September 18, 2008
In previous posts, I’ve discussed research showing that some survey respondents are more reluctant to forbid or ban something than to simply “not allow” it. And I’ve discussed how this pattern might be relevant to Proposition 8, the California ballot initiative that would amend the state constitution to bar same-sex couples from marrying.
Briefly stated, past studies suggest that at least some voters might be influenced by how the ballot measure is worded — somewhat less likely to support a proposition framed as banning marriage equality, somewhat more likely to support one that is framed as simply defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman.
Opponents of marriage equality apparently understand the importance of wording, and they’ve gone to court about it.
Originally, the official ballot summary was set to use language developed by Proposition 8 backers, which titled it “Limit On Marriage” and characterized it as amending the California Constitution “to provide that only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.”
After the Supreme Court’s historic May ruling on marriage equality, however, Attorney General Jerry Brown changed the title to “Eliminates the Right of Same-Sex Couples to Marry.”
Proposition 8 supporters challenged Brown’s revised wording, but last month a California Superior Court judge gave the go-ahead for it to appear on the ballot.
The New Field Poll
Now an experiment embedded in a new Field Poll has shown that the wording does have an impact, mainly on voters who aren’t already knowledgeable about Proposition 8.
The latest poll was conducted with a statewide sample of 830 likely voters drawn from the voter registration rolls. Roughly half of the respondents — selected at random — were read the official ballot description of Proposition 8:
Proposition 8 is the initiative to Eliminate the Right of Same-Sex Couples to Marry constitutional amendment. It changes the California Constitution to eliminate the right of same-sex couples to marry and provides that only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California. Fiscal impact: Potential revenue loss, mainly to sales taxes, totaling several tens of millions of dollars to state and local government over the next few years. If the election were being held today, would you vote YES or NO on Proposition 8?
The other half were read the original description:
“Proposition 8 is the Limit on Marriage constitutional amendment. It amends the California constitution to provide that only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California. Fiscal impact: Potential revenue loss mainly to sales taxes, totaling several tens of millions of dollars to state and local government over the next few years. If the election were being held today, would you vote YES or NO on Proposition 8?”
In the sample as a whole, the different ways of framing the amendment showed only a minor impact — 55% opposed Proposition 8 when it was framed as eliminating marriage rights, compared to 52% who opposed it when it was framed as merely placing a limit on marriage. Regardless of the wording, 38% of likely voters said they would support Proposition 8.
This overall pattern, however, masks the wording’s big impact on a particular group — the 30% of likely voters who reported they hadn’t previously heard about Proposition 8. Only a plurality of these respondents opposed the measure when it was described as a limit on marriage — 42% versus 37% who supported it. But when the ballot measure was framed as eliminating marriage rights for same-sex couples, a whopping 58% opposed it while only 30% supported it.
The different versions also affected the level of uncertainty among those who otherwise weren’t aware of Prop. 8. In this group, 21% of those who were read the “limit on marriage” description said they were undecided, compared to only 12% of those who were read the actual ballot version.
Increased Opposition Among Key Groups
The new survey also reveals increased opposition to Prop. 8 among some key demographic groups, compared to the mid-July poll. Opposition has increased among Democrats from 63% to 75%, and among men from 49% to 54%.
Notably, despite Proposition 8′s endorsement by California’s Catholic bishops, the latest poll finds that Catholic voters are substantially more likely to oppose it than in the past (55% oppose it now, compared to 45% in July).
And even in the state’s inland counties, support for Prop. 8 has shrunk considerably. In July, inland voters favored it by a margin of 54% to 40%. Now it’s a statistical dead heat: 48% oppose it, 44% support it.
Despite the good news for marriage equality supporters, the latest poll data shouldn’t lead them to be complacent. California voters oppose Proposition 8 now, but what will count is the actual vote on November 4. The amendment can still pass if its supporters turn out their voters in disproportionate numbers.
Thus, the success of each side’s get-out-the-vote effort could be the key to whether or not marriage equality survives in California.
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The report on the latest Field Poll is available on their website.
September 2, 2008
Today is the 101st anniversary of Dr. Evelyn Hooker’s birth.
Dr. Hooker, the psychologist who is widely credited with helping to establish that homosexuality is not inherently linked to mental illness, was born September 2, 1907, in North Platte, Nebraska. She was the sixth of nine children.
In the course of her remarkable life, Dr. Hooker surmounted many of the barriers faced by women who sought an academic career in the 20th century. She is best known for her psychological research in the 1950s and 1960s with gay men.
Her studies were innovative in several important respects. Rather than simply accepting the conventional wisdom that homosexuality is a pathology, she used the scientific method to test this assumption. And rather than studying homosexual psychiatric patients, she recruited a sample of gay men who were functioning normally in society.
For her best known study, published in 1957 in The Journal of Projective Techniques, she recruited 30 homosexual males and 30 heterosexual males through community organizations in the Los Angeles area. The two groups were matched for age, IQ, and education. None of the men were in therapy at the time of the study.
She administered three projective tests to the men — the Rorschach inkblot test, the Thematic Apperception Test (TAT), and the Make-A-Picture-Story (MAPS) Test). Then she asked outside experts with no prior knowledge of the men’s sexual orientation to use the test data to rate their mental health. Although today it seems like an obvious safeguard against bias, Dr. Hooker’s was the first published study to utilize raters who were “blind” to the sexual orientation of the study participants.
Using the Rorschach data, two of the independent experts evaluated the men’s overall adjustment using a 5-point scale. They classified two-thirds of the heterosexuals and two-thirds of the homosexuals in the three highest categories of adjustment. When asked to identify which Rorschach protocols were obtained from homosexuals, the experts couldn’t do it at a level better than chance.
A third expert used the TAT and MAPS protocols to evaluate the men’s psychological adjustment. As with the Rorschach responses, the adjustment ratings of the homosexuals and heterosexuals did not differ significantly.
Dr. Hooker concluded from her data that homosexuality is not a clinical entity and that homosexuality is not inherently associated with psychopathology. Her findings have since been replicated by other investigators using a variety of research methods.
In retrospect, we can see that Dr. Hooker’s main hypothesis — that no group differences in psychological distress should exist between heterosexual and homosexual samples — actually applied too strict a test. We know today that some members of stigmatized groups manifest elevated rates of psychological distress because of the stress imposed on them by social ostracism, harassment, discrimination, and violence. Such patterns don’t indicate that the group is inherently disturbed.
Nevertheless, by demonstrating that well-adjusted homosexuals not only existed but in fact were numerous, Dr. Hooker’s research demonstrated that the illness model had no scientific basis. She helped to lay the foundation for the American Psychiatric Association’s 1973 decision to remove homosexuality from its Diagnostic & Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, and for the American Psychological Association’s subsequent commitment to removing the stigma that has historically been attached to homosexuality.
Dr. Hooker died at her Santa Monica home on November 18, 1996. Her pioneering research and remarkable life were honored with awards from numerous professional organizations, including the American Psychological Association, and many advocacy and community groups.
* * * * *
For more information, see the 1992 Oscar-nominated documentary, Changing Our Minds The Story of Dr. Evelyn Hooker.
A biographical sketch and a selected bibliography of Dr. Hooker’s publications can be found at my UC Davis website.
August 28, 2008
Supporters of marriage equality got some good news last night when the results of the latest statewide poll by the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California were released.
The telephone survey of 2,001 California adults, including 1,047 likely voters, reveals that Proposition 8 — the proposed constitutional amendment to bar same-sex couples from marrying — is losing badly. Among likely voters, only 40% plan to vote for the amendment, compared to 54% who say they will vote against it. The remaining 6% are undecided. (The margin of error is +/- 3 percent.)
The PPIC data are identical to those obtained in a May Field Poll, which found the same 54-40% split in response to the question, “Do you favor or oppose changing the California State Constitution to define marriage as between a man and a woman, thus barring marriage between gay and lesbian couples?” (In the same Field Poll, a differently-worded question also elicited majority opposition to a constitutional amendment, 51-43%.)
In the new survey, PPIC interviewers essentially read the ballot description to each respondent before asking their voting intentions:
“Proposition 8 is called the ‘Eliminates Right of Same-Sex Couples to Marry Initiative Constitutional Amendment.’ It changes the California Constitution to eliminate the right of same-sex couples to marry. It provides that only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California. Fiscal impact over the next few years includes potential revenue loss, mainly sales taxes, totaling in the several tens of millions of dollars, to state and local governments. In the long run, it will likely have little fiscal impact on state and local governments. If the election were held today, would you vote yes or no on Proposition 8?
Thus, the new poll gave respondents the same information they’ll receive when they cast their ballot.
Who Supports and Opposes Proposition 8?
The PPIC hasn’t yet released detailed breakdowns of responses to the Prop. 8 question, which was part of a lengthy survey about candidates and issues related to the November election. However, their press release and report highlighted some key patterns:
- Consistent with previous polls, geography and political ideology are important predictors of support for Prop. 8. Among likely voters, the amendment is favored by Republicans (60%) and those who reside in the state’s Central Valley (51%). But it’s opposed by 66% of Democrats, 59% of independents, 65% of San Francisco Bay Area residents, and 54% of Los Angeles residents.
- Among likely voters, women strongly oppose Prop. 8 (58% would vote no, 35% yes), while men are more closely divided (49% no, 45% yes).
- Married likely voters are less likely than the never-married to oppose Prop. 8 (51% vs. 66%).
- Prop. 8 is opposed by similar proportions of Latino (54%) and non-Hispanic White (55%) likely voters.
Another interesting finding is that opposition to Prop. 8 doesn’t come exclusively from those who say they generally favor allowing gay and lesbian couples to legally marry. The sample was evenly split on that question — 47% of likely voters favoring marriage equality and 47% opposing it. Thus, consistent with other polls, some respondents who don’t personally support marriage equality nevertheless oppose enacting anti-equality legislation. Indeed, Prop. 8 is supported by only 69% of the likely voters who generally oppose allowing same-sex couples to marry.
Proposition 8 Backers Rationalize The Results
Marriage equality opponents blamed the results on Prop. 8′s official title and summary description, which explicitly frames it as eliminating marriage rights for same-sex couples. As I explained in a previous post, survey research over the years has shown that wording can make a difference. Although “not allowing” something would appear to be equivalent to “forbidding” it, people are generally more reluctant to forbid than to not allow.
Indeed, a July Field Poll that described the ballot measure with the language favored by its supporters (the survey question said Prop. 8 would “provide that only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California”) registered slightly less opposition. However, likely voters still rejected it by a margin of 51% to 42%.
Prop. 8 backers tried to find a ray of hope in the PPIC data, noting that amendment supporters were more likely to say the outcome of the vote is “very important” to them — 57% versus 44% of amendment opponents.
Unfortunately for them, the math in this argument is flawed because it doesn’t take into account the fact that there are fewer Prop. 8 supporters than opponents. 57% of the 40% who would vote YES = 23% of respondents saying they support Prop. 8 and the vote is “very important” to them. But 44% of the 54% who would vote NO = 24% of likely voters saying they oppose the amendment and it’s very important.
In other words, about the same number on each side of the issue feel strongly about the initiative. And if we include respondents who said the vote is “somewhat important,” 40% of the sample oppose Prop. 8 and consider the vote important, compared to only 34% who support the initiative and feel it’s important.
Conclusion: Cautious Optimism For Equality Supporters
Not only do the data indicate that Prop. 8 is losing — conventional wisdom holds that ballot measures should have more than 50% support at this stage of the campaign if they’re going to pass — but they may contribute to a widespread expectation that the initiative will go down in flames. Such a perception could affect fundraising (donors often don’t want to throw money at a lost cause) and might create a bandwagon effect (undecided voters may opt to go with the side they believe will win).
Nevertheless, it would be a big mistake for Prop. 8 opponents to be overconfident. The election will be decided by the Californians who actually vote, and Prop. 8 backers are busy mobilizing their base, especially in church congregations. And it’s always possible that events during the next 10 weeks will affect voters’ perceptions in a way that favors Prop. 8.
Noting those caveats, however, the PPIC data are certainly cause for optimism among marriage equality supporters.
* * * * *
The report on the latest PPIC statewide poll is available on their website.
July 23, 2008
Today the Military Personnel Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee holds hearings on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
The congressional hearings come as Democrats increasingly discuss repealing the policy under a new Administration, and in the wake of a July ABC News/Washington Post Poll in which 75% of respondents said that “homosexuals who DO publicly disclose their sexual orientation should be allowed to serve in the military.” (78% said those who DON’T disclose their sexual orientation should be allowed to serve.)
The hearings also follow the recent release of a report by a team of retired senior military officers that concluded the ban on openly gay service members is counterproductive and should end, as well as a public statement signed by more than 50 retired generals and admirals that calls on Congress to repeal DADT.
With these signs of quickening movement toward eliminating the military’s discriminatory personnel policy, I’d like to be able to discuss the social science research relevant to the policy.
However, there isn’t much to say that is new.
Revisiting the Social Science Data
To be sure, new studies have been released that consider issues related to privacy, unit cohesion, and the experiences of other countries that have integrated sexual minorities into their militaries. I’ve discussed some of this work in previous posts. The Michael D. Palm Center website at the University of California, Santa Barbara, is also an excellent resource for such research.
But the conclusions of the newer research don’t differ much from those of past studies.
Thus, it seems appropriate to revisit a previous set of hearings in which the House Armed Services Committee heard about social science research relevant to military personnel policy. They were held in May of 1993 and were chaired by Rep. Ron Dellums (D-CA).
I was invited to testify before the Committee on behalf of the American Psychological Association and five other professional organizations (the American Psychiatric Association, the National Association of Social Workers, the American Counseling Association, the American Nursing Association, and the Sex Information and Education Council of the United States).
What follows is the bulk of my oral statement (with some introductory and background material omitted):
Mr. Chairman and members of the Committee, I am pleased to have the opportunity to appear before you today to provide testimony on the policy implications of lifting the ban on homosexuals in the military….
My written testimony to the Committee summarizes the results of an extensive review of the relevant published research from the social and behavioral sciences. That review is lengthy. However, I can summarize its conclusions in a few words: The research data show that there is nothing about lesbians and gay men that makes them inherently unfit for military service, and there is nothing about heterosexuals that makes them inherently unable to work and live with gay people in close quarters.
….I would like to address two questions that have been raised repeatedly in the current discussion surrounding the military ban on service by gay men and lesbians. The first question is whether lesbians and gay men are inherently unfit for service. In the current debate, some consensus seems to have been reached that gay people are just as competent, just as dedicated, and just as patriotic as their heterosexual counterparts. However, questions still are raised concerning whether the presence of openly gay military personnel would create a heightened risk for sexual harassment, favoritism, or fraternization.
Obviously, data are not available to address these questions directly because the current policy has made collection of such data impossible in the military. However, based on research conducted with civilians, as well as reports from quasi-military organizations in the United States (such as police and fire departments) and the armed forces of other countries, there is no reason to expect that gay men and lesbians would be any more likely than heterosexuals to engage in sexual harassment or other prohibited conduct. We know that a homosexual orientation is not associated with impaired psychological functioning; it is not in any way a mental illness. In addition, there is no valid scientific evidence to indicate that gay men and lesbians are less able than heterosexuals to control their sexual or romantic urges, to refrain from the abuse of power, to obey rules and laws, to interact effectively with others, or to exercise good judgment in handling authority….
The second question I would like to address is whether unit cohesion and morale would be harmed if personnel known to be gay were allowed to serve. Would heterosexual personnel refuse to work and live in close quarters with lesbian or gay male service members? This question reflects a recognition that stigma leads many heterosexuals to hold false stereotypes about lesbians and gay men and unwarranted prejudices against them.
As with the first question, we do not currently have data that directly answer questions about morale and cohesion. We do know, however, that heterosexuals are fully capable of establishing close interpersonal relationships with gay people and that as many as one-third of the adult heterosexual population in the U.S. has already done so. We also know that heterosexuals who have a close ongoing relationship with a gay man or a lesbian tend to express favorable and accepting attitudes toward gay people as a group. And it appears that ongoing interpersonal contact in a supportive environment where common goals are emphasized, and prejudice is clearly unacceptable, is likely to foster positive feelings toward gay men and lesbians. Thus, the assumption that heterosexuals cannot overcome their prejudices toward gay people is a mistaken one.
In summary, neither heterosexuals nor homosexuals appear to possess any characteristics that would make them inherently incapable of functioning under a nondiscriminatory military policy. In my written testimony, I have offered a number of recommendations for implementing such a policy. I would like to mention five of the principal recommendations here.
The military should:
- establish clear norms that sexual orientation is irrelevant to performing one’s duty and that everyone should be judged on her or his own merits;
- eliminate false stereotypes about gay men and lesbians through education and sensitivity training for all personnel;
- set uniform standards for public conduct that apply equally to heterosexual and homosexual personnel;
- deal with sexual harassment as a form of conduct rather than as a characteristic of a class of people, and establish that all sexual harassment is unacceptable regardless of the genders or sexual orientations involved;
- take a firm and highly publicized stand that violence against gay personnel is unacceptable and will be punished quickly and severely; attach stiff penalties to antigay violence perpetrated by military personnel.
Undoubtedly, implementing a new policy will involve challenges that will require careful and planned responses from the military leadership. This has been true for racial and gender integration, and it will be true for integration of open lesbians and gay men. The important point is that such challenges can be successfully met. The real question for debate is whether the military, the government, and the country as a whole are willing to meet them.
Mr. Chairman, thank you for the opportunity to testify today. I will be happy to answer any questions that members of the Committee might have.
From 1993 to 2008
That was in 1993. Today, as then, the real question is not whether sexual minorities can be successfully integrated into the military. The social science data answered this question in the affirmative then, and do so even more clearly now.
Rather, the issue is whether the United States is willing to repudiate its current practice of antigay discrimination and address the challenges associated with a new policy.
The growing opposition to DADT among military veterans and the public indicate that we finally may be ready to take up this challenge.
* * * * *
The full text of my 1993 oral statement before the House Armed Services Committee can be read on my website.
July 18, 2008
The first California statewide poll to directly measure public opinion about Proposition 8 — the so-called California Marriage Protection (CaMP) Act, a proposed constitutional amendment that would ban marriage equality — suggests the ballot measure is in serious trouble.
As reported at ProtectMarriageEquality.com, a Field Poll commissioned by Oakland’s KTVU-TV found that the marriage ban is supported by only 42% of Californians, while 51% oppose it. The remaining 7% are undecided.
Consistent with previous polls by the LA Times and the Field Research Corporation, the new survey found that support for the amendment is strongest in California’s politically conservative Central Valley, where it is favored by 54%. By contrast, coastal residents — who constitute 69% of the population of likely voters — oppose it by a margin of 56% to 37%. The percentages against Prop. 8 were 67% in the San Francisco Bay Area and 51% in Los Angeles County.
Republicans overwhelmingly support the amendment by a margin of 68% to 27%, while Democrats oppose it 63% to 30%. Notably, Independents oppose it 66% to 27%.
Proposition 8 is opposed by a majority of women (54%, versus 40% who support it) and a plurality of men (49% to 45%).
The only ethnic group tending to support the amendment is Latinos, who favor it by a 49% to 38% plurality. However, 13% of Latinos are still undecided. Non-Hispanic Whites, African Americans, and Asian-Americans all oppose Proposition 8.
The amendment is supported by a plurality of Californians who say they don’t personally know anyone who is gay or lesbian. However, that group constitutes only one fourth of the respondents. Those who know or work with a gay or lesbian person oppose the amendment 54% to 40%.
Good News for Equality Supporters
The poll numbers offer a double dose of hope for supporters of marriage equality. Not only do the data indicate that the ballot proposition is currently losing outright, they also suggest that its prospects for gaining support during the coming months may be dim.
In a previous post about an earlier LA Times poll (which was conducted before marriages of same-sex couples actually began in California and which found slight majority support for a hypothetical ballot measure), I quoted the Times‘ observation that:
“…[B]allot measures on controversial topics often lose support during the course of a campaign” and, for this reason, “strategists typically want to start out well above the 50% support level.” According to Susan Pinkus, the Times Poll Director, “Although the amendment to reinstate the ban on same-sex marriage is winning by a small majority, this may not bode well for the measure.”
Thus, the measure’s lack of majority support now — less than 4 months before the election — indicates that the Christian conservatives who propose to write marriage inequality into the California constitution have their work cut out for them.
Reasons for Caution
Although the poll results are good news for equality supporters, it would be a mistake to take victory in November for granted for at least three reasons.
First, we’ll need data from more surveys with comparable samples to be sure that the Field Poll results accurately describe California opinion at this time.
Second, although it is indeed a hopeful sign that the amendment lacks majority support at this point in the campaign, many things can happen between now and the November election that might shift voters’ opinions.
Third, past experience indicates that polls may understate the true opposition to marriage equality among the California electorate. In 2000, the final Field Poll before the election indicated that 53% of likely voters supported Proposition 22, the anti-equality Knight Initiative that the California Supreme Court recently ruled unconstitutional. On election day, 61% voted for it.
Thus, the new poll should invigorate supporters of marriage equality in California. But it shouldn’t make them complacent.
* * * * *
The KTVU/Field Poll data were obtained through telephone interviews conducted in English and Spanish with a random sample of 672 California likely voters from July 8-14. The margin of error for the question about Proposition 8 is 3.9 percentage points.
Poll respondents were asked the following question: “Proposition 8 is the ‘Limit on Marriage Constitutional Amendment.’ It amends the California constitution to provide that only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California. If the election were being held today, would you vote YES or NO on Proposition 8, the Limit on Marriage Constitutional Amendment?”
The full report is available at the Field Poll website.
Note: This entry has been updated to include additional details about the survey that were released subsequent to its initial posting.
July 4, 2008
I’m not going to put a lesbian in a position like that….
If you want to call me a bigot, fine.”
–Jesse Helms, in response to President Clinton’s 1993 nomination of Roberta Achtenberg as an assistant secretary at the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Future students of 20th-century US history may puzzle over a section of the 1990 Hate Crimes Statistics Act. After mandating the federal government’s annual collection of data about “crimes that manifest evidence of prejudice based on race, religion, sexual orientation, or ethnicity,” the Act includes the following passage:
(a) Congress finds that:
- the American family life is the foundation of American Society,
- Federal policy should encourage the well-being, financial security, and health of the American family,
- schools should not de-emphasize the critical value of American family life.
(b) Nothing in this Act shall be construed, nor shall any funds appropriated to carry out the purpose of the Act be used, to promote or encourage homosexuality”
This section of the Act is the legacy of Jesse Helms, who died today at the age of 86.
When the Hate Crimes Statistics Act was being considered by the Senate, Helms played a leading role in efforts to block it because it included antigay violence among the crimes to be monitored by law enforcement personnel. Aware of the bill’s popularity and having failed to remove sexual orientation from it, Helms attempted to thwart its passage by introducing an amendment that its supporters would find unacceptable but politically difficult to vote down.
The Helms amendment would have added the following language to the bill:
“It is the sense of the Senate that:
- the homosexual movement threatens the strength and survival of the American family as the basic unit of society;
- State sodomy laws should be enforced because they are in the best interest of public health;
- the Federal Government should not provide discrimination protections on the basis of sexual orientation; and
- school curriculums should not condone homosexuality as an acceptable lifestyle in American society.”
Such tactics were typical of Helms, who regularly used his parliamentary skills to get his own way in the Senate. On this occasion, however, he was outmaneuvered by Senators Paul Simon (D-IL) and Orrin Hatch (R-UT), who proposed alternative language that was less antigay.
The Simon-Hatch amendment was approved before Helms’ amendment was considered, thus providing political cover for senators. By supporting the Simon-Hatch language, they could safely vote against Helms’ amendment without being labeled pro-gay and anti-family.
And that’s why the Hate Crimes Statistics Act includes statements about “the American family” and denials that it was intended to “promote or encourage homosexuality.”
Helms’ failure at preventing passage of the Hate Crimes Statistics Act was unusual. His mastery of Senate procedure, coupled with lawmakers’ fear of appearing pro-gay, frequently allowed him to succeed in enacting his anti-gay agenda.
When the US was first confronting the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s, for example, Helms was instrumental in preventing the government from funding effective prevention programs among gay and bisexual men. The Senate twice endorsed his amendments prohibiting federal funds for AIDS education materials that “promote or encourage, directly or indirectly, homosexual activities.” By constricting the scope of risk-reduction education, Helms’ actions were widely believed to have contributed to the epidemic’s rapid spread.
Throughout his 30-year tenure in the US Senate, Helms was consistently associated with antigay stands. Given this fact, as well as his longstanding opposition to racial equality and the race-baiting tactics he used in election campaigns throughout his career, it is a fairly easy matter to accept his invitation to label him a bigot.
Personal bigotry aside, however, Helms’ legacy includes the many institutional manifestations of heterosexism that he was able to implement during his years in the Senate. Through the laws he sponsored and those he helped to defeat, he created real hardships for sexual minorities while also fostering sexual prejudice in American society. And his efforts probably contributed to the spread of HIV in the United States and the infection and deaths of many gay and bisexual men.
On this Independence Day and the occasion of Jesse Helms’ death, it is fitting to note how personal bigotry combined with political power can enable one politician to do so much harm to so many people.
And, recalling the general unwillingness of elected leaders to stand up to Jesse Helms’ antigay campaigns over the years, it is appropriate to reflect upon the words attributed to Edmund Burke: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
July 1, 2008
- Take one US antigay activist who happens to have earned a Ph.D. in psychology and has been denounced by major professional associations of psychologists and sociologists in his home country and Canada.
- Add one Russian university department where the training is substandard, the faculty don’t publish in their field’s academic journals, the dean has been charged with plagiarism, and xenophobia is encouraged in students’ work.
- Combine and season with dubious research findings published in a low-prestige academic journal.
That’s the recipe for Paul Cameron’s recent visit to the Sociology department of Moscow State University. It was a seemingly perfect match, teeming with possibilities for public pronouncements based on junk science and chock-full of sexual prejudice.
And it didn’t disappoint. Press service dispatches from Russia suggest that Cameron has found a highly receptive audience for his antigay rants
Before considering Cameron’s statements, let’s revisit those ingredients.
Ingredient #1: Moscow State University’s Troubled Sociology Department
Last year, MSU students organized to combat their Sociology department’s eroding teaching standards and repressive living conditions. They issued an open call for support on their website that listed a variety of grievances and concerns:
We, a group of students of the Sociology Department at Moscow State University, have asked the department’s administration to improve the quality of teaching, stop force-feeding us with ultranationalist propaganda, and ensure acceptable conditions of life and study. In response to our demands, the administration has stepped up repressive measures: Friends who were distributing leaflets have been arrested by the police; individual students have been threatened; and the dean’s office and a servile student’s committee have written a letter to the rector (president) of the university asking to clamp down on any unapproved student protest actions, campaigns, or meetings on campus. All this is part of an attempt to muzzle us and create a wall of silence to conceal the dramatic state of affairs at the department.
In recent years, lectures at the department have become ever more insipid and formal exercises. The administration has cut the number of seminars and practical classes. We are allowed to take ever fewer course units in neighboring disciplines. We are hardly ever given the opportunity to attend talks by outside lecturers. Exam questions are limited to the contents of a textbook authored by the dean.
The dean’s office has distributed a brochure to all students which approvingly quotes the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” blames Freemasons and Zionists for the world wars, and claims that they control US and British policy and the global financial system….
A March 19, 2007, NY Times article reported that the University had created a commission to investigate the students’ accusations. According to the students’ web site, that commission was highly critical of the department, finding that the level of training for students was substandard, that the faculty does not publish research in major sociology journals and is largely isolated from the field of sociology, and that the main textbook used in the department (authored by the department’s own dean/chairman) is unsatisfactory and includes multiple instances of plagiarism. The commission also noted that some graduate students’ work included ideological expressions of bigotry against other cultures.
Ingredient #2: Paul Cameron, Antigay Activist and Discredited Psychologist
Most readers of this blog are already familiar with Paul Cameron, who holds the dubious distinction of having been castigated by the major professional societies of two different disciplines:
- In 1984, the American Psychological Association informed its members that “Paul Cameron (Nebraska) was dropped from membership for a violation of the Preamble to the Ethical Principles of Psychologists” by the APA Board of Directors.
- Later that same year, the Nebraska Psychological Association adopted a resolution stating that it “formally disassociates itself from the representations and interpretations of scientific literature offered by Dr. Paul Cameron in his writings and public statements on sexuality. Further, the Nebraska Psychological Association would like it known that Dr. Cameron is not a member of the Association.”
- In August, 1996, the Canadian Psychological Association adopted a policy statement that said, “The Canadian Psychological Association takes the position that Dr. Paul Cameron has consistently misinterpreted and misrepresented research on sexuality, homosexuality, and lesbianism and thus, it formally disassociates itself from the representation and interpretations of scientific literature in his writings and public statements on sexuality.”
Combine and Stir Well: Cameron In Moscow
As Jim Burroway at Box Turtle Bulletin reported on June 16,
Paul Cameron, of the Family “Research” Institute …. is in Moscow, where tomorrow he will speak at Moscow State University on a panel called “Social norms and prospects of development of society.”… Cameron will be spreading his discredited “research” to Russia, where he remains an unknown quantity. There, he will speak on “Homosexuality and the demographic problem.”
Indeed, Cameron appears to have found a receptive audience in Moscow. According to an Interfax-Religion News Service report, headlined “The Number of Drunken Drivers and Tax Evaders Among Homosexuals is Twice as Much – Expert“:
The number of drug-addicts and drunken drives among representatives of sex minorities twice exceeds the same figure among heterosexuals, director of the American Family Research Institute Paul Cameron believes.
“The number of those who use alcohol, heavy drugs and drink behind the wheel is twice as much among homosexuals. Besides, homosexuals twice more often evade taxes,” Dr. Cameron, who studied phenomenon of homosexuals for 40 years, said in the round table in Moscow.
He cited his institute’s research proving that representatives of sexual minorities of both sexes changed partners more frequent than heterosexuals. The number of those who suffer from venereal diseases among homosexuals is also much bigger.
Cameron also told about recent research of the degree of everyday risks for homosexuals and heterosexuals conducted by the Canadian government. The research showed that the number of homosexuals exposed to the risk to be murdered or violated, which includes home violence, is twice as much as among heterosexuals. The expert stressed that Canada officially permitted homosexual “marriages.”
Another Interfax dispatch that same day reported Cameron’s belief that “Almost all homosexuals are victims of fashion or sexual violence in childhood.”
[Note: I believe the Interfax translation went wrong here. From what I know of Cameron’s rhetoric, I suspect he said something to the effect that many people become homosexual because they are influenced by society’s current norms that allow for (limited) acceptance of sexual minorities, not that they are fashion victims, as the news agency’s dispatch suggests.]
And the report indicated that Cameron had endorsed the Moscow mayor’s repressive actions against free speech by gay rights groups:
He urged Russians to back up such politicians as Moscow mayor Yury Luzhkov who opposed gay parade in Moscow. Cameron also finds it joyful that representatives of the sociology faculty of the Moscow State University showed interest to his institute’s research and plan to conduct similar independent analysis.
“The USA needs your help. We want Russia to say strong “no” to homosexuality. American government groundlessly ignores our scientific research data. The West is rich, but this particular situation makes it die,” the researcher said.
Seasoning: Cameron’s “Research” Findings
As is generally true of Cameron’s statements about homosexuality and sexual minorities, the comments reported by Interfax are so full of falsehoods, junk science, and outright bigotry that a point-by-point rebuttal would be a Herculean task — not unlike cleaning out the Augean stables. Because many of those comments echo “findings” he reported in a 2005 paper published in Psychological Reports, I’ll note a few problems with that paper.
[Note: As explained on my web page, Psychological Reports is Cameron’s main publishing outlet. It is a low-prestige academic journal that is distinguished from most other journals in the behavioral and social sciences by its policy of charging authors to publish in it.]
In the article, Cameron claimed to have reanalyzed data from the 1996 National Household Survey of Drug Abuse (NHSDA), using a publicly available version of the data on the webite of the Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR). The website also permits users to conduct simple data analyses, which Cameron’s article says he used.
One big concern about the article has to do with the numbers Cameron reported. I’m not confident that they actually match those in the NHSDA data set. He reported that 176 respondents had engaged exclusively in same-sex sexual conduct during the previous year. However, a 2000 paper published in the American Journal of Epidemiology — authored by UCLA Profs. Susan Cochran and Vickie Mays — used the same data set and reported that the sample included 135 people who said they’d had only same-sex sexual partners during the previous 12 months. I used the same on-line NHSDA statistical tools that Cameron said he’d used and I obtained results essentially the same as those of Cochran and Mays. Given the extensive track record of Profs. Cochran and Mays in analyzing data of this type, and their publication of these and other national survey data in prestigious academic journals, I’m inclined to trust their results over Cameron’s. Just where Cameron found his “extra” 41 respondents isn’t clear.
Another numbers-crunching concern is that Cameron analyzed the data by simply cross-tabulating various behaviors (e.g., drug use) by sexual behavior category. This approach ignores the complex relationships among key variables. In the 1996 NHSDA data set, for example, age, income, and employment status are correlated both with males’ same-sex behavior and with their use of an illegal substance. Much of the association between sexual conduct and drug use may be accounted for by these and other variables. Cameron’s article, however, didn’t use statistical methods that would control for these correlations and, consequently, couldn’t take into consideration the whole array of variables that might influence behavior.
Even if Cameron’s numbers were accurate, it’s important to remember that the NHSDA included no questions about whether the respondents considered themselves to be gay, straight, or bisexual. Rather, participants were asked whether their recent sexual partners were male, female, or both. Thus, the data set addresses sexual behavior, not sexual orientation. Although the two are certainly correlated, it’s not accurate to equate behavior and identity. In the previously mentioned American Journal of Epidemiology article, for example, Profs. Cochran and Mays estimated that as many as one third of the NHSDA respondents who reported at least one instance of same-sex behavior wouldn’t self-identify as gay, lesbian, or bisexual.
Yet another limitation to the article’s credibility is the consistent antigay spin in Cameron’s interpretation of the findings. This is even more evident when we consider how he presented differences between Blacks and Whites in the same data set. According to the data tables in his Psychological Reports article, Blacks were more likely than Whites to report recent illegal drug use, involvement in prostitution, being on parole, injecting drug use, cocaine use, multiple problems related to alcohol use, having sex outside an ongoing relationship in the past year, more sexual partners, family members on welfare, and absence from work in the past 30 days. Rather than assert that Blacks pose a risk to society — a claim too preposterous even for Cameron — he allowed that the differences he observed between Blacks and Whites in the NHSDA sample could be attributed to the effects of racial discrimination.
Using Cameronesque logic, he then concluded that the differences between same-sex and different-sex groups couldn’t be explained as the result of antigay discrimination because they didn’t parallel the differences between White and Black respondents. That is, respondents reporting same-sex contact didn’t match Blacks on all of the variables listed above.
If the Interfax dispatch is accurate about Cameron’s use of the Canadian data, his antigay spin becomes even more obvious.
Presumably, he was referring to the 2008 Statistics Canada report, Sexual Orientation and Victimization 2004. It noted that the 2004 Canadian General Social Survey on victimization inquired about respondents’ sexual orientation for the first time, following Parliament’s amendment of the criminal code to include sexual orientation as an identifiable characteristic for protection from hate crime victimization. The survey found that sexual minorities experienced higher rates of violent victimization and discrimination than did heterosexuals.
While a reasonable person would understand these data to mean that sexual minorities are the targets of discriminatory attacks, Cameron interprets them as showing that sexual minorities — not the perpetrators of antigay violence — are the problem. This is consistent with his endorsement of Moscow’s Mayor Yury Luzhkov, who has repeatedly denied gay groups the right to publicly demonstrate, saying such marches are “satanic” and referring to same-sex relationships as “a deadly poison for children.”
Recipe For Hate
Cameron has unsuccessfully sought credibility in the US as a researcher for at least the past quarter century. The rogue Sociology Department at Moscow State University — with its low academic standards and atmosphere of repression and xenophobia — seems like the perfect place for him to land.
Sadly, his approach to “research” may well catch on there, subjecting Russia’s sexual minorities to even more hostile stereotypes than they currently face, with the added scientific veneer that Cameron’s spouting of bogus statistics can provide.
And sadly, for those of us in the United States, Cameron probably won’t stay in Russia but will instead return home to Colorado Springs and continue to foist his half-baked ideas on the American public.
* * * * *
Thanks to Jim Burroway at Box Turtle Bulletin for many background resources related to this post.
For more information about the Moscow State University Sociology Department and its Dean, Vladimir Dobrenkov, see Richard Bartholomew’s June 21 post at Talk to Action and his March 25 (2007) post to Bartholomew’s Notes on Religion.
For more about Paul Cameron’s Moscow visit (and about Cameron in general), see Jim Burroway’s posts at Box Turtle Bulletin.
Beauchamp, D.L. (2008). Sexual orientation and victimization 2004. Ottawa: Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics. Available at: http://www.statcan.ca/bsolc/english/bsolc?catno=85F0033M2008016
Cameron, P., Landess, T., & Cameron, K. (2005). Homosexual sex as harmful as drug abuse, prostitution, or smoking. Psychological Reports, vol. 96 (#3), pp. 915-961.
Cochran, S. D., & Mays, V. M. (2000). Relation between psychiatric syndromes and behaviorally defined sexual orientation in a sample of the US population. American Journal of Epidemiology, vol. 151 (#5), pp. 516-523.
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