The Radical Center
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The Radical Center

The Soft Bigotry of Walter Williams

In my opinion Walter Williams is more conservative than libertarian. Just a few years ago he proposed gay men should be required to pay higher premiums for life insurance because, and I quote, “life expectancy at age 20 for homosexual and bisexual men is eight to 20 years less than for all men.” That’s a bogus statistic to be sure.

Williams claimed the reason they didn’t pay more was because gays intimidated insurance companies with accusations of discrimination, but Williams would be okay with anti-gay discrimination because “it is acceptable for insurance companies to discriminate against smokers and the obese but not homosexuals.”

The only basis for Williams’s accusation is an outdated study done with old data from the height of the AIDS crisis with data limited to one large Canadian city — hardly a representative sample. Even the authors of the study admitted current evidence does not warrant such a conclusion. It should be noted Williams entirely neglected to mention the AIDS issue in that study — surely he knows how dramatically wrong projections about AIDS turned out to be, so why leave out that important detail?

The authors later wrote “Death is a product of the way a person lives and what physical and environmental hazards he or she faces every day. It cannot be attributed solely to their sexual orientation or any other ethnic or social factor.” Williams dismisses this as them having to “soft-pedal,” because “homosexuals have far greater political power and sympathy than smokers and the obese.” Apparently the idea of changing your conclusion because the premises are wrong never enters his mind.

There are many reasons life expectancy varies from group to group. Life expectancy data is among the most abused in the world. It contains many factors and dishonest statisticians use it to prove pet theories. For instance, the Left compares life expectancy in the US to various European nations, concluding the differences, slightly in favor of Europe, are due to socialized health care. They ignore higher obesity rates in the US, greater teen pregnancy rates, differing definitions used for “live births,” and numerous other factors.

As the experts said — cited by Williams only when they agree with him and dismissed when they don’t — life expectancy can’t be attributed to one factor alone. Of course, projections used in that study assumed things about HIV and AIDS since proven wrong. Projected infection rates have NOT happened and death rates dropped dramatically. Reality changed. The authors admitted reality changed. Walter Williams, however, prefers the older faulty data — it confirms his prejudices, while the updates do the opposite.

Even John Maynard Keynes understood the issue, as he famously said, “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?” Williams doesn’t change his mind, he just ignores the facts. The only reason the Journal doesn’t agree with Williams, in his mind, is because evil gays are stopping it from doing so.

Other factors also could impact life expectancy — factors such as people like Williams. Anti-gay prejudice reduces life expectancy for gay people. There is the obvious problem of harassment and rejection and the effect it has on gay teens in relation to suicide. Anti-gay regions are also less likely to hire gay people, reducing employment options and lowering income — one result of lower income is higher death rates due to less health care. Marriage extends life spans for gays and straights, but was routinely denied gay people until recently. Anti-gay attitudes increase stress levels for gay people, causing more health problems or encouraging alcohol and/or drugs to reduce stress as well as promoting suicide.

Any differences between the life expectancy of straight and gay men is smaller than the differences between white and black men. But it would be absurd to suggest Mr. Williams should give up his black male “lifestyle.”

The authors of the original study expressed dismay at the misuse of it. They said, “homophobic groups [misusing their study] appear more interested in restricting the human rights of gay and bisexuals rather than promoting their health and well being.” I don’t like to say someone is homophobic — it lets him off too easy. This is not a phobia, no more than the Klan suffers from blackaphobia or Himmler had Judeophobia. It is something worse — prejudice. Being black doesn’t make one immune, nor does being a moderately decent economics professor.

What is particularly telling about Williams and his bigotry is how he wrote a similar piece a decade ago. His columns are now recycled lies. [Williams died in 2020.] Believe it or not he then used an even more unreliable source, one thoroughly discredited since then.

That time William’s said the one thing he didn’t understand was why insurance companies weren’t discriminating against those nasty gay folk. I suggest that an understatement; there are many things he doesn’t understand — in the future I suggest he stick to writing about what he does understand instead.

In 2003, he wrote: “Another thing I wonder about are those life insurance company advertisements where they offer reduced rates for nonsmokers. ….” He complained:

How come life insurance companies don’t advertise lower life insurance premiums for heterosexuals? After all, life insurance companies do ask applicants about other forms of behavior that have an impact on life expectancy, such as: Are you a pilot? Do you abuse alcohol and drugs? And do you have DUI arrests? Why not also: Are you a homosexual? I think I know the answer. Life insurance companies would be charged with lifestyle discrimination. But isn’t it also lifestyle discrimination to charge higher premiums to smokers, airplane pilots, drug and alcohol abusers, and drunk drivers? None of these lifestyles has the devastating impact on life expectancy that homosexuality does. The only answer I can come up with is that some forms of discrimination are politically acceptable, while others aren’t.

Williams says intimidation is the “only answer [he] can come up with” — and I believe him. It doesn’t mean it is the ONLY answer there is, just he is unwilling or unable to consider others. His own limitations, or lack of desire to continue thinking, prevents more obvious answers. One is insurance companies have not found the assertions of Williams and anti-gay activists to be true. Perhaps they realized if they raised rates on gay people in general they would lose sales and revenue to competitors. They are quite interested in the actual facts about life span since their business depends on it. Perhaps Mr. Williams should learn to trust insurance markets to calculate risks instead of making assumptions consistent with a conservative bias.

Instead of trusting insurance markets Williams preferred to use the extremist material of full-time anti-gay bigot Paul Cameron. In 2003, he didn’t indulge his prejudices with the more respectable, though outdated study. He went straight into the lion’s den and used the thoroughly discredited Paul Cameron.

Cameron looked at obituaries in gay publications in urban areas during the height of the AIDS crisis. Cameron added up the age of death, averaged it out, and assumed it was a representative sampling of the entire community of gay men.

I worked at a gay newspaper in the 80s and continued to read gay papers after moving on to other things. Obituaries in the gay press were mainly about young gay men dying of HIV-related illnesses. They were atypically young, urban and living in an unusual time. Gay individuals from rural areas who died at 78 were not listed — not because they didn’t exist, but because the gay press was a distinctly urban industry focusing on a young gay male readership—the one subgroup of gays most impacted by HIV.

Only 11% of individuals in the Cameron “study” died from something other than HIV, yet AIDS was not causing anything near 89% of all deaths in the gay community. Understandably it was the disease people worried about and was thus over-reported. What it wasn’t, was a representative sampling.

Obituaries, however, were never meant to be a representative sampling. Only fools or those with an agenda would pretend they were. Cameron had an agenda — what is Walter’s excuse?

Cameron has a visceral hate for gay men. He founded the Family Research Institute for the purpose of expressing unrelenting hatred against them. Cameron lost his credentials as a psychologist for the crime of distorting research for biased purposes. He was thrown out by both the Nebraska Psychological Association and the American Psychological Association. The American Sociological Association said he “has consistently misrepresented sociological research on sexuality, homosexuality, and lesbianism” as part of a campaign “for the abrogation of the civil rights of lesbians and gay men, substantiating his call on the basis of his distorted interpretation of this research.” The Canadian Psychological Association stated “Dr. Paul Cameron has consistently misinterpreted and misrepresented research on sexuality, homosexuality, and lesbianism.”

Cameron’s level of hate is shown by his infamous statement that the “goal” of all gays is to make “every little boy in America grab his ankles!” Yet, this was the man Williams found worthy of quoting to prove gays are dying younger than normal. (See the interview with Cameron above.)

Cameron cited Nazis as experts on homosexuality and wrote an entire article in Family Research Report citing Rudolf Höss, the genocidal Kommandant of Auschwitz, as an expert source.

Höss considered homosexuals to be active recruiters. Indeed, his experience in the camp suggests they would engage in homosexual behaviour. …Clearly homosexuals could and did ‘convert’ at least some of those with whom they were housed and at a sufficient level for Hoss to consider it an ‘epidemic.’ Hoss believed that homosexuals were so brazen that they could not be treated ‘like everyone else,’ even in prison! While most kinds of punishment did not keep some of these addicts from persisting in their homosexual ventures, if dealt with severely enough — and in isolation — even those addicted to homosexuality could be managed.

That Cameron thought the Butcher of Auschwitz a reliable source says a lot about Cameron; that Williams thought Cameron a reliable source, says a lot about Williams.

Please note something about what Mr. Williams did. His two columns were very similar. The second was a rewrite of the first. In the first he quoted Cameron who was so thoroughly discredited by the time the second came along Williams had to find a new source to quote. Instead of questioning his own premises and conclusions — which is what the rational response would be to having relied on a thoroughly discredited source — Williams went cherry-picking to find another source to substantiate his bigotry. He wasn’t interested in facts, he was interested in sifting “evidence” until he found something to confirm his previous conclusion.

In other words, the facts and his conclusions are not related. He looks for facts after he has a conclusion in order to justify his predetermined positioned — the opposite of what an academic should do. Unfortunately for him his selective searching meant he used a source repudiated for having errors by the very people who wrote it. Perhaps he didn’t know that, but sadly I’m not sure he wouldn’t use it even if he knew the authors admitted their own errors.

Dodgy sources such as Cameron, or misrepresenting the evidence of serious researchers isn’t enough for Williams. His vendetta against gays goes deeper.

In another column Williams trotted out the argument that if you let gay people marry then why not let women marry a horse! That is not the argumentation of a serious academic.

Suppose a woman and a horse appeared before San Francisco County Clerk Nancy Alfaro applying for a marriage license, or it might be a man and a sheep. What argument might the County Clerk have for not issuing them a marriage license?

After all, the woman or man might say, “Our definition of marriage includes animals, plus my horse or my sheep will be eligible for my employee health care benefits and my inheritance at my death.” It would appear that a denial of a marriage license would be sufficient grounds for a discrimination lawsuit. After all, animals have rights as well as humans.

Personally, I’d like to see the horse and sheep sign the marriage license. But, really Walter? Is this best you can come up with? This is barely above playground accusations of “So’s your mother.”

Williams asserted gays don’t have to marry because “other rights same-sex couples claim they’re denied can be achieved through contracts.” Is Mr. Williams ignorant, or just prejudiced? Can spousal privilege in court be granted by contract? NO! Can the right to sponsor a foreign-born immigrant spouse be granted by contract? Will a private contract prevent gay couples from being taxed at higher rates? Surely if gay couples were able to achieve this legal state of equality then so could interracial couples—they didn’t to marry either. But Williams wouldn’t say that, but then he’s not prejudiced against interracial couples, as far as I know.

A serious investigation shows there are many areas where a private contract can’t achieve the rights gay people “claim” are not granted. Williams can’t even acknowledge gay people don’t have the same rights — he has to assert they are just claiming they don’t.

In another column he complained about modern culture and it’s “decay” — this is the sign of aging, where one projects one’s own decline on society as a whole. Immediately after lamenting the existence of “homosexual marriages” he wrote “another measure of social deviancy is….” He then launched an attack on the homeless claiming they are just bums.

In 2009, he again turned to the smoking issue and those nasty gays — Williams is a smoker so he’s obsessed with the issue. He favorably quotes another conservative, Mark Steyn: “Smokers and the obese may look at their gay neighbor having unprotected sex with multiple partners, and wonder why his ‘lifestyle choices’ get a pass while theirs don’t. But that’s the point: Tyranny is always whimsical.”

I would have to ask how these neighbors KNOW whether sex in the privacy of one’s bedroom is “unprotected” or not. It is not my habit to peek into other people’s bedrooms when they are having sex. Apparently Mr. Steyn seems to know what his gay neighbors do, perhaps Mr. Williams does as well. I strongly suggest anyone living near these two men make sure their drapes are fully closed.

I’ve always known Williams was a conservative — not a libertarian. I just didn’t think his conservatism was this ugly. Come to think of it, maybe his bigotry isn’t that soft after all.

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James Peron

James Peron

James Peron is the president of the Moorfield Storey Institute, was the founding editor of Esteem a LGBT publication in South Africa under apartheid.