"You killed Matthew Shepard," a woman shrieked at me as I walked into a Claremont Institute conference in Los Angeles a week ago. The emotion distorting her face did not approximate compassion.
The conference "Making Sense of Homosexuality," co-sponsored by the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH) was unanimously condemned by the Los Angeles City Council, picketed by rabid protesters (who invaded its forum at the Biltmore Hotel, verbally assailing those in attendance), and driven from its original location at the Beverly Hilton.
NARTH is an organization of psychiatrists and psychologists who believe homosexuality is a treatable developmental disorder. Claremont is a think-tank composed of what its president, Larry Arnn, calls "natural law conservatives."
The Los Angeles City Council is composed of offensive jerks who think with their glands. "These people [Claremont and NARTH] are not just about spewing hate, they are about putting actual lives in danger, mine included," shrilled Councilwoman Jackie Goldberg, a lesbian.
The conference was indeed a fearsome affair. Speakers included three MDs, five Ph.D.s, lawyers, legislators, a member of the California advisory panel to the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, and me.
Its hate-filled rhetoric included the observation by Hadley Arkes, a professor of constitutional law at Amherst College, that the gay-rights movement "shows not the least degree of tolerance for anyone who would call into question, even gently, the rightness of the homosexual life."
Another dangerous demagogue heard from was Eleanor Durham, a Seattle attorney and mother of a second-grader, who explained how activists got a "gay-affirming" curriculum into the city's schools.
Referring to gay marriage, Arkes cautioned, "Marriage cannot be detached from what some might call the 'natural teleology of the body': namely, the inescapable fact that only two people, not three, only a man and a woman, can beget a child." Gasp! How hateful!
The conference, of course, came at a time when the left was determined to squeeze the last ounce of advantage out of the tragic murder of Matthew Shepard. "The constant degrading of homosexuals is exacting a toll in blood," Jonathan Alter wrote in Newsweek.
The argument is bizarre. Does Alter actually believe that some yahoo in the hinterlands is saying to himself: "NARTH believes homosexuality is a developmental disorder. Hmmm. I guess that means I'll have to go out and find one to bash."
In December 1997, when a 14-year-old opened fire on a prayer group at his Paducah, Ky., high school (killing three), I don't recall my side blaming those who regularly savage Christian conservatives as a threat to church-state separation. ("The constant degrading of people of faith is taking its toll in blood.")
Following the Shepard tragedy, Professor Robert George, who teaches political theory at Princeton, received an e-mail from a former graduate student who (with barely concealed contempt) wondered when conservatives would denounce the killing and other attacks on gays.
George replied that when Brian Peterson and Amy Grossberg murdered their newborn and the prom mom dumped hers in the trash, he didn't ask his liberal friends when the pro-choice crowd was going to get around to rejecting baby-killing.
George said, "I paid my liberal friends the courtesy of supposing that, despite what I believe to be their gravely mistaken views about abortion, they no more wish to promote infanticide than I do."
Sad to say, this political goodwill flows in only one direction.
If the Los Angeles City Council and hysterical demonstrators are correct (and my hands are bloodstained), how could I have saved Matthew Shepard? By abandoning deeply held beliefs? By rejecting objective evidence and denying reality? By engaging in self-censorship?
The weekend that I was in Los Angeles, Amy Tracy was in Boston. Former press secretary to NOW President Patricia Ireland and an ex-lesbian, Tracy was invited by an evangelical group to speak at a number of area colleges.
Boston College cancelled the event. (A dean observed that the school didn't need "homophobes and gay-bashers on campus.") Wellesley organizers were told that Tracy could only speak if a "Christian" lesbian shared the forum.
What we have here is a conspiracy to deny First Amendment rights. If the left can use the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act against abortion clinic protesters, why can't the right use it against those who harass conferees and pressure hotels and colleges into canceling events?
As Arkes would say: You established the principle. If it applies to us, it applies to you. Are we clear on that?