NAMBLA: Out of the Movement's Boundsby Richard J. Rosendall
The current controversy over the membership of the North American Man/Boy Love Association (NAMBLA) in the International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA) raises in sharp relief the question of what boundaries, if any, should be drawn around the Gay and Lesbian civil rights movement. The predicament is prompted by the Clinton Administration's threat to seek the revocation of ILGA's consultative status in the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) if ILGA does not oust NAMBLA at ILGA's 16th World Conference in New York next June. ILGA's leadership has stated its intention to seek NAMBLA's ouster, which under ILGA voting rules requires an 80% supermajority.
Fairness obliges us first to consider NAMBLA's own words. The October 1993 issue of NAMBLA Bulletin, which I bought from D.C.'s Lambda Rising bookstore, is a 16-page, professionally laid-out publication containing news articles; letters, including one from an imprisoned pederast; an interview; a first-person essay about a man meeting an abused boy of about 12 on a bus trip; an ad for two photography books; and several photos of boys (mostly shirtless) who appear to be between the ages of eight and thirteen. The masthead displays the emblems of both ILGA and the Gay and Lesbian Press Association. The following is the opening of an article titled "Where We Stand":
"The North American Man/Boy Love Association is both political and educational. We work to organize support for boys and men who have or desire consensual sexual and emotional relationships and to educate society on their positive nature. We speak out against the oppression endured by men and boys who love one another...."
The author of the first-person essay says lamentingly of society, "They would rather [the boy] go to an abusive mother than to a man who loves boys." A common thread running through this material is an utter inability to recognize a conflict of interest. These men really seem to believe that they have the boys' best interests at heart, despite clear evidence from their own accounts that they are taking grotesque advantage of troubled boys' need for love, attention, support, and freedom from abuse. Their subtler form of abuse directs an adult's arsenal against the innocence of children and the nascent sexuality of young adolescents and, when it succeeds, calls the result consensual love. That people so selfish should presume to lecture others about love, much less portray themselves as victims, is a supreme achievement in self-delusion and gall.
The NAMBLA activists and their supporters assert that those who oppose them have simply caved in to our society's anti-sexual attitudes and "homophobic pressure orchestrated by the American right wing." This begs the question of what responsibilities we are prepared to assume along with our sexual freedom. For a long time, the idea of "consenting adults" has been one of the foundation stones of our movement. For ILGA to refuse to defend this principle against an assault from within its own ranks would be not only political suicide, but an abdication of leadership at the very moment when its consultative status in ECOSOC has enhanced its opportunity to lead. ILGA has a right, in fact a responsibility, to defend itself and its mission. This is not to say that all efforts to reform age of consent laws should be opposed; but NAMBLA opposes setting any age of consent. At any rate, as Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) has observed, "It's not a Gay issue" -- as long as the age of consent applies equally regardless of sexual orientation.
Recent years have seen an increase in organized efforts to protect Gay and Lesbian youth rather than exploit them. These include strongly youth-oriented Gay and Lesbian community centers in many cities, as well as D.C.'s Sexual Minority Youth Assistance League (SMYAL), L.A.'s Project 10, and New York's Hetrick-Martin Institute. To take my hometown example, SMYAL provides such services as advocacy, outreach, a telephone helpline, and a safe space for Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual youth to meet their peers. These organizations nurture the future of our movement; by supporting their work not only do we help to protect sexual minority youth, we serve as role models.
Tests of character seldom accommodate themselves to our schedule. In the case of NAMBLA, not to decide is to decide. By canceling the membership of NAMBLA and other pedophile organizations, ILGA would not be denying anyone's right of self-expression but exercising its own. It is time to tell NAMBLA and its kin to express their views elsewhere, without the benefit of ILGA's assistance or its name.
There is no gift more precious than the love of a child. To play with an exuberant child, to feel its physical affection and its gleeful energy is to recapture one's own childhood. Who among us has never said of a lovely child, that one is destined to break a few hearts? This should cause us to treasure and respect childhood, not to steal it with the seductions and subtle power plays of unrestrained adults behaving like Jupiter engulfing Semele. In that myth, it was Semele who insisted upon seeing Jupiter in all his glory. But that did not excuse Jupiter, who knew that such a revelation would overwhelm the mortal he claimed to love.
In a press release quoted in the December 17, 1993 issue of Baltimore Gay Paper, NAMBLA states, "It is our hope that the ILGA membership will not support the secretariat's abject surrender of its basic values in order to hold on to what would then become a meaningless symbol of their own self-importance." ILGA members should ask themselves precisely which basic values are surrendered by refusing to associate with pederasts. Those who consider ILGA's breakthrough toward visibility and participation in the U.N. "a meaningless symbol of their own self-importance" clearly do not comprehend the magnitude of ILGA's opportunity to advance the cause of Gay and Lesbian civil rights in the world. Anyone who would throw that away deserves the company of the self-serving denizens of NAMBLA.
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[Note: This article was originally published in early 1994 in several gay newspapers, including The Washington Blade, Southern Voice (Atlanta), and The Lesbian and Gay News-Telegraph (Missouri). Richard J. Rosendall represented the Gay and Lesbian Association of Choruses at the 15th ILGA World Conference in Barcelona in July, 1993. He represented both GALA Choruses and the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance of Washington, DC at the 16th ILGA World Conference in New York City in June/July, 1994. At the latter conference, this article was distributed to all delegates prior to debate and vote on a resolution to expel NAMBLA and two other pedophile groups from ILGA and bar such groups from membership in the future. The views expressed are Rosendall's own, but both of the organizations he was representing instructed him to cast their votes in favor of expulsion. The resolution passed by a vote of 89 percent in favor of expulsion. As of May 2002, ILGA continued to be denied consultative status by the United Nations Economic and Social Council.]