NAMBLA goes to Copenhagen

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By: Bill Andriette

Some on Christopher and Castro Streets, let alone Main, would have cringed, but for the second year in a row, the United States was represented at the eighth annual International Lesbian and Gay Association conference solely by a delegation from NAMBLA. This year's conference, (which saw the overdue addition of lesbian to the group's title) was held near Copenhagen, Denmark July 7-12 and gathered together some 150 delegates and observers from 22 countries for a week of discussion and resolution writing. As in the past, this year's ILGA failed to achieve a genuinely international representation, and remained dominated by northern Europeans. And as in the past, it affirmed a generally sympathetic stance on man/boy love, but one by no means uncritical.

Before getting into details, it'll be useful to have a sense of how the ILGA works, The annual summertime conference is when ILGA comes out of organizational hibernation to do the things that international coalitions are wont to do: laboriously stake out a common ground (which is defined by ILGA as that upon which at least 80% of the delegated at a conference can stand), and then redact resolution and write letters, casting encomiums of praise and arrows of condemnation, with whatever breadth and conviction allowed by the expanse of ideological terrain deemed common. Resolutions are drafted in workshops devoted to particular concerns, such as AIDA education or lesbian and gay youth, and those that are approved by at least 80% of a workshop are sent to the plenary. Given the 80% rule, ILGA cannot march on the lesbian and gay political van. (With typical liberal blinders, for example, it failed in 1985 to condemn U.S. intervention in Central America) But it's not reasonable to expect a coalition of such potential cultural and ideological diversity to be in so exposed a place. With cooperation comes compromise, and it is in this light that one should judge the results of such a conference.

Boy lovers attend in force
This year's ILGA saw a rather strong pedophile presence. NAMBLA had four members there (Teddie Bernie, P.M. [edit], myself, and Peter Schmidt, on loan from the Danish Pedophile Association) and one fellow traveler (Jim Cooper), representing his organization, Reality). In addition, the Australian Pedophile Support Group contributed two delegates. In sheer psychical terms this made us rather visible, and cast fear in the hearts of some delegates, we heard through the grapevine, who didn't want man/boy love prominent on the agenda, and gave cheer, we also heard, to those who were sympathetic but unwilling or unable to pursue the issue themselves.

Again, as last year, a resolution put forth by the Lesbian and Gay Youth workshop calling for the abolition of age-of-consent statutes met defeat in the plenary, mainly on account of lesbian opposition. This year's failed resolution was artfully worded to assert that all groups should have an equal right to consent (i.e, there shouldn't be a different age for hetero- as against homo- sex), while at the same time calling for the abolition of the age of consent. But while rightly denouncing the age of consent, it did not address the legitimate problem of finding a legal or administrative mechanism to deal with abuse, or the structural position of young people in society that sometimes make them vulnerable to it. This lack partly accounts for the resolution's defeat. A number of young people in the workshop smarted at its rejection, and felt ILGA to be slighting the concerns of gay youth. The pedophile workshop was among the most industrious at the conference, meeting an unprecedented six times, and among the most prolific. It sent three resolutions to the plenary, all of which were favorable to NAMBLA's positions. Two passed.

Corporal punishment condemned
Teddie Bernie, on inspiration from John Fish, offered a resolution condemning corporal punishment, which passed by consensus in both workshop and plenary. While all thought the issue important in its own right, (especially for those who profess to love young people) many also hoped to point up how many western countries embrace an uncritical conception of sexual abuse while selectively ignoring and tacitly sanctioning physical abuse.

Some parents assume the right to deal with their children in any what they wish. Some of the children so raised grow up into adults who think they have the right and the duty to coerce others. The ILGA believes that one way to learn to be considerate of the bodies and feelings of others is to be treated with respect as a child. Corporal punishment is a euphemism for physical assault on the young, justified in some cultures as necessary for the successful integration of the young into their societies. By teaching children that their society accepts physical violence against the bodies of children as an acceptable means of problem solving, corporal punishment encourages young people to seek violent solutions to their own problems and perpetuates a cycle of violence and abuse. The ILGA condemns corporal punishment as child abuse and condemns rhetoric and laws that portray corporal punishment as an act of love. The ILGA supports non-punitive laws, similar to those now in effect in Sweden, which prohibit all corporal punishment, and calls on all persons who deal with the young to use love and reward.

Only a week or so later, Britain's House of Commons voted to make caning illegal in British schools for students whose fees are state paid. (Remaining unprotected are the blue-blooded bottoms of youngsters whose parents pay their tuition; another bit of illogic brought to you by Capitalism.) The second resolution grew out of the exasperation felt by at least a few boy lovers in the workshop at the substance of the dialogue between ourselves and a few women participants. An earlier incarnation of this resolution aimed at theoretical boldness and impeccable political correctness, sacrificing, admittedly, a degree of sequaciousness:

The workshop recognizes that there is a conflict within the lesbian and gay movement over whether pedophilia is child rape or consensual sexual expression. Age-of-consent laws are an area of conflict. They are used to harass, goal, and murder men and boys involved in sexual relationships. They are used to control all children. They are used to imprison working-class girls who express their independence through their sexuality. They are used to harass all young people who choose to have sex with adults. They are used to harass and goal gay men. Out of patriarchal, homo[phobic, capitalist self-interest, the state uses these laws to fool people that effective action is being taken to prevent the rape of children. We believe that man/boy love is often confused with child rape. We believe male supremacist rape ideology encourages men to believe that if they have a sexual interest in something they automatically have the right to fuck it. We believe consenting man/boy love relationships are scapegoated by the state and patriarchy to shroud the problems of the dominant rape ideology and family dysfunction. We believe that the child abuse industry and the patriarchal state use the bogeyman of pedophile relations to medicalize and control childhood sexualities. Therefore, we call ILGA to establish a study group to develop an analysis and suggest a strategy for the lesbian and gay movement on boy/man love.

A leaner, less tendentious version was sent to plenary and approved by consensus:

We recognize there is a conflict within the lesbian and gay movement over sexual relationships between boys and men. This conflict divides and weakens the lesbian and gay community. The intransigence of this conflict suggests that as a movement we do not have the theoretical basis to name, discuss, or resolve it. It is basic to the theory and practice of the lesbian and gay movement, and other movements of the oppressed, that we base our analysis on our own experiences. We must continue to provide the space for those boys and men involved in sexual relationships to help develop that analysis. Therefore, we call upon ILGA to establish a study group to develop an analysis for the lesbian and gay movement on gay pedophilia. This study group will be coordinated by the Australian Pedophile Support Group and NAMBLA. The following groups will participate: Centre du Christ Libérateur, Lambda Information (Barcelona). Material from the Study Group should be sent for comment to the Women's Secretariat.

Why a study group? In addition to reasons covered in the text, it will keep the issue of pedophilia visible in ILGA. Also, Emu Nugent (APSG) and I found each other compatible and productive collaborators, and agreed to take primary responsibility for the report. (Details will follow in the Bulletin; input welcome.) The third resolution we put forth suffered defeat, even when revised and rendered namby-pamby. It was inspired by such events as the exclusion of NAMBLA-LA from that city's gay pride march, of the Horation Alger Chapter from NYC's lesbian and gay community center, and of the Danish Pedophile Association's ouster from F-48, the improbably-named Danish national lesbian and gay organization (and hosts of this year's ILGA):

As lesbian and gay organizations construct a movement and gain rights and respectability within their wider communities, there is a growing tendency to exclude and marginalize controversial forms of sexual expression, such as gay pedophilia, sadomasochism, and the sexualities of children and youths. This process serves only the interests of those whose homosexual expression least confronts the dominant, bourgeois, heteorsexualist norms. It renders even more vulnerable sexualities which challenge these norms. The ILGA affirms the lesbian and gay movement's commitment to a broad conception of sexual liberation and recognizes the necessity for open dialogue about all our sexualities. It condemns those groups who would expel or marginalize controversial forms of sexual expression.

This proposal failed handily (21 for 12 opposed, 8 abstentions). Even expurgated of Marxist rhetoric and condemnatory language, even presented merely as an affirmation of the gay movement's commitment to a 'broad conception of sexual liberation', the resolution failed again, but narrowly. (43 for, 9 opposed, 5 abstentions) Four more votes and it would have had the requisite 80%. Also failing in the plenary was an proposal motivated by Teddie Bernie to have ILGA send a letter in support of the Danish director Lasse Nielsen. (of You Are Not Alone fame) to the state-run film board, the dispenser of funds for Danish cinema. The letter would have extolled Nielsen's lambent portraits of adolescent sexual awakening as an antidote to the more usual presentations of violent adolescent machismo. While supported in the Communications workshop, the proposal met defeat in the plenary when it was opposed by the Danish hosts on grounds that were never fully articulated, but had something to do with fairness to other gay filmmakers and desire to avoid international meddling in internal Danish affairs.

In other news
Pedophilia was not the only issue on the conference agenda. In other actions, ILGA called for more government funding for AIDS research and education, and protection against discrimination against HTLV-III/LAV positive people. It called on all members to lobby their national branch of Amnesty International to support the adoption of lesbian and gay prisoners. It called on mixed organizations to send the names and addresses of women contacts to the Women's Secretariat. Admitting previous failure, ILGA vowed to "make a serious effort to improve its presence in Latin America and Spanish - speaking countries" and encouraged groups to twin with Latin American groups (i.e. pay their ILGA dues). The plenary approved three resolutions from the Gay Youth workshop. Member organizations are encouraged to "support the establishment and running of youth groups in their regions" and to establish structures within their own organizations for counseling and coming-out support for young people. ILGA reaffirmed its support for the "right of young people to sexual and social self-determination", and it called for comprehensive sex education "with equal treatment and funding for education on all aspects of sexuality".

Overall situation good
So where stand pedophile issues in ILGA? In a reasonably secure position, I'd say. Unlike in the U.S., where most mainstream lesbian and gay organizations strongly distance themselves from ped issues, at ILGA hostility seemed to stem less from pragmatic concerns about respectability than from feminist-inspired theoretical objections driven, one senses, by many of these women's painful experiences with male sexuality, subsequently generalized. There was thus a more pronounced gay male/lesbian split on man/boy love than I am accustomed to in the States. When respectability is less of a concern, gay men seem to be willing to translate into a political stance their recollections of their own experiences as children and adolescents. It was interesting to see what was and wasn't an issue in Copenhagen. There were no questions raised about the appropriateness of having a standing workshop called 'pedophilia and the age of consent' at a lesbian and gay conference. And there was discursive consensus (in the sense that there is discursive consensus in the American polity that racism is a bad thing), even so far as we could tell among the lesbians, that age-of-consent laws had no business proscribing the sexual choices of adolescents. It's not clear how wholeheartedly that position was held, however, for the outrage that should follow from such a stance about the harsh oppression of relationships between men and adolescent boys in much of the world was not evident. But such outrage, and more importantly its political expression, cannot be expected to flow from people who have no personal stake in the issue at hand. That's one reason why a strong ped presence at ILGA is useful. Enhanced efforts at cultivating support in ILGA would probably bear fruit.


As approved by the 1985 NAMBLA conference, my air transportation and ILGA registration fees were paid for by NAMBLA. I was unable to attend the International Gay Youth Conference in Oslo, Norway as had originally been hoped, because it was scheduled far enough after the ILGA that my attendance would have cut unaffordably deeply into my summer earnings. The paucity of those earnings, incidentally, was less of a hindrance to mt attending the ILGA thanks to the generosity of my NAMBLAn traveling companions, to whom I am grateful.

source: Article 'NAMBLA Goes to Copenhagen - A Report on the 1986 International Lesbian and Gay Association Conference' by Bill Andriette; NAMBLA Bulletin, Vol. 7, N. 7; September 1986