Anti-Gay Movement Reacts to Decision Overturning Arrest of Two Texas Men for Having Sex
The religious crusade against gays has been building for 30 years. Now the movement is reaching truly biblical proportions
By Bob Moser
While conservative Christians have led historic crusades against a number of "evils" in America — witchcraft, alcohol, communism, feminism, abortion — gay sex was never more than a minor concern until 1969, when protests in New York City launched the contemporary gay-rights movement.
In Where We Stand, Susan Fort Wiltshire recalls some early stirrings of a new crusade: "Around 1970, ambitious small-town preachers in the Northwest Texas Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church began to exploit 'the gay issue.' They saw that virulent anti-gay rhetoric could fill football stadiums for revivals in such tiny Panhandle towns as Tulia and Clarendon and Higgins and Perryton."
The crusade went national in 1977, courtesy of Anita Bryant. The perky spokesperson for Coca-Cola, Tupperware and Florida orange juice, Bryant had converted a runner-up finish in the 1959 Miss America pageant into a lucrative career singing "wholesome family music."
Bryant later said she knew next to nothing about gay people when she attended a 1977 revival at Miami's Northside Baptist Church. The preacher railed against a new ordinance in Dade County that protected gay people from discrimination, saying he'd "burn down his church before he would let homosexuals teach in its school."
Bryant was so impressed by the dangers of this new "homosexual agenda" that she launched an initiative to overturn the anti-discrimination ordinance, winning with a 70% vote.
Bryant then founded a national group called Save Our Children and took her anti-gay message on the road, helping fundamentalists organize anti-gay ballot campaigns in the handful of American cities that had passed gay rights laws. These ballot initiatives would become the single most important organizing tool for the fundamentalist right, transforming thousands of previously apolitical churchgoers into grassroots activists.
Save Our Children's primary tactic was fear mongering. Gay people were "sick," "perverted," "twisted," and a threat to American families.
"Homosexuals cannot reproduce," Bryant often said, "so they must recruit. And to freshen their ranks they must recruit the youth of America."
Save Our Children distributed a press kit with a paper titled, "Why Certain Sexual Deviations Are Punishable By Death." Homosexuality was, of course, among those deviations. So was "racial mixing of human seed."
Save Our Children collapsed in 1979, after Bryant had a well-publicized divorce and breakdown, but not before her success in getting national publicity and large donations caught the eye of new-right strategists like Paul Weyrich and Richard Viguerie, the pioneer of right-wing direct-mail fundraising.
"Their other issues just weren't nearly as popular," says Rob Boston, assistant communications director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State and author of Close Encounters with the Religious Right.
"Most Americans supported abortion rights. Nobody believed communism inside the U.S. was really a threat. Slamming feminists, you risked alienating half the population. But gay people? Anita Bryant showed that gay-bashing could bring in some real money."
Bryant had also outlined a new gay stereotype, one far removed from the old cliché of limp-wristed "fruits." Inspired by Bryant, budding "family activist" Tim LaHaye painted a full-blown portrait in his 1978 book, The Unhappy Gays.
LaHaye, now famous for co-authoring the blockbuster Left Behind series of end-of-the-world thrillers, wrote that succumbing to the demands of the gay-rights movement would be a mistake of apocalyptic proportions — literally.
"The mercy and grace of God seem to reach their breaking point when homosexuality becomes normal," LaHaye said. "Put another way, when sodomy fills the national cup of man's abominations to overflowing, God earmarks that nation for destruction."
The cover of The Unhappy Gays featured a close-up photograph of rusty chains, symbolizing the "captivity" of homosexuality. "Moral fidelity among homosexuals is almost unknown," LaHaye wrote, citing as evidence "one psychologist writer" (unnamed) who "suggests that is not uncommon for a homosexual to 'have sex' with as many as 2,000 different people in a lifetime."
This "incredible promiscuity" leads to a life of lonely, selfish desperation, said LaHaye, but there is hope: "Homosexuals are made, not born!" and can be cured by being "born again."
Facts and Fiction
There was something missing from these dark depictions of gay people and their "agenda": evidence. It was one thing, after all, to claim that homosexuals were child "recruiters," disease-ridden, and mentally unstable. It was quite another to prove it.
Enter Paul Cameron. After losing his job teaching psychology at the University of Nebraska, Cameron set himself up as an independent sex researcher in the late 1970s, churning out scores of anti-gay pamphlets that were largely distributed in fundamentalist churches.
Cameron's "studies" falsely concluded that gay people were disproportionately responsible for child molestation, for the majority of serial killings, and for the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. Gay people, according to Cameron's research, were obsessed with consuming human excrement, allowing them to spread deadly diseases simply by shaking hands with unsuspecting strangers or using public restrooms.
"Of all the vices," Cameron concluded in a pamphlet called Medical Aspects of Homosexuality, "only homosexuality constitutes a conspiracy against society."
Cameron's brand of "science" echoed Nazi Germany. "These themes of disease and seduction are strongly reminiscent of older, anti-Semitic discourse," writes Didi Herman in The Antigay Agenda. "Jews historically were associated with disease, filth, urban degeneration, and child stealing."
When the AIDS crisis broke out in the early 1980s, Cameron claimed gay people had unleashed "an octopus of infection spreading across the world," and had done it on purpose. (Jerry Falwell put it in simpler terms; he called AIDS "the gay plague.")
In several newspaper and magazine exposés, Cameron's studies were revealed to be anything but scientific. In one particularly egregious instance, Cameron published a 1983 study claiming lesbians were 29 times more likely than heterosexual women to intentionally infect their sex partners with venereal diseases. It was later discovered that Cameron's "scientific sample" for this conclusion consisted of just seven women.
After being expelled from the American Psychological Association in 1983 for violating ethical standards in his anti-gay publications Cameron began referring to himself as a sociologist — until the American Sociological Association passed a 1986 resolution declaring, "Paul Cameron is not a sociologist, and [this group] condemns his constant misrepresentation of sociological research."
But despite the crackpot nature of Cameron's theories and methodology, his "research" was extolled by many in the religious right. In 1986, Summit Ministries, a right-wing Christian group in Colorado, distributed a booklet called Special Report: AIDS, co-written by Cameron, Summit leader David Noebel and Wayne Lutton (Lutton would later be an editor for an anti-immigrant hate group, the Social Contract Press, and act as editorial advisor to the white supremacist Council of Conservative Citizens).
Special Report argued for a drastic solution: locking up "practicing homosexuals" in the name of public health. After all, the authors wrote, "During World War II we exiled Americans of Japanese ancestry simply because we felt they were a national threat during time of war."
Since AIDS has made gay people a "threat to our national survival," they wrote, "We might well prepare holding camps for all sexually active homosexuals with special camps for homosexuals with AIDS."
Right-wing commentator Pat Buchanan and William Bennett, secretary of education in the Reagan administration, were publicly embarrassed when they touted Cameron's 1993 study claiming that gay men have only a 42-year life expectancy. As reporters soon discovered, Cameron had based the study on obituaries printed in gay newspapers — hardly a valid sample.
Even so, just like many of Cameron's other "findings," the life-expectancy study continues to be cited as an established fact by anti-gay leaders like Focus on the Family's James Dobson, whose grasp of the facts was called into question earlier this year after Dobson warned that the popular cartoon character SpongeBob SquarePants, who lives in a pineapple under the sea, was being used by gay rights proponents to promote the acceptance of homosexuality.
(Dobson made the comments at a Jan. 19 black-tie dinner in Washington, D.C., where Focus on the Family political allies, including several members of Congress, celebrated last November's election results. "The video itself is innocent enough and does not mention anything overtly sexual," Dobson wrote in a statement released amidst the SpongeBob furor. "But while the video is harmless on its own, I believe the agenda behind it is sinister.")