Cyndi Lamm on the medical implications

Part 1 in a series

The story so far

Recently this website published research into the political career of Lincoln, Nebraska City Council member Cyndi Lamm. Lamm responded defensively when the account of her life was published, saying it is not accurate and does not remotely represent my record or history. The account was drawn from the public record, mostly from Lamm's own in statements to reporters.

The iconic Silence=Death design was used to raise awareness of the AIDS epidemic in the 80s and 90s. Photo by Ted Eytan, CC license

Briefly, the story is this: Cyndi Lamm left Orange County, California, because she wanted the existence of gay people hidden from her children. She came to Lincoln hoping that gay people here would still be in the closet. Lamm started a Nebraska branch of an anti-LGBT hate group, the Traditional Values Coalition, and acted as its director. She invited founder of the Coalition, Californian Lou Sheldon, to Nebraska. She lead mass protests against LGBT workplace protections, tolerance in schools, and legalized gay marriage. She wrote and distributed tens of thousands of homophobic pamphlets, and she harassed school board members so much that they traveled out of state to a conference on how to deal with people like her. Now she wants to be your mayor.

Could there be some mistake in the above account? You are reading part one in a series in which we will consider the ways in which Lamm says she was misrepresented. Here is one such complaint:

Lamm said she did go before the school board in 1993 when the board was considering adding a sympathetic view of homosexuality as a part of the multicultural education curriculum.

This was at the height of the AIDS epidemic and thousands of people were dying, Lamm said.

Lamm said she talked about good policy but never denigrated those who were in that lifestyle. My concern was the medical implications.

November 30th, 2018 Lincoln Journal Star

Is this true? Did Lamm compassionately testify about AIDS deaths when the school board was considering an unwise LGBT policy?

No, probably not. Let's take a look at contemporary reports of the events.

the mistakes that people can make

The following newspaper excerpts record Lamm's 1990s era explanations to the press of her reasons for appearing at school board meetings in opposition to multicultural policy:

The language used in the multicultural plan has been used in other districts to introduce homosexual education into the curriculum.

Proponents of homosexual education in the public schools try to equate homosexuality with race

April 23, 1993 Lincoln Star

Why was she talking about race? Though by 2018 she's evidently chosen to remember events differently, the 1993 school board was not actually considering any kind of gay rights policy. They were considering an anti-racism policy, and they were very clear about it. But Lamm convinced herself that it was a threat to her children's sexuality anyway. Why?

Our concern is that advocates of homosexuality will use this policy to gain access to the children of Lincoln

April 28, 1993 Lincoln Star

Lamm thinks people are going to access her children and do, what, exactly?

Lamm says the sexuality of children is fluid between the ages of 12 and 17. Giving them information about homosexuality during this time could cause teen-agers to experiment sexually with people of their own sex.

Plus, it's a morally controversial issue, so for the state or school system to decide that it's a morally acceptable lifestyle is way out of line

Raised in a family without strong moral values, Lamm said she knows what drugs, immorality and sexual promiscuity are all about. I know the mistakes that people can make she said. I made them

September 6, 1994 Lincoln Journal

So, her reason is: she thinks that people are going to access her children to tell them about the concept of gay people, which will turn them gay. And that being gay is "morally controversial" and a "mistake".

Photo: presentation of government strategy on AIDS – including sex education, condom use, stigma reduction, research, and preventative medical treatment – at the White House on World AIDS Day 2015. World AIDS Day was founded in 1988, the same year that Cyndi Lamm moved away from her home to flee safe-sex education, which she has opposed ever since. The recent interview in which she said her concern was the medical implications was just in time for World AIDS Day 2018.

You'll notice that, in 2018, Cyndi Lamm still describes being gay as a lifestyle. This a leftover from a common 1990s argument that being gay is a choice. If you want to paint it as an immoral mistake, you have to first paint it as an intentional choice.

She never mentions medical concerns or AIDS in any press about the school board meetings. Indeed, considering the political climate of 1993, the subject of AIDS in her statements is conspicuous by its absence.

Her stated reasons aren't anything about AIDS. She is concerned about morality. She believes that any exposure to the idea of gay people will turn children gay.

But, let's give her the benefit of the doubt and assume that she was also concerned about AIDS and that her concern just didn't get published. What did she choose to do to address her concerns?

She called in an expert. She formed a partnership with Lou Sheldon.

In California, "The only solution"

Sheldon was a founding member of the anti-gay movement, active since the movement's birth in 1977, years before the discovery of AIDS. In that year Anita Bryant founded the Save Our Children campaign, which fought to overturn anti-discrimination ordinances throughout the nation, with Sheldon the executive director of the California branch.

He pushed a ballot initiative to permit school districts to fire teachers for their sexual orientation. In those days, fundamentalist Christianity mostly did not concern itself with politics. Sheldon's tactics were a novel experiment that proved incredibly fruitful for him.

He seemed to get more power the more he escalated his demands. In 1985 he told the LA Times that AIDS patients should be removed from society to leper colonies that he named cities of refuge. He added that even if AIDS were wiped out, he would oppose anything that would indicate that homosexuality is an acceptable lifestyle, and would be satisfied only if gay people go back into the closet.

This wasn't just talk. He sought to actually build his leper colonies by backing activist Lyndon LaRouche on California ballot initiatives in 1986, and again in 1988. The initiatives sought to put AIDS patients into government quarantine, because "the only solution is either public health measures including isolation as necessary, or 'accelerated deaths' of carriers." LaRouche is widely looked upon as a fascist and his ballot initiatives an attempt to create concentration camps. He openly advocated for the mass murder of gay people.

Experts on disease, in the 80s and now, knew that cultivating sigma about HIV status was a horrible way to fight AIDS, and that education was the most effective way to reduce infection and save lives. Sheldon opposed these education measures while trying to build the colonies to hold his victims. He opposed even abstinence education to prevent AIDS if it mentioned gay people. He did many other things designed to make LGBT Californians' lives difficult and short. His hateful actions were covered extensively in LA newspapers.

Do you think that Cyndi Lamm might have picked up her hometown newspaper and read of his campaign of cruelty? As someone who claims to literally have left LA to get away from gay people, yes, she must have been following the issue closely. After all, Sheldon lead the losing battle against the LA public school policy that caused her to move to Nebraska in 1988. Lamm continued Sheldon's crusades against sex education and against support and counseling for gay kids.

To summarize, it's possible that Lamm is misrepresenting her reasons for appearing in front of the Lincoln school board. Perhaps she's telling us that she was worried about AIDS because her actual reasons, trying to legislate her religious morality, are embarrassing now. However, the darker possibility is that she is telling the truth: that she was worried about AIDS, and that this fear lead her to embrace someone with lethal intentions toward LGBT people.

How to get involved

More of Lamm's commentary on her political past will be considered in part 2 of this series, coming soon.