I went up against Tony Perkins, the head of the hard-line anti-gay group Family Research Council (FRC), on MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews earlier this week. Perkins was there to defend his organization after the SPLC listed it as a hate group last week. The whole experience was like trying to nail Jell-O to a wall.
When I pointed out that FRC Senior Research Fellow Peter Sprigg had been on Matthews' air just last February saying that "homosexual behavior" should be outlawed, Perkins said the FRC is not currently engaged in trying to send gay people to prison for having sex. But as much as Matthews tried to pin him down, Perkins never repudiated what Sprigg had said as an official FRC representative.
That may have been the least of Perkins' slippery behavior.
After I noted the FRC's long record of associating gay men with pedophilia -- a spurious allegation that has been roundly rejected by relevant scientific authorities including the American Psychological Association -- Perkins responded, in part, by citing what sounded like a respectable medical professional association.
"If you look at the American College of Pediatricians, they say the research is overwhelming that homosexuality poses a danger to children," Perkins said. "So Mark is wrong. He needs to go back and do his own research."
Was I wrong? Perhaps the more relevant question is this: What is the American College of Pediatricians?
One thing it's not is the similarly named 60,000-member American Academy of Pediatrics, the professional association of most American pediatricians and the publisher of the peer-reviewed Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
In fact, the American College of Pediatricians is a tiny group of doctors who broke away from the American Academy of Pediatrics in 2002 because the latter group supported LGBT parental rights. The American College of Pediatricians, believed to now have about 200 members, explicitly demands, as a condition of membership, that would-be joiners "hold true to the group's core beliefs ... [including] that the traditional family unit, headed by an opposite-sex couple, poses far fewer risk factors in the adoption and raising of children."
The group Perkins cited as authoritative has come under repeated attack by real scientific authorities. After it published Facts About Youth last spring, both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Psychological Association described the booklet as non-factual. Several individual researchers -- including Francis Collins, the director of the National Institutes of Health -- said the handbook misrepresented their findings. "It is disturbing to me to see special interest groups distort my scientific observations to make a point against homosexuality," Collins wrote. "The information they present is misleading and incorrect."
In other words, the American College of Pediatricians, despite its erudite name, is akin to the fake environmental front groups some energy corporations have set up to make dubious claims about the non-existence of global warming.
There's more that Perkins failed to mention about the American College of Pediatricians. Until this spring, long-time anti-gay propagandist George Rekers, who has testified against adoptions by same-sex couples, was on the Pediatric Psychosocial Development Committee of the American College of Pediatricians. That ended when it was revealed that Rekers, who also was a founding member of Perkins' FRC, had just returned from a two-week European vacation with a male prostitute. Rekers insisted that the man had merely been hired to carry his luggage, but the man disagreed. In fact, he told reporters, Rekers had hired him to perform daily nude massages.
All mention of Rekers has since disappeared from the college's website.
Perkins also referenced a 1988 article that came from a real scholarly journal, Archives of Sexual Behavior, that said 86% of child molesters in a particular study group identified themselves as homosexual or bisexual. But the statement was entirely parenthetical to the article and, as other sex researchers have pointed out, does not provide any supporting data whatsoever. The claim is at stark odds with most other research into the nature of pedophiles. The American Psychological Association, for example, says in a policy statement that "homosexual men are not more likely to abuse children than heterosexual men are."
This morning, Warren Throckmorton -- a psychology professor at a Christian college who has counseled clients conflicted about their sexual identity for years -- offered his insights into the SPLC's criticisms: "Reviewing the charges leveled against the Christian groups, I think their responses are mostly unfortunate and unhelpful. The SPLC has identified some issues which are legitimate and have damaged the credibility of the groups on the [hate] list. Going forward, I hope Christians don't rally around these groups but rather call them to accountability."