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MEDIA
Balancing act
BY SUSAN RYAN-VOLLMAR

Last Monday, WBUR aired a story by reporter Jason Beaubien on the 10-year anniversary of the stateís Safe Schools program, which works to ensure that gay and lesbian students are free from harassment while attending school. Newton activist Brian Camenker was quoted as a critic of the program, saying: "Basically these programs in Massachusetts are a complete fraud.... When you go to a kid who thinks he might be homosexual or is experimenting with this kind of behavior and say to him what youíre doing is just fine and needs to be affirmed, that is a very dangerous thing to have happen to that child. I mean, youíre essentially affirming, you know, a behavior that is medically and psychologically very, very destructive."

Itís not the first time Camenkerís twisted views about homosexuality have been published in the local media. Reporters from both Boston dailies frequently turn to him to provide balance in stories about gay issues. Last year, in a Boston Globe article about a lawsuit filed to give gay and lesbian couples the right to marry in Massachusetts, Camenker was quoted as saying, "Weíve been seeing this for the last two decades. Their agenda is to deconstruct and break down societyís framework regarding sexuality and relationships, by any means necessary. They know that the public and even the legislature wonít go this far." Two years ago, in a Boston Herald story about a court ruling allowing two lesbian parents to put both their names on their childís birth certificate, Camenker said, "Now the courts are trying to overturn the laws of nature."

Camenkerís opinions about homosexuality, which he presents as fact and are passed on as such by reporters, have long been debunked by medical authorities. So why do reporters keep calling him for quotes?

"I think Brian Camenker has had an impact on public policy in Massachusetts in the past, and he has an opinion which is very different from the established opinion of people who are running this program, and I think it was important to get that in there and let him speak," says Beaubien.

Itís true that Camenker has had an impact in Massachusetts. Two years ago, he secretly taped a workshop about sex education given by an employee of the Safe Schools program at a conference of gay educators. The employee was fired. Whatís not often remembered, though, is that the employee successfully sued the state to get her job back and was awarded back pay. Camenkerís role in the incident ó secretly taping gay adolescents asking questions about safe sex ó exhibited behavior that can only be described as bizarre.

Itís unlikely that reporters and editors would let a crank espousing racist nonsense represent the "other" side in stories about affirmative action. Yet it happens frequently with Camenker on gay issues. For journalists working on deadline who are in need of the "other" side, his number, apparently, is an easy dial. Doing so, however, puts him in a position to exploit reporters; it gives him a platform for his outdated and factually incorrect statements about homosexuality. This doesnít illuminate the issue. It confuses it.

Issue Date: June 13 - 20, 2002
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