Far right religious conservatives have long attempted to export or shore up their values abroad. In recent years, Russia has become a target for such activism, in which both American and Russian participants use each other in curious ways. Americans can use the trip to gain publicity while holding up the “exotic” Other in order to point out what they perceive as Western civilization’s moral failings—creating propaganda for the home audience as well as the foreign one.
On Monday, October 28, American anti-LGBT activist Paul Cameron addressed the State Duma, which, according to one source, was “absolutely thrilled” to host him. As well they might be to host an American billed by this source as a “well-known American psychologist” and a “leading American crusader against homosexuality”—and particularly since he said he had come “to thank the Russian people, the State Duma, and President Putin… in the name of the entire Christian world.”
To thank them, that is, for their uncompromising stance against same-sex relations which, in Cameron’s fact-free worldview, are destroying Western civilization.
On Tuesday, Cameron took part in a conference hosted by the news organization Moskovsky Komsomolets (the Moscow Young Communist) where he was joined by Bishop Sergei Riakhovsky, spiritual leader of the Union of Christians of the Evangelical Faith, a large denomination of Russian Pentecostals consisting of some 1500 individual churches.
The topic they addressed was: “Do Same-Sex Relationships Represent a Danger for Public Health and Social Order?” The question was rhetorical and the answer was yes.
According to live coverage of the event posted to Facebook by Moscow-based American journalist Ian Bateson, Cameron recommended that LGBT individuals be banned from teaching in schools because they are supposedly disproportionately likely to be pedophiles and are therefore a threat to children. Unfortunately, in Russia such a rash legal initiative, based on views that have been entirely repudiated by actual science, is not outside the realm of possibility—and you can bet Cameron knows it.
Cameron is among those made-in-America anti-LGBT activists who are exporting the US culture wars (their cause clearly losing at home) to countries where their prejudices are widely accepted, anti-LGBT discrimination is already enshrined into law or could be, and the potential harm from their violent rhetoric is that much greater.
For those who may not know the name, Cameron is the founder and head of the Family Research Institute, through which he produces scientifically worthless papers, which he publishes, as described by the Southern Poverty Law Center, “in pay-to-publish journals with legitimate-sounding names”—in short, “hate literature masquerading as legitimate science.”
The SPLC has designated the Family Research Institute, originally known as the Institute for the Scientific Investigation of Sexuality, a hate group.
Like Scott Lively, Cameron is on the far loony end of the anti-LGBT “spectrum,” if you will, having gone so far as to suggest that sexually active gay men should be placed in concentration camps.
Like Lively, he has visited Russia before. As reported by newsru.com, Cameron has also recently visited Moldova, where he spoke out against anti-discrimination legislation passed in 2012. It is worth noting that despite the passage of this national legislation, anti-“propaganda” laws like the one passed in Russia have cropped up in many municipalities across Moldova, whether or not Western ideological enablers have had anything to do with the trend.
With respect to Cameron, it’s true that he is not widely regarded as a serious figure in the West.
When you google Cameron in English, you’ll encounter adjectives like “discredited.” And while he did earn a Ph.D. in psychology from the University of Colorado, Boulder in 1966, Cameron was expelled from the American Psychological Association in 1983, and his work has also been condemned by the American Sociological Association—which has publicly declared that he cannot be considered a sociologist and that his work has no relation to legitimate social science—and by other academic bodies.
With respect to religious right players in the United States, he can hardly be considered A-list.
The reason that those of us who support LGBT equality should care about his speaking in countries like Russia, however, is that Cameron is clearly taken seriously by some well-placed Russian elites. On his previous visit to Russia in June 2008, Cameron spoke at Moscow State University, Russia’s most prestigious institution of higher education, and at the Moscow Patriarchate’s Pilgrimage Center. Reception in such venues, to say nothing of the State Duma, would seem to lend Cameron an air of credence among both Russia’s intellectual and ecclesiastical establishments.
Meanwhile, the October 25 Moskovsky Komsomolets press release advertising Monday’s press conference refers to “Professor Paul Cameron” as “an American sociologist and psychologist,” and an article from newsru.com refers to him as “a popular lecturer and the author of more than 90 scientific articles and five books.” True, this piece also calls him “a well known opponent of homosexual propaganda,” but in effect this doesn’t seem to be so much a condemnation as a rhetorical means of linking Cameron with Russia’s anti-LGBT law, which he no doubt wholeheartedly supports, as do some other representatives of the American religious right. In addition, it states the following:
Cameron faces a constant barrage of accusations that his scientific work is unethical and unreliable. However, he himself rejects these accusations, and in Dr. Cameron’s opinion, one only needs to become thoroughly acquainted with his work in order to be convinced of its full reliability.
Thus false equivalence is alive and well in Russia.
Since Cameron’s address to the Duma and Press Conference with Moskovsky Komsomolets, most of the coverage in the press has largely toed the state line.
The Interfax Religion headline ran: “Famous American Expert Supports Moscow’s Ban on Gay Pride Parades.” When coverage draws attention to the controversy surrounding Cameron, it tends to spin it in such a way as to make him into a hero, conspiratorially implying that the rejection of his views in the West and/or scientific establishment derives from ideology. The following quotation from Moskovsky Komsomolets illustrates the point nicely: “Naturally, such scientific research is unpopular given the mood of toleration lingering in the world today. However, Cameron hopes that his ideas might find supporters in Russia.”
Only the liberal Snob.ru had the guts to assess Cameron accurately, laying out many of the same relevant facts about his (lack of) credentials laid out above. “A Witch-Hunter from Overseas,” ran the headline. “Paul Cameron came to Moscow as a scholar, a scientist, and an expert on family matters, although he’s neither the one, nor the other, nor the third.”
The bravery of Snob.ru notwithstanding, there is no real upside to this story.
The forces stirring up Russian homophobia for political purposes have received a boost, and the memory of Cameron’s visit may do lasting damage. That being said (this high-profile case aside) the Russian law against “propaganda” of so-called non-traditional relationships seems to be little enforced.
Putin himself is most likely no true believer in the law, but rather pragmatically using widespread popular Russian homophobia in pursuit of specific domestic and foreign policy goals—to placate hardline Orthodox believers and to keep the more radical, nationalist right at bay at home, while sending a clear message to the West that Russia won’t be pressured into adopting liberal norms.