By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
A campaign targeting gay journalists launched last month by the Christian, conservative American Family Association has chalked up its first victory.
Responding to a complaint from an AFA member, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram has transferred a gay editor out of a job that occasionally required him to work with schoolchildren. The paper's editor apparently acted on the AFA's unsubstantiated contention that the man was "preoccupied with the subjects of pedophilia and incest."
In a letter to the complaining AFA member, Star-Telegram Executive Editor Debbie Price apologized for a "serious oversight" and added: "We want to assure you that we will continue to maintain the highest standards of decency for 'Class Acts.'"
For six years, Todd Camp had served as graphics editor for the paper's "Class Acts" section, a weekly tabloid aimed at young readers. The award-winning section offers columns and features tailored for school-age readers and in many cases actually written by teens.
Editors of the section, including Camp before his transfer, periodically meet with children and teens to solicit their contributions to the section. By all appearances, "Class Acts" has been one of the paper's few bright spots, and no one had raised any questions about Camp's abilities or behavior in his job.
But two weeks ago, Price summoned Camp to her office, then informed him she was transferring him to the paper's features department.
Camp's abrupt reassignment came after an AFA member sent Star-Telegram publisher Rich Connor copies of cartoons Camp had drawn for The Texas Triangle, an Austin-based gay and lesbian newspaper. Camp had been free-lancing cartoons for the Triangle for several years with his supervisor's approval.
The AFA was upset by one of Camp's cartoon strips in particular. In the "life underground" strip published last year, a gay male character is engaged in a suggestive exchange with another gay male on a computer chat line. In the closing frames of the strip, the character discovers that he had been conversing with a 14-year-old boy, and expresses his horror over the incident.
Wyatt Roberts, executive director of the AFA's Austin chapter, says the cartoon shows that Camp is "preoccupied with the subjects of pedophilia and incest."
Triangle Editor and Publisher Kay Longcope says interpreting the cartoon as an endorsement of pedophilia is ridiculous. "If you look at the last panel of that cartoon, he's advocating just the opposite," Longcope says.
But the powers that be at the Star-Telegram apparently decided that they couldn't continue to allow Camp to work around children.
After seeing the cartoon, Price told Camp that she considered it "inappropriate" for him to continue working on the "Class Acts" section, according to friends and colleagues of Camp.
Camp declined comment for this story.
Camp was reassigned to a features job, where he will write television and movie reviews, as well as culture and trend stories.
In a letter to the complaining AFA member, Price thanked her for her "diligence" in bringing the matter to the paper's attention, and apologized for a "serious oversight" in failing to monitor her staffer's outside work. "Mr. Camp is no longer working for "Class Acts" but has been transferred to another department of the newspaper," she explained.
Longcope calls Price's action "totally outrageous," and says the paper caved in to the AFA's campaign of harassing gay journalists.
Price did not respond to Observer requests to discuss the incident. Publisher Connor also did not return an Observer phone call.
The Star-Telegram's haste to appease the AFA seems even more striking because Camp is apparently just an accidental victim of the AFA's anti-gay campaign.
The AFA's Roberts, who launched the anti-gay campaign in mid-December, declines to say how many members actually belong to the Austin chapter.
Nationally, the AFA has dabbled in a range of right-wing pet issues, including the anti-abortion crusade and an AFA-spearheaded boycott of advertisers sponsoring the television show "NYPD Blue."
The AFA has never masked its outrage over homosexuals in the media. An AFA newsletter distributed last year in Texas explained one theory of how gays, by coming out, attempt to gain political power and convert straights to homosexuality by "desensitizing" the public to homosexuality. "The most powerful tool in achieving this goal has been the media," the newsletter warned.
(Ironically, the newsletter quoted Camp of the Star-Telegram, who lauded his paper as a liberal publication friendly to gays. "I'm proud to work for one of the most liberal newspapers in the state of Texas," the newsletter quoted Camp as saying at a recent Gay Pride Picnic.)
In mid-December, Roberts set his sights on The Texas Triangle, a weekly newspaper for the gay and lesbian community that began publishing in 1992. The paper boasts a circulation of about 15,000 and operates on a shoestring.
Roberts mailed letters, written on AFA letterhead, complete with copies of clippings and cartoons from the Triangle, to all of the paper's advertisers, supposedly to apprise them of the nature of the publication they were supporting.
The letters asked advertisers to inform Roberts within 10 days of whether they intended to continue buying space in the Triangle. Roberts noted that he was reading a list of the paper's advertisers each Saturday morning on a radio program he hosts on an Austin Christian radio station.