Nazis? AIDS? Camenker must be talking about the gays again
Discussion of gay Nazis, Holocaust denial and AIDS popped up repeatedly during a State House hearing May 29 before the legislature’s joint committee on education. The hearing attracted approximately 150 people, an usually large number for a workday afternoon - nevermind the Tuesday after Memorial Day weekend. Most were there to weigh in on a bill that would require explicit parental permission before students in public schools could discuss any "alternative sexual behavior," and another bill mandating statewide health education. Many seemed to be supporters of Newton activist Brian Camenker and his anti-gay group MassResistance. They wore yellow stickers that said "Parents Rights Now! Stop Handcuffing Us!" and featured a photo of Lexington parent David Parker handcuffed after his arrest at his son’s school in 2005 after he refused to leave following a dispute with school officials about the inclusion of LGBT-themed books. In many ways the hearing felt like a retread of a hearing before the same committee earlier this month on anti-bullying legislation in which LGBT-rights opponents, including Camenker, claimed that the anti-bullying legislation was a smokescreen for pro-LGBT messages.
Discussion of the Holocaust was prompted by the testimony of KnowThyNeighbor founder Tom Lang, who argued that the "opt-in" bill backed by MassResistance would essentially require that schools wallpaper over the history of LGBT people and their lives unless parents gave their approval to include them. He said teachers would have to discuss figures such as Gertrude Stein, Leonardo Da Vinci, Michelangelo and British World War II code-breaker Alan Turing while steering clear of their homosexuality and the impact that had on their works and their lives. He said the silencing of discussion about LGBT people would extend into topics where sexuality figures centrally, such as the Holocaust.
"A trip to the Holocaust memorial would be fine unless a teacher includes homosexuals among the list of the six million Jews, Gypsies, dissenters and social outcasts murdered by the Nazis in their death camps," said Lang.
He added that while the bill would limit discussions on sexuality for all students, the ones who would be hurt the most by the bill would be LGBT students. "But the true intent of S.321 is to take away the identity of LGBT children and to prevent them from reaching their full potential and achieving their greatest self-worth," said Lang.
Camenker responded to Lang with his own testimony, arguing not only in favor of the restrictions on discussions of homosexuality and other "alternative sexual behaviors" but also disputing the persecution of gay men by the Nazis.
"Being Jewish myself with many relatives from Eastern Europe, I was able to study the Holocaust and not have to deal with homosexuality. " said Camenker. "One of the things that the gay movement is trying to do that drives parents crazy is to push that subject into the public school system."
Rep. Alice Wolf (D-Cambridge), a member of the education committee and one of the lead proponents of the health education bill, challenged Camenker’s views on history, arguing that it would be appropriate to include discussions of homosexuality in discussions of the Holocaust.
"That’s just a factual historic thing. You don’t have to have an agenda to talk about the fact that although the Jewish population was the largest population, six million who were killed, there were others killed for other reasons, among them homosexuals, and I just want to make that clear," said Wolf.
Camenker told her he disagreed and claimed that Holocaust survivor Stephan Ross, who spearheaded the creation of the New England Holocaust Memorial and is the father of Boston City Councilor Michael Ross, "came to our banquet and has told me at the banquet several times that homosexuals were not picked up as homosexuals and that he’s very angry at that movement trying to use that. What he says is that the Germans would use that as an excuse, and this is from him being at Auschwitz, to arrest people for other causes such as Catholic priests and then let them go. But as homosexuals, according to him, that is simply untrue."
When asked about Camenker’s claims Ross told Bay Windows, "I don’t know anything about his organization," and he declined to comment further, directing Bay Windows to speak to his son. Councilor Ross said he had spoken with his father about Camenker’s claims and that his father "was very upset that someone was hijacking, was misappropriating his good name to get behind something he does not agree with."
Councilor Ross added that his father told him he was not a member of MassResistance, but he said it was possible his father may have had a conversation with Camenker and that his words were distorted. "He was sexually molested [by Nazi guards]. So I think he could easily be preyed upon by a special interest group and has been in the past," said Ross. In 2000, the anti-gay newspaper Massachusetts News published an interview with the elder Ross about being abused in the concentration camps, and the story claimed that Ross said that the Nazis’s opposition to homosexuality was a pretense to round up other groups like Catholic priests and that about 20 percent of the Nazi concentration camp guards were homosexual. After the article was published, Councilor Ross wrote a letter to Bay Windows accusing Massachusetts News of exploiting his father and of twisting his words. He said Camenker’s claims at the hearing were more of the same.
"Needless to say, the issue [of my father’s sexual abuse] is extremely complex, who he is is extremely complex, and for someone to prey upon him and get him to say something, perhaps in confidence, about a very difficult time in his life and to misappropriate that ... is something that not only goes against who my father is and what he stands for but also borders on libel," said Ross.
At the hearing, MassResistance activist Sally Naumann of Carlisle went one step further than Camenker, interrupting her testimony in favor of the opt-in bill to cite the fringe Holocaust revisionist history book The Pink Swastika to repeat the claim that the Nazis were themselves gay.
"There’s an excellent book, well-documented, by Scott Lively, called The Pink Swastika in which he documents that the Nazis themselves were homosexuals, sadomasochists. They were very perverted in their behaviors. And they only went after the homosexuals, sometimes their own party members, who were too flamboyant about it. It’s very well-documented," said Naumann.
The discussions about the Holocaust and gay Nazis provided two of several eyebrow-raising moments in an exhaustive five-hour hearing before the Joint Committee on Education. The hearing room was packed with a standing-room only crowd, and the room reached sauna-like temperatures, prompting some in the crowd to fan themselves with their written testimony. While the committee heard testimony on several bills, the two that drew the bulk of the crowd were the opt-in bill backed by MassResistance and the health education bill. Although the health education bill would require schools to teach a health curriculum focusing on a range of topics, opponents of the bill were strongly opposed to the inclusion of sexuality education within the health education standards.
Sen. Ed Augustus (D-Worcester), a member of the committee and co-sponsor, along with Wolf, of the health education bill, said the legislation addresses the concerns of parents opposed to the sex education component by including specific language outlining parents’ right to opt their children out of sex ed lessons. He said that because the state does not mandate health class, many school districts in the state do not offer it.
"Right now, unfortunately, it is subject to where a student happens to live or happens to be born whether they get access to comprehensive, medically accurate health education for a myriad of issues, whether it be obesity issues or depression, mental health issues, making good choices around issues of sexual activity as
But the opt-out language in the health bill did not dissuade its critics. Rep. Elizabeth Poirier (R-North Attleboro) led off testimony against the health education bill, telling the committee, "In addition to taking away all local control, the government is certainly taking a most arrogant position to believe it knows best when and how to pass such information onto the children of the Commonwealth."
Evelyn Reilly, director of public policy for the Massachusetts Family Institute, the local affiliate of the national conservative Christian Focus on the Family, was far more explicit about her objections to the bill, focusing on homosexuality and citing the examples of David and Tonia Parker and Rob and Robin Wirthlin, two Lexington couples who unsuccessfully sued the town’s school system and claimed that the use of books dealing with LGBT parents and same-sex marriage in elementary school threatened their rights as parents.
"There is a problem with the current opt-out law, and that is that if the curriculum or program ’primarily involves human sexuality,’ so some of the most offensive things have been presented to young children under another topic. So this law does not apply," said Reilly. "For example, they’re told, this is not sex education. This is about diversity and tolerance. So the word ’primarily’ is very problematic."
Gilbert Lavoie, who made a failed bid in 2004 to unseat former Senate President Robert Travaglini over supposedly being too pro-gay in the aftermath of the Goodridge ruling, told the committee, "This bill will have young boys believing that men can marry men. Each year this will be reinforced so that when they become sexually active these young men will experiment not only with heterosexuality but also with homosexuality."
R.T. Neary, who testified on behalf of the group Pro-Life Massachusetts, focused most of his testimony on opposing the information on abortion in the health education curriculum but used some colorful and sexually explicit language to refer to homosexuality. Referring to a controversial 2000 Department of Education sexuality question and answer workshop at that year’s Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) conference, Neary said it was part of "a weekend that promoted safe sodomy, fisting, rimming, and a host of other repulsive anal-genital practices. And it was called health education. I called it and still call it child rape."
Ratcheting up the rhetoric against the bill another notch, Naumann suggested that pro-gay messages in the schools could be fatal, claiming that a gay/straight alliance prompted a student to contract HIV and die of AIDS.
"[Parents] will be even more furious when they realize how badly their children’s health is affected. We already have one death at age 24 of a graduate of Concord Carlisle High School. He was in the gay/straight alliance at CCHS-" said Naumann before she was cut off by the timer announcing the end of her three minutes for testimony. As the timer went off she muttered, "Well, I was going to say, he probably got HIV-positive."
In contrast to those opposed to the health curriculum bill, those in favor of it came from a broad array of groups, including pro-choice organizations, sexuality educators, high school students, and specialists on depression and eating disorders.