The North American Man/Boy Love Association (NAMBLA) is a New York City and San Francisco-based unincorporated organization in the United States that advocates the legalization of sexual relations between adult males and under-aged boys. It has resolved to "end the oppression of men and boys who have freely chosen mutually consenting relationships" in spite of the fact that such relationships constitute child sexual abuse under U.S. law, as the minor is unable to give legal consent. NAMBLA also calls for "the adoption of laws that both protect children from unwanted sexual experiences and at the same time leave them free to determine the content of their own sexual experiences." NAMBLA's webpage claims that: "NAMBLA does not provide encouragement, referrals or assistance for people seeking sexual contacts" and that it does not
NAMBLA holds an annual gathering in New York City and monthly meetings around the country. In the early 1980s, NAMBLA was reported to have had over 300 members, and was supported by such noted figures as Allen Ginsberg. Since then, the organization has kept membership data private, but an undercover FBI investigation in 1995 discovered that there were 1,100 people on the rolls. It is the largest organization in the umbrella group Ipce (formerly "International Pedophile and Child Emancipation").
Since 1995, public criticism and law enforcement infiltration have heavily impaired the organization. Its national headquarters now consists of little more than a private mail box service in San Francisco, and they rarely respond to inquiries; it has essentially ceased to exist. Some reports state that the group no longer has regular national meetings and few local monthly meetings, and that as of the late 1990s to avoid local police infiltration, the organization discouraged the formation of local chapters.
NAMBLA describes itself as a "support group for intergenerational relationships," and uses the slogan "sexual freedom for all."
One of the group's arguments is that age of consent laws unnecessarily criminalize sexual relationships between adults and minors (particularly boys). In 1980 a NAMBLA general meeting passed a resolution, which said: "(1) The North American Man/Boy Love Association calls for the abolition of age-of-consent and all other laws which prevent men and boys from freely enjoying their bodies. (2) We call for the release of all men and boys imprisoned by such laws." This policy was still in NAMBLA's "official position papers" in 1996.
According to Roy Radow, a NAMBLA principal and one of the many NAMBLA members being sued in Curley v. NAMBLA by parents, for allegedly encouraging the rape and murder of their son, NAMBLA has opposed corporal punishment, rape, and kidnapping, and has declared that sexual exploitation is grounds for expulsion from the group.
NAMBLA emerged from the tumultuous political atmosphere of the 1970s, particularly from the wing of the Gay Liberation movement that followed the 1969 Stonewall riots in New York City. Although discussion of gay adult-minor sex did take place, gay rights groups immediately following the Stonewall riot were more concerned with issues of police harassment, nondiscrimination in employment, health care and other issues.
Not until a "sex ring" of underage boys brought intense media scrutiny in Boston in the closing weeks of 1977, and police raided the Toronto-area gay newspaper The Body Politic for publishing an article by Gerald Hannon titled "Men Loving Boys Loving Men" did the subject of adult-minor sex garner enough attention to prompt the formation of a group like NAMBLA.
In December 1977, police raided a house in the Boston suburb of Revere. Twenty-four men were arrested and indicted on over 100 felony counts of the statutory rape of boys aged eight to fifteen. Suffolk County District Attorney Garrett Byrne found that the men used drugs and video games to lure the boys into a house, where they photographed them as they engaged in sexual activity. The men were members of a "sex ring", and said that the arrest was only "the tip of the iceberg." The arrests sparked intense media coverage, and local newspapers published the photographs and personal information of the accused men.
Staff members of the homosexual newspaper Fag Rag believed the raid was politically motivated. They and others in Boston's gay community saw Byrne's round-up as an anti-gay witchhunt. On December 9 they organized the Boston-Boise Committee, a name intended as a reference to a similar situation that unfolded in Boise, Idaho in the 1950s. The group sponsored rallies, provided funds for the defendants, and tried to educate the public about the case by passing out fliers. It would also later spawn NAMBLA.
District Attorney Garrett Byrne was defeated in his re-election bid. The new DA said that no man should fear prison for having sex with a teenager unless coercion was involved. All charges were dropped. The few who had already pled or been found guilty received only probation.
On December 2, 1978, Tom Reeves of the Boston-Boise Committee convened a meeting called "Man/Boy Love and the Age of Consent." Approximately 150 interested people attended. At the meeting's conclusion, about thirty men and youths decided to form an organization which they called the North American Man/Boy Love Association, or NAMBLA for short.
Immediately following the Stonewall riots, some U.S. and Canadian gay rights organizations advocated the abolition of age-of-consent laws, believing that gay liberation for minors implied the permission to engage in sexual relationships. The Gay Activists Alliance (GAA), a group which splintered from the Gay Liberation Front in December of 1969, opposed age-of-consent laws and hosted a forum on the topic in 1976. In 1972 Chicago's Gay Activists Alliance and New York's Gay Activists Alliance jointly sponsored a conference that brought together gay rights activists from eighty-five different gay rights organizations and eighteen states. At the conference these approximately 200 activists coalesced to form the National Coalition of Gay Organizations, and drafted and passed a "Gay Rights Platform" which called for the "repeal of all laws governing the age of sexual consent." The Canadian Lesbian and Gay Rights Coalition, also known as the National Gay Rights Coalition (NGRC), supported eliminating age-of-consent laws, as did Gay Alliance Toward Equality (GATE).
The relative acceptance or indifference to opposition of the age-of-consent began to change at the same time as accusations that gays were child pornographers and child molesters became common. Only weeks apart in 1977 both Judianne Densen-Gerber, founder of the New York drug rehabilitation center Odyssey House, and former beauty queen Anita Bryant launched separate campaigns targeting gays. Densen-Gerber alleged that gays produced and sold child pornography on a massive scale, while Anita Bryant's "Save Our Children" campaign sought to portray all gays as child molesters. "The recruitment of our children," Bryant argued, "is absolutely necessary for the survival and growth of homosexuality." Bryant's campaign focusing on the alleged "recruitment" of boys by gay men succeeded in overturning a law that had protected civil rights for gays in Dade County, Florida. As a result, the age-of-consent issue became a hotly debated topic within the gay community, and disputes over the age of consent issue within and between gay rights groups - many of which directly or indirectly involved NAMBLA - began to occur on an increasingly frequent basis.
Disagreement was evident following the conference that organized the first gay march on Washington in 1979. In addition to forming several working committees, the conference was responsible for drafting the basic organizing principles of the march ("the five demands" Flyer for March on Washington
In 1980 a group called the "Lesbian Caucus - Lesbian & Gay Pride March Committee" distributed a hand-out urging women to split from the annual New York City Gay Pride March because the organizing committee had supposedly been dominated by NAMBLA and its supporters. The next year, after some lesbians threatened to picket, the Cornell University gay group Gay PAC (Gay People at Cornell) rescinded its invitation to NAMBLA founder David Thorstad to be the keynote speaker at the annual May Gay Festival. In the following years, gay rights groups attempted to block NAMBLA's participation in gay pride parades, prompting leading gay rights figure Harry Hay to wear a sign proclaiming "NAMBLA walks with me" as he participated in a 1986 gay pride march in Los Angeles.
Thus by the mid-1980s, NAMBLA was virtually alone in its positions and found itself politically isolated. Gay rights organizations, burdened by accusations of child recruitment and child abuse, had abandoned the radicalism of their early years and had "retreat[ed] from the idea of a more inclusive politics," opting instead to appeal more to the mainstream. Support for "groups perceived as being on the fringe of the gay community," such as NAMBLA, vanished in the process. Today almost all gay rights groups disavow any ties to NAMBLA, voice disapproval of its objectives, and attempt to prevent NAMBLA from having a role in gay and lesbian rights events.
The case of International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA) illustrates this opposition. In 1993, ILGA, of which NAMBLA had been a member for a decade, achieved United Nations consultative status. NAMBLA's association with ILGA drew heavy criticism, and many gay organizations called for the ILGA to dissolve ties with NAMBLA. Republican Senator Jesse Helms proposed a bill to withhold $119 million in U.N. contributions until U.S. President Bill Clinton could certify that "no UN agency grants any official status, accreditation, or recognition to any organization which promotes, condones, or seeks the legalization of pedophilia, that is, the sexual abuse of children". The bill was unanimously approved by Congress and signed into law by Clinton in April 1994.
ILGA had passed a resolution in 1985 which stated that "young people have the right to sexual and social self-determination and that age of consent laws often operate to oppress and not to protect." In spite of this apparent agreement with NAMBLA on the age of consent issue just nine years before, ILGA, by a vote of 214-30 expelled NAMBLA and two other groups (MARTIJN and Project Truth) in early 1994 because they were judged to be "groups whose predominant aim is to support or promote pedophilia." Although ILGA removed NAMBLA, the U.N. reversed its decision to grant ILGA special consultative status. Repeated attempts by ILGA to reacquire special status with the U.N. were finally successful in 2006 . The group exercises consultative status with the European Commission.
Gregory King of the Human Rights Campaign later said that "NAMBLA is not a gay organization ... They are not part of our community and we thoroughly reject their efforts to insinuate that pedophilia is an issue related to gay and lesbian civil rights." NAMBLA responded by claiming that "man/boy love is by definition homosexual," that "man/boy lovers are part of the gay movement and central to gay history and culture," and that "homosexuals denying that it is 'not gay' to be attracted to adolescent boys are just as ludicrous as heterosexuals saying it's 'not heterosexual' to be attracted to adolescent girls."
In 1994 the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) adopted a "Position Statement Regarding NAMBLA" saying GLAAD "deplores the North American Man Boy Love Association's (NAMBLA) goals, which include advocacy for sex between adult men and boys and the removal of legal protections for children. These goals constitute a form of child abuse and are repugnant to GLAAD." Also in 1994 the Board of Directors of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF) adopted a resolution on NAMBLA that said: "NGLTF condemns all abuse of minors, both sexual and any other kind, perpetrated by adults. Accordingly, NGLTF condemns the organizational goals of NAMBLA and any other such organization."
In 1996 co-founder David Thorstad complained that, "The Bulletin is turning into a semi-pornographic jerk-off mag for pedophiles." Other members insisted that the group only had a minority who were pedophiles, with the majority being pederasts.
Documents relating to the court case Curley v. NAMBLA and others provide further information on NAMBLA's structure and activities. In March 2003 Judge George O'Toole of the Massachusetts federal court found that in the 1990s (the period being considered by the court), NAMBLA was controlled by a national Steering Committee, "a group which purposefully directed NAMBLA's outreach activities generally."
The court documents also shed light on some of NAMBLA's activities, including that:
"NAMBLA was established as an unincorporated association in 1978 to encourage public acceptance of consensual sexual relationships between men and boys. Its principal place of business is New York, and its primary mechanisms of public outreach include its Bulletin, a quarterly publication sent to dues-paying members... Gayme Magazine, a NAMBLA publication mailed periodically to dues-paying members and sold at some bookstores; a NAMBLA website... TOPICS, a series of booklets providing more focused consideration of issues related to "man-boy love"; a prison newsletter; Ariel's Pages, a NAMBLA project through which literature concerning "man-boy love" was sold; and membership conferences.
"The Steering Committee, through several of its members, also formed "Zymurgy, Inc.," a Delaware corporation, which was operated as a profit-making arm of NAMBLA. Although the defendants describe the Bulletin, Gayme Magazine, Ariel's Pages, and Zymurgy, Inc. as separate and distinct from NAMBLA, it appears from the materials submitted, including minutes of Steering Committee meetings, that the Steering Committee controlled all of these entities, providing monies to initiate and support various projects and freely transferring funds among them."
"In addition to managing NAMBLA's financial matters, the Steering Committee also directed the association's policy, political, legal, and public relations efforts. Steering Committee members held frequent meetings and retreats during which they discussed NAMBLA's public image, formulated the association's outreach efforts, and nominated spokespersons. Members of the Steering Committee in close coordination with each other, created and maintained NAMBLA's website, and wrote, marketed, sold, and otherwise disseminated a variety of publications. Working in Massachusetts, William Andriette served as the editor of the Bulletin and Gayme Magazine. He did not act alone but rather under the supervision of the Steering Committee in producing these publications and in holding himself out as a NAMBLA spokesman.
"In addition to the financial support and supervision provided by the full Steering Committee, the content of the Bulletin was guided by the "Bulletin Collective," an editorial board comprising NAMBLA members from across the country who contributed and edited articles, screened photos and pictures, and participated in coordinating the production and distribution of the publication."
Judge O'Toole found that David Thorstad, Dennis Bejin, Joe Power, David Miller (also known as David Menasco), Peter Melzer (also known as Peter Herman), Arnold Schoen (also known as Floyd Conaway), Dennis Mintun, Chris Farrell, Tim Bloomquist, Tecumseh Brown, Gary Hann, Peter Reed, Robert Schwartz, Walter Bieder and Leyland Stevenson were or had been members of the NAMBLA Steering Committee or had held other leading positions in the organization.
More recently, media reports have suggested that for practical purposes the group no longer exists and that it consists only of a web site maintained by a few enthusiasts. NAMBLA maintains a web site that shows addresses in New York and San Francisco and a phone contact in New York, and offers publications for sale, including the NAMBLA Bulletin.
Some anti-child abuse groups, Christian groups, Jewish groups, anti-pedophilia organizations, anti-sexual abuse organizations, law enforcement agencies and other critics see NAMBLA as a front for the criminal sexual exploitation of children. They say NAMBLA functions as a meeting place for male pedophiles and pederasts and their sympathizers. Opponents also argue that pre-pubescent children in particular are not capable of giving consent and that the power imbalance between adults and children makes any sexual relationship exploitative..
Onell R. Soto, a San Diego Union-Tribune writer, wrote in February 2005: "Law enforcement officials and mental health professionals say that while NAMBLA's membership numbers are small, the group has a dangerous ripple effect through the Internet by sanctioning the behavior of those who would abuse children."
NAMBLA responds to the criticism that it is a "front for criminal and sexual exploitation of children" and that it advocates sex between men and boys by stating that "NAMBLA does not engage in any activities that violate the law, nor do we advocate that anyone else should do so".
NAMBLA rejects the widely held view that sex between adults and minors is always harmful, arguing that "the outcomes of personal experiences between adults and younger people primarily depend upon whether their relationships were consensual." In support of this position NAMBLA cites research such as A Meta-Analytic Examination of Assumed Properties of Child Sexual Abuse Using College Samples, which was published in the Psychological Bulletin in 1998. NAMBLA devoted a web page to a brief overview of the study under the heading "The Good News About Man/Boy Love," and claimed the study showed, "On average, nearly 70% of males in the studies reported that as children or adolescents their sexual experiences with adults had been positive or neutral." Some researchers dispute the findings of this meta-analysis.
Gay rights groups opposed to NAMBLA contend that their reason for disavowing NAMBLA has always been their sharing of the general public's disdain for pedophilia and child sexual abuse (as expressed in issues statements). These gay rights groups reject NAMBLA's claims of an analogy between the campaign for gay and lesbian equality and the abolition of age-of-consent laws, and view NAMBLA's rhetoric about "the sexual rights of youth" as a cover for its members' "real agenda".
Some, like Pat Califia argue that politics played an important role in the gay community's rejection of NAMBLA. Califia says that although the gay rights mainstream never committed itself to NAMBLA or its platform, neither did it actively ostracise NAMBLA until opponents of gay rights used the group to link gay rights with child abuse and "recruitment." As evidence, subscribers to this theory point to statements made by prominent gay activists which contain political assessments of NAMBLA's impact on gay rights. One such statement was made by gay rights lobbyist Steve Endean. Endean, who opposed NAMBLA, said: "What NAMBLA is doing is tearing apart the movement. If you attach it [the man/boy love issue] to gay rights, gay rights will never happen." Gay author and activist Edmund White made a similar statement in his book States of Desire: "That's the politics of self-indulgence. Our movement cannot survive the man-boy issue. It's not a question of who's right, it's a matter of political naivete." Califia has since completely repudiated support for NAMBLA. Mike Echols, the author of I Know My First Name is Steven, the true story of the kidnap and sexual abuse of Steven Stayner, infiltrated NAMBLA and his observations are recorded in his book. At one point he published the names, addresses and phone numbers of 80 suspected NAMBLA members on his website.
On September 28 2006, Oprah Winfrey did an entire episode dedicated to NAMBLA and Dateline NBC's undercover investigative reports on child predators.
Although NAMBLA itself has never been prosecuted, there have been a number of prosecutions of alleged NAMBLA members for sexual offences involving children or adolescents.
In 2000, a Boston couple, Robert and Barbara Curley, sued NAMBLA. According to the Curley's suit, Charles Jaynes and Salvatore Sicari (who were convicted of murdering the Curleys' son, Jeffrey) "stalked Jeffrey Curley... and tortured, murdered and mutilated [his] body on or about October 1, 1997. Upon information and belief immediately prior to said acts Charles Jaynes accessed NAMBLA's website at the Boston Public Library." According to police, Jaynes had eight issues of a NAMBLA publication in his home at the time of his arrest. The lawsuit further alleges that "NAMBLA serves as a conduit for an underground network of pedophiles in the United States who use their NAMBLA association and contacts therein and the Internet to obtain child pornography and promote pedophile activity."
Citing cases in which NAMBLA members have been charged with and convicted of sexual offenses against children, Larry Frisoli, the attorney representing the Curleys, argued that it is a "training ground" for adults who wish to seduce children, in which men exchange strategies on how to find and groom child sex partners. He also claims that NAMBLA has sold at its website what he calls "The Rape and Escape Manual" that details how to avoid being caught and prosecuted.
The American Civil Liberties Union stepped in to defend NAMBLA as a free speech matter and won a dismissal based on the fact that NAMBLA is organized as an unincorporated association, not a corporation. John Reinstein, the director of the ACLU Massachusetts, said that although NAMBLA "may extol conduct which is currently illegal", there was nothing on its website that "advocated or incited the commission of any illegal acts, including murder or rape". The Curleys continued the suit as a wrongful death action against individual NAMBLA members, some of whom were active in the group's leadership.
The targets of the wrongful death suits were Roy Radow, Joe Power, David Miller, Peter Herman, Max Hunter, Arnold Schoen and David Thorstad, a co-founder of NAMBLA and well-known writer. The Curleys alleged that Charles Jaynes and Salvatore Sicari, who were convicted of the rape and murder of their ten-year-old son Jeffrey, were NAMBLA members.
In April 2005, the wrongful death cases was still being considered by a Massachusetts federal court, with the American Civil Liberties Union assisting the defendants on the grounds that the suit violated their First Amendment rights to free speech. The American Civil Liberties Union makes it clear, however, that it does not endorse NAMBLA's objectives. "We've never taken a position that sexual-consent laws are beyond the state's power to legislate," John Reinstein, attorney for the Massachusetts branch of the American Civil Liberties Union, said in 1997. "I've never been able to fathom their position." (Boston Globe, October 9, 1997). The plaintiffs dropped their lawsuit in April 2008, after a judge ruled that a key witness was not competent to testify.
In addition to Curley v. NAMBLA, several other cases have been cited as evidence that NAMBLA serves as a meeting place or front for men who commit sexual crimes against children and adolescents.
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