October 18, 2006

Penguins, Pedophiles, and Paul Cameron

Posted at 5:30 am (Pacific Time)

Want an insight into recent attempts by the Christian Right to link homosexuality with child molestation? Just remember New York’s “gay” penguins.

In 2004, news circulated around the world that penguins in the Central Park Zoo had formed long-term same-sex pairs. Reports soon surfaced of “gay” penguins in other zoos as well.

One of the most memorable accounts of the phenomenon was created by Samantha Bee for Comedy Central’s Daily Show. She accompanied antigay activist Paul Cameron to the Zoo’s penguin exhibit and got his take on the birds.

(Cameron is a gold mine of material for The Daily Show. Last month, Samantha Bee’s real-life husband, Jason Jones, interviewed him for a piece about the US military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy.)

Cameron declared the notion of gay and lesbian penguins “silly” and told Bee “There is no such thing as gay penguins.”

But in other contexts Cameron has argued that a single homosexual act makes someone gay. When interviewed recently by the San Francisco Chronicle, for example, he asserted that a man who thinks of himself as straight, is married with children, and has sex with women is nevertheless gay if he sexually abuses a young boy.

“If a fellow molests a boy, why would anyone consider him heterosexual even if he has a girlfriend or a wife?” Cameron asked.

Cameron isn’t alone in promoting such ideas. As I discussed in a previous post, the Family Research Council and other Christian Right groups are all in accord on this. Never mind that many pedophiles and child molesters aren’t even capable of relationships with adults and that their sexual attractions are directed solely at children. If they molest boys, they’re gay, according to Cameron and the FRC.

But if Cameron et al. count men who have sex with little boys as gay, surely they must also count men who’ve had consensual sex with other adult men. This may be more than 14% of US men, according to recent research I described in my September 29 post. Using the criteria Cameron applied to child molesters, they’re “gay.” And if we count adults with any same-sex attraction at all, the studies suggest 1 in 6 (or more) are gay.

Yet, Cameron, the FRC, and their fellow travelers staunchly maintain that only a small segment of the population — between 1 and 3 percent — is homosexual.

So let’s review the Christian Right’s rules for counting the gay population.

When the topic is molestation, male + male = gay. And female + female = lesbian. Always.

But when the goal is to minimize the size of the sexual minority population, most men and women with same-sex attractions are not counted as gay.

When it comes to the penguins, the male + male = gay equation leads to the conclusion that being gay is natural. That’s inconvenient for Cameron. Therefore, the penguins aren’t gay.

In Alice in Wonderland, Humpty Dumpty said, “When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.”

Cameron and his Christian Right compatriots have taken a page from Humpty Dumpty’s playbook. “Gay” means what they say it means. And they choose whatever meaning best serves their agenda of stigmatizing sexual minorities and making them invisible.

Maybe Cameron will eventually find some penguins that molest their young. Now those would be birds he could call gay.

Copyright © 2006 by Gregory M. Herek. All rights reserved.