Group wages battle against Massachusetts gay culture
BOSTON — The minute they spotted the mannequins in Macy's department store window celebrating the city's Gay Pride week, Brian Camenker and the watchdog activists at MassResistance jumped into action.
The group quickly posted a photo of the window on their Web log under the caption: "Male mannequins with (apparently) enlarged breasts, one wearing a rainbow skirt." Within days, Macy had removed the mannequins but left up a list of pride week events.
It was the latest victory for a group dedicated to battling what it characterizes as the aggressive gay and lesbian movement in Massachusetts, the only state to allow same-sex marriage.
The group continues to find ample fodder in that war, taking on gay-themed school texts, exposing what it says is the seamier side of the gay rights movement and nearly convincing Gov. Mitt Romney to eliminate a state commission for gay youth.
"The homosexual stuff is the 800-lb. gorilla in the room when you're talking about education," Camenker said. "People feel that as a society they're under assault — that you can't walk down the street anymore without having this in your face."
The group has become the bane of gay-rights activists in Massachusetts who consider Camenker and his supporters the "lunatic fringe" obsessed on the more extreme elements of gay culture to deny rights for all gays across the state.
But as Massachusetts lawmakers prepare to consider an amendment to the state constitution banning gay marriage later this month, Camenker remains unapologetic, saying he represents the state's true silent majority.
He even opposes the amendment, saying there's nothing wrong with the constitution, what's wrong is it's interpretation by the state's highest court.
"We are sort of purists on this. We don't believe that the constitution needs to be amended because the constitution is not flawed," he said. "John Adams didn't make a mistake and forget to put gay marriage in the constitution."
Camenker — a 53-year-old Newton man who is married with two teenage children — has a long history of taking on charged topics in Massachusetts.
One of his earliest forays came when he publicly protested a new sex education curriculum in his hometown of Newton.
By the mid-1990s, Camenker's Parent's Rights Coalition had successfully championed a parental notification bill giving parents the option of pulling their children from sex-education classes.
In 2000, Camenker's group again made headlines, secretly taping graphic sexual talk — such as whether to use condoms and how to have oral sex — during a workshop for gay teens. Gay activists denounced the secret taping, which cost two members of the state Department of Education's HIV/AIDS awareness program their jobs because of the explicit nature of the talk. One of the workers later sued and was given her job back.
But the 2003 ruling by the state Supreme Judicial Court — which paved the way for the nation's first legal same-sex marriages — took Camenker's fight to a new level. He vowed to oust the four members of the state's high court who voted in favor the ruling, again raising the ire of gay activists.
"Brian Camenker and MassResistance is the fringe of the fringe. They are bottom feeders," said Marc Solomon, campaign director at MassEquality, a coalition of gay-marriage rights advocates. "I really don't get it. It's an obsession. He spends more time looking at gay web sites than anyone I could imagine,"
Other gay activists grudgingly acknowledge Camenker's talent at generating publicity.
"His group is pegged by the gay community like a lunatic fringe, but I don't see it that way," said Tom Lang, co-director of KnowThyNeighbor.org, a Web site that publishes the names of individuals who sign anti-gay marriage petitions.
Lang said he has had a few long conversations with Camenker in an effort to understand him.
"Maybe he really just doesn't understand what a gay person is like," he said. "I can't imagine he's that hateful."
Camenker says that far from being on the fringe, he speaks for a vast swath of people too intimidated to take on the radical "homosexual agenda" on Beacon Hill, in the schools, or in the cultural life of the state.
"There is a huge group of people who are very upset about what's been going on in the social sphere," he said. "I don't think the powers-that-be in Massachusetts realize the emotion that this thing had gone way too far and it's got to stop. I don't think they have a clue."
One battleground for the group has been Lexington, a quiet suburb about 10 miles west of Boston that is best known for its statue of a Minuteman.
In April 2005, Lexington father David Parker, upset his 6-year-old son had been sent home with a book that depicted a gay family, was arrested after refusing to leave school property when officials refused his demand to notify him when homosexuality was discussed in his son's class.
The case became a rallying cry for the group, which intensified its protests a year later after another Lexington couple, Joseph and Robin Wirthlin, objected when a teacher read a storybook about two princes who fall in love to their son's second grade class.
The couple, joined by Parker and his wife, sued the Lexington schools saying reading storybooks with gay themes without first alerting parents violated the same parental notification law Camenker helped push through a decade earlier.
"There's a lot of good that this group is doing. They're bringing a lot of things to light," David Parker said. "He has done very good undercover work. I think it's a tremendous service to society."
Massachusetts Family Institute President Kris Mineau, one of the main backers of a proposal to amend the state constitution to ban same-sex marriage, praised Camenker as a "a true cultural warrior out there in the trenches."
"He's laid his life, his reputation, his fortune on the line for the last decade fighting for parents rights, fighting the permissive social agenda that's just growing in our public schools," he said.
In April, the group nearly convinced Romney, a possible Republican candidate in the 2008 presidential race, to ax a state advisory commission on gay youth after Camenker showed administration officials a press release announcing an annual parade featuring a cross-dressing master of ceremonies and embracing transgender teens.
The release included Romney's name but wasn't vetted by the administration.
Romney, who signed a proclamation hailing a similar parade in 2003, considering killing the commission but decided instead to require it to focus on its main mission of suicide prevention.
Camenker may be best known for the group's Web site, which pulls few rhetorical or visual punches. It described Boston's most recent Gay Pride Week as "all about sex, profanity, weirdness, unhealthy behavior in public, and some very disturbed people."
Camenker says he's simply pursuing stories that most media outlets refuse to cover. He said interest in the group is on the rise, but wouldn't say how many supporters it has. He also declined to say how much money the Waltham-based nonprofit has raised, only saying that the group is funded by individual contributions.
Camenker's increasingly public profile even led to a brief appearance on Comedy Central's "The Daily Show" where he was skewered during a tongue-in-cheek interview. (Sample question: "How does legalized gay marriage affect your relationship with your wife?")
Camenker said he was unfazed by the lampooning.
"If you look at it, they didn't treat me that bad," he said. "I think they treated the gays worse than me."
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