigan psychotherapist Joe Kort wrote in 2016 that preying on minors is more about power than sexual orientation:
Rarely does a pedophile experience sexual desire for adults of either gender. They usually don’t identify as homosexual; the majority identify as heterosexual, even those who abuse children of the same gender. They are sexually aroused by extreme youth, not by gender.
In contrast, child molesters often exert power and control over children in an effort to dominate them. They do experience sexual desire for adults but molest children episodically, for reasons apart from sexual desire, much as rapists enjoy power, violence, and controlling their humiliated victims. Indeed, research strongly suggests that a child molester isn’t any more likely to be homosexual than heterosexual.
Many activists responded so strongly to Spacey's statement because historically the false link between gay men and preying on children has been used in politics and policymaking decisions affecting the gay community.
“Spacey's statement gives damaging fuel to the lie that queer people are sexual predators and pedophiles, something anti-gay activist Anita Bryant peddled unsuccessfully decades ago,” Elle writer R. Eric Thomas wrote. “It's also something that opponents of gender neutral bathrooms continue to harp on today. The damage is ongoing.”
For many Americans, the most recent conversation about sexuality and sexual assault is a reminder that despite the strides the LGBT community has made, there is still much to be done to help people understand what it means to be a gay American.