Slay It With a Smile

Paul Cameron's mission to stop homosexuality is hard to swallow

But Cameron often has been on the winning side--and sometimes in the glare of publicity.

In 1982, Lincoln, Nebraska, was considering a gay-rights ordinance that would have barred discrimination based on sexual orientation. Cameron, then a psychologist in Lincoln, publicly led the opposition. And he went full-bore, accusing homosexuals of, among other things, disproportionately committing "sexual mass murders."

In a pamphlet put out by his side, Cameron said: "Homosexuality is an infectious appetite with personal and social consequences. It is like the dog that gets a taste for blood after killing its first victim and desires to get more victims thereafter with a ravenous hunger."

It was on May 3, 1982, that he really hit stride, telling an audience at the University of Nebraska Lutheran Chapel: "Right now, here in Lincoln, there is a four-year-old boy who has had his genitals almost severed from his body at Gateway [mall] in a restroom with a homosexual act."

Cameron's statement prompted an uproar in the city; police, however, had no record of such an incident. Cameron finally acknowledged that it was only a rumor, but he argued it "could have happened." The Lincoln Star blasted Cameron as irresponsible but noted that the damage to the gay-rights movement was done, saying, "The seed is planted, recantation to the contrary."

Years later, Cameron insists the grisly story "may or may not have been true." A friend of his named Sandy, he recalls, "said this boy had his penis severed. Her friends at church claimed they'd seen him. I had every reason to believe she was an honorable person. But that was a mistake on my part, because I had not eyeballed the records myself."

Cameron rarely backs down from any of his outrageous statements. In fact, he still argues that the Lincoln mutilation "could have" happened. "This happens once or twice a year in this country," he says. "Some little boy somewhere has his genitals severed--apparently by a homosexual. I know for sure that kids are molested."

That kind of fast and loose handling of "facts" by a trained social scientist enrages Cameron's opponents. He starts from a premise, marshals his data and spews out an enormous stream of heavily footnoted material. The result looks like science; he insists that it is. But it's the kind of science that inspires gay activists to call him the "Nebraska Mengele" and the "Joseph Goebbels of the anti-gay movement."

They point to such screeds as this, from Cameron's pamphlet What Homosexuals Do (It's More Than Merely Disgusting): "Gays are an octopus of infection stretching across the world. Fresh, undiluted pathogens are its daily food and excrement. Most gays are veritable Typhoid Marys, pursuing and being pursued by others as biologically lethal as themselves and having sex in settings unrivaled for stupidity and squalor."

He has advocated quarantining gays and literally branding AIDS victims with the letter "A" on their faces. He makes a point of noting that other societies have called for the extermination of homosexuals. Accused of advocating the killing of homosexuals, however, Cameron replies, "That's not true. All I said was a plausible idea would be extermination. Other cultures have done it. That's hardly an endorsement, per se."

His detailed descriptions of diseased sex organs have been repeated from the pulpits of the religious right. Thanks to Cameron, church audiences across the country have blanched at the thought of gerbils crawling up rectums, which he describes as a gay sex practice.

Cameron's personal animosity toward gay people is evident. Professor Gregory Herek of the University of California-Davis mails out anti-Cameron packets that try to refute his research; Cameron dismisses him as a "flaming gay." He admits he's biased against homosexuals. Cameron says all scientists bring their biases to work. Many other sex researchers, he says, are "liars." He knows he's right. "Like everybody else," he says, "I would prefer to be liked. But I'd rather be correct and on the right side than be loved."

Luckily, hatred pays. In his fundraising appeals to the religious right, Cameron proudly proclaims that he's been called "the most dangerous man in America" and "the ultimate enemy of the gay-rights movement."

Gay activists play into that martyrdom by becoming apoplectic when they hear his name. Other critics simply shake their heads.

"He's a bright person, but to me he has no credibility or integrity," says psychology professor James K. Cole of the University of Nebraska, who squared off against Cameron during the Lincoln gay-rights ordinance campaign. "It's fascinating that someone with his capacity, a trained scientist, would do these things. He was willing to take any outlandish statement and use it to his purpose."

Cole recalls Cameron as "effective, charming, polite and reserved." At the same time, he derides Cameron's "so-called research." One study, Cole points out, produced broad inferences about gay behavior from a comparison of the sexual activity of delinquents with that of college students. Cameron insists that his results "are in line" with those of other researchers of sexual behavior.

His principles aren't, says Cole. "The guy has no moral inhibitions," he says. "I find it surprising that the Christian right would follow someone who has no moral inhibitions."

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