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Point By Point: A Look At Paul Cameron’s Medical Consequences of What Homosexuals Do

Part 8: “Effects On Lifespan”

Dr. Cameron’s Most Famous Statistic

Jim Burroway

February 27, 2006

In many papers and articles that Dr. Cameron has written since 1993, he has included a section similar to this one in which he offers his most famous statistics. This section contains a long list of amazing assertions, and all of them come from only one source: Paul Cameron’s “The Lifespan of Homosexuals”.

Obituaries numbering 6,516 from 16 U.S. homosexual journals over the past 12 years were compared to a large sample of obituaries from regular newspapers…23 The median age of death for homosexuals was virtually the same nationwide — and, overall, less than 2% survived to old age. If AIDS was the cause of death, the median age was 39. For the 829 gays who died of something other than AIDS, the median age of death was 42, and 9% died old. The 163 lesbians had a median age of death of 44, and 20% died old.

…The age distribution of samples of homosexuals in the scientific literature from 1989 to 1992 suggests a similarly shortened lifespan.

23. Cameron, Paul; Playfair, William L.; Wellum, Stephen. “The lifespan of homosexuals.” Paper presented at Eastern Psychological Association Convention (April 17, 1993).

There is only one reference cited for this amazing set of statistics. I have not been able to obtain a copy of the paper he presented at the Eastern Psychological Association Convention, but these same statistics appear in a similar article he wrote for OmegaIIII the following year. Dr. Cameron’s obituary study has yielded some incredible statistics, including:

  • Gay men are 116 times more likely to be murdered as straight men.
  • Gay men are 24 times more likely to commit suicide.
  • Gay men are 18 times more likely to die in car accidents.
  • Gay men are 22 times more likely to die of heart-attacks as Whites overall, and 11 times more likely as Blacks.
  • Lesbians are 487 times more likely to die of murder, suicide or accident as straight women.

How did he come up with these shocking statistics?

Dr. Cameron collected 6,516 obituaries from sixteen gay newspapers over a twelve month period, and compared them to obituaries from general circulation newspapers, which he used as his “straight” sample. He does not say how many obituaries he used for his “straight” sample, and he does not say how he is able to determine whether an obituary in the general circulation newspaper is of a heterosexual or homosexual.

This study has been roundly criticized. There are so many flaws to the basic approach of this survey that the results are virtually worthless. The following are just a few of the problems with using obituaries for mortality statistics.JJJJ

Obituaries do not track all deaths that take place. An obituary appears only if a friend or family member contacts the newspaper. Some newspapers charge a fee for this service; others do not. Unless the deceased is very well-known, his or her death would go unnoticed.

So when when a loved one dies, which newspapers are the relatives most likely to contact to place an obituary? Straight friends and relatives of deceased gays are much less likely to know much about the gay press. Or if they do know about the gay press in their community, they typically don’t consider it when placing an obituary. That’s because unlike general circulation newspapers, gay newspapers are usually weekly or monthly tabloids, sometimes distributed for free in gay night clubs, coffee shops and bookstores. They don’t have the same reputation as being a newspaper of record that a general circulation newspaper often has.

Obituaries of closeted but active homosexuals would not have appeared in the gay press. Because they were closeted, their relatives would not have had any reason to consider contacting the gay press to place an obituary. And because the deceased was closeted, the gay press would be much less likely to have known about him or her.

Elderly gays and lesbians are more likely to be closeted. Their lives have been shaped by an atmosphere where being gay was not only grounds for being fired from a job, it was a criminal offense. These elderly homosexuals would have been much more likely to be closeted than younger gays. And because their formative experiences were in far more repressive times, they are more likely to try to hide or blend in and not stick out. This is often true even when they are active in the local gay and lesbian community.

In one example, 416 lesbian, gay and bisexuals over the age of 60 were recruited for a study through agencies and groups providing social and recreation services to older gay, lesbian and bisexual adults. In this study, about 20% said that less than a quarter of their friends or relatives knew their sexual orientation. For another 20%, less than half of their friends or relatives knew. And this was despite the fact that more than 91% of these elderly gays belonged to at least one gay or lesbian organization.KKKK If this is true for many of those who are active in gay and lesbian organizations, think of what the picture would be among those who have no such formal connections to the community.

Why is there such a disparity between their active association with gay/lesbian organizations and being “out” to the people they knew? The authors noted that:

The older LGB [Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual] adults in this study were approximately 40 years of age at the time of the 1969 Stonewall Riots in New York City, which marked the beginning of the modern lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender civil rights movement. They averaged 44 years of age when homosexuality was removed from the American Psychiatric Association’s list of mental illnesses in 1973, 52 when the first cases of AIDS were reported in 1981, and 69 when the television character “Ellen” disclosed her sexual orientation in 1997. … Some have been actively involved in these changes and others have been far removed from them.

While this population isn’t necessarily representative of all gay and lesbian older adults, it does indicate that for many elderly gays, it’s not always easy to be “out,” even if they lived most of their lives openly as gay men and women, even when they have been active in their community. Another survey of gay seniors in Santa Cruz, California found that nearly half were concerned about being “out” at a senior residence facility, fearing hostility from other residents as well as from staff members.LLLL Fears like these can drive some gays and lesbians who have been out all their lives back into the closet.

While attitudes towards gays and lesbians have liberalized considerably in the culture in general over the past several decades, this openness hasn’t necessarily reached all age groups.

The “gay community” is not a unified one. Our previous examples gives us our first glimpse into something that everyone will recognize: the generation gap. And as is true in society overall, there is a considerable generation gap within the gay community. Two of these generations are often described as being the “pre-Stonewall” generation (those who came of age before 1969) and “Stonewall” generation (those who came later).

For the pre-Stonewall generation (as is true for their straight counterparts), there often exists a certain level of distrust for the younger generation, who were seen as being too dangerous or “radical.”MMMM The younger generation was more enthralled with liberation movements and political activism, which many of the older generation feared would create a huge backlash. The older generation had already experienced decades of harassment and oppression, including arrest and the very real threat of loosing their jobs. Many feared that their own security would be threatened by the younger generation’s militancy — they feared the consequences of “rocking the boat.”

Meanwhile, the younger generation was often quick to openly express their disdain for the pre-Stonewall generation, considering them too complacent and meek. The so-called “baby boom” generation often disparaged anyone older than themselves (“Don’t trust anybody over thirty.”), and young gays and lesbians weren’t much different. The Stonewall generation often considered their older counterparts too preoccupied with protecting their status in the community. As one young gay author in 1972 put it:

Fairyland is still alive… for most of those half-closeted gays over 30, and I don't think most of our older brothers will ever escape from it. Those aging princesses will simply linger on unto death as past relics of a bygone era in their fantasy world of poodle dogs and Wedgwood teacups and chandeliers and all the fancy clothes and home furnishings any queen could ever desire.NNNN

This angry stereotype, like so many stereotypes, had little basis in reality. Older generations of gay men and women did come together in organized ways to meet their own needs and those of the larger community. The Mattachine Society was formed in 1950, becoming the first “homophile” organization in America, followed in 1955 with the Daughters of Bilitis as a counterpart for gay women. But those organizations were spurned by the younger generation, who considered them too stodgy and unwilling to challenge the status quo. These organizations passed into obscurity by the 1970’s. When the Mattachine Society finally disbanded in 1987, calling someone a “Mattachine gay” was equivalent calling him an “Uncle Tom” as far as many younger gays were concerned.

But as is true with society at large, there will always be differences in experiences, attitudes and priorities between the younger generation and their elders. The “Stonewall” generation is now reaching the age of sixty, and like Baby Boomers everywhere, these formerly-young gays are also questioning their own assumptions about aging, as well as re-evaluating the role of politics in their lives. Just as many of the older pre-Stonewall feared and mistrusted the younger gays of the Baby Boom generation, many of the now not-so-young gays and lesbians of that generation are baffled by the newest generation’s lack of interest in political activism — at least in the particular brands of political activism that was popular among the Boomers. Many are also puzzled by those of the younger generation who approach their sexuality with a surprising degree of nonchalantness — an experience that is foreign to most Boomers.OOOO This middle-aged generation of gays and lesbians is just as lost when it comes to understanding the younger generation as with any other generational divide in this country. In Dr. Cameron’s Omega article, he makes a brash assumption that the gay community is fully unified along generational lines, an assumption that is both untrue and unreasonable.

Gay newspapers mainly target a youthful audience. Obituaries in these newspapers tend to reflect that audience, and are often the result of someone passing away before their time. While many of these newspapers try to serve the entire local gay community, they tend to favor those issues that are of interest to younger gays and lesbians — and to the advertisers who want to reach that lucrative audience. Elderly gays tend not to be interested in the topics that appeal to younger readers.

This partly explains why obituaries for elderly gays would be far less likely to appear in gay newspapers, even when the elderly gays are fully “out.” If their peers aren’t as interested in the topics covered by the local gay press, they also aren’t as likely to spot their obituaries there. Instead, these obituaries are more likely to appear in general circulation newspapers, which almost never state the deceased’s sexuality. Dr. Cameron describes 7 of 377 male obituaries from general newspapers which “were written in such a fashion that it appeared likely that they were homosexual,” although he doesn’t say what clues he used to discern this.

Gay newspapers are concentrated in urban areas. They are unlikely to carry obituaries for gays living in smaller towns and rural areas. This reduces further the likelihood for obituaries in the gay press to be demographically diverse enough to represent the overall gay population.

Not all gay newspapers accept obituaries for everyone. Dr. Cameron noted that most of the gay newspapers he reviewed only listed obituaries for gays who were prominent in their communities. They didn’t accept obituaries from just anyone. This can further bias the notices toward those who were active in the community or those whose deaths were untimely. As there are relatively few elderly activists or businesspeople, this will bias the average age downward.

Obituaries and other death reports may reflect journalistic bias. Dr. Cameron also noted that many of the gay newspapers reported more violent deaths than others, saying, “we suspect that the journalistic attention that violent death attracts accounts for some elevation of the violent death rate.” To make matters worse, Dr. Cameron decided to increase his tally of gay men and women by including those whose deaths were mentioned in news stories or letters to the editor. He didn’t do this for his “straight” statistics from general circulation newspapers. This would also drive the average age downward with so many lives prematurely cut short. It would also exaggerate the number of deaths due to violent or accidental circumstances, which is another theme of Dr. Cameron’s portrayal of the “effects on lifespan”.

With all of these problems with his obituary study, it’s ridiculous to claim that obituaries can be used to derive meaningful statistics, and the data itself confirms it. Dr. Cameron says 6,516 gay obituaries were studied, but of that number only 163 were lesbians. That would either mean that gay men are 39 times more likely to die then gay women, or that lesbians only make up 2.5% of the gay population! This extraordinary finding flies in the face of all credible research, including Dr. Cameron’s own ISIS Survey, in which he found 25 lesbians out of 67 homosexuals. This glaring inconsistency can only mean one thing: at least one of his studies (if not both) is worthless.

Whether Dr. Cameron acknowledges these problems or not, professional demographers are quick to point them out.PPPP Nick Eberstadt of the American Enterprise Institute is quoted as saying that the method “is just ridiculous.” And when John Karon of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was asked about it, he pointed out the obvious: “you’re only getting the ages of those who die.” Gay men of the generation targeted by the youth-oriented gay press who live to a ripe old age simply won’t turn up in the sample.

While the purported effect of homosexuality on lifespan is completely unfounded, this discredited study continues to gain traction. William Bennett, author of A Book Of Virtues, cited Dr. Cameron’s statistic on ABC’s This Week on November 9, 1997, and he repeated it two weeks later in a column he wrote for the Weekly Standard:

The real threat to homosexual Americans is not discrimination but physical devastation. The average life span of an American man is 73. The average smoker lives to 66 years of age. The best available research suggests that the average life span of male homosexuals is around 43 years of age. Forty-three. [Emphasis his]QQQQ

When Elizabeth Birch of the Human Rights Campaign took him to task for using Dr. Cameron’s data, Mr. Bennett replied that he didn’t just get it from Dr. Cameron. He had a second source to support his statement — this passage from Jeffrey Satinover’s 1996 book Homosexuality and the Politics of Truth:

In April 1993, three researchers presented a paper to the Eastern Psychological Association… They found that the gay male life span, even apart from AIDS and with a long-term partner,is significantly shorter than that of married men in general by more than three decades. AIDS further shortens the life span of homosexual men by more than 7 percent. [All emphases his.]RRRR

And who are these three researchers that Mr. Satinover found so compelling? Paul Cameron, William Playfair and Stephen Wellum. That’s right. Mr. Satinover uses precisely the same citation as the one you see right here in Paul Cameron’s Medical Consequences — Paul Cameron himself.

Mr. Bennett eventually was able to come to grips with Dr. Cameron’s shoddy scholarship. After Andrew Sullivan wrote an article in the New Republic challenging his use of Dr. Cameron’s work, Mr. Bennett responded in a letter to the editor, saying, “Given what I now know, I believe there are flaws with Paul Cameron’s study. One cannot extrapolate from his methodology and say that the average male homosexual lifespan is 43 years.”SSSS

Despite William Bennett’s disavowal, this statistic still has legs. In a recent article published in the online journal BeliefNet, author Paul O’Donnell interviewed Operation Rescue founder Randall Terry about his adopted son’s article in Out magazine, in which Jamiel Terry revealed his own homosexuality. Randall Terry professed his worry over his son, saying, “The average age of a male homosexual is 42 years old because of disease, because of suicide, because of alcoholism, because of drugs, because of violence.”TTTT  And the American Family Association, a conservative religious advocacy group, continues to propagate Dr. Cameron’s lifespan statistics on its web site and publications.UUUU

With conservative pundits, columnists and activists continuing to repeat this statistic despite its very absurdity, it continues to play a crucial role in anti-gay propaganda.

Please continue with :

Part 9: “The Gay Legacy” A plague descends upon the land.


IIII. Cameron, Paul; Playfair, William L.; Wellum, Stephen. “The longevity of homosexuals: Before and after the AIDS epidemic.” Omega 29, no. 3 (1994): 249-272. [BACK]

JJJJ. Many of these deficiencies were identified on Dr. Gregory Herek’s, web page, “The Cameron Group's ‘Gay Obituary’ Study” at, Accessed March 17, 2004. [BACK]

KKKK. D’Augelli, Anthony R.; Grossman, Arnold H.; Hershberger, Scott L.; O’Connell, Timothy S. “Aspects of mental health among older lesbian, gay and bisexual adults.” Aging and Mental Health 5, no. 2 (May 2001): 149-158. [BACK]

LLLL. Diversity Center. Findings from a Survey of the Senior Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Community of Santa Cruz County, California (Santa Cruz, CA: Self, July 1, 2004): 15. [BACK]

MMMM. Grube, John. “Native and settlers: An ethnographic note on early interaction of older homosexual men with younger gay liberationists.” Journal of Homosexuality 20, no. 3 (1990): 119-136. [BACK]

NNNN. Kelly, James. “Homosexuality and aging.” In Judd Marmor (Ed.) Homosexual Behavior: A Modern Reappraisal (New York: Basic Books, 1980): 176-193. [BACK]

OOOO. Cloud, John. “The battle over gay teens: How gay youths are challenging the right — and the left.” Time 166, no. 15 (October 10, 2005): 42-51. [BACK]

PPPP. Olsen, Walter. “William Bennett, Gays, and the Truth” Slate. (December 19, 1997) Web page at [BACK]

QQQQ. Bennett, William, “Clinton, Gays and the Truth.” Weekly Standard (November 24, 1997): 13. [BACK]

RRRR. Satinover, Jeffrey Homosexuality and the Politics of Truth (Grand Rapids, MI: Hamewith Books, 1996): 69. [BACK]

SSSS. Bennett, William. Letter to the Editor. New Republic (February 23, 1998): 4. [BACK]

TTTT. O’Donnell, Paul. “He’s bringing great sadness to our home: Operation Rescue founder Randall Terry talks about his gay son.” Beliefnet. Web page (Undated) [BACK]

UUUU. Howe, Richard G. “Homosexuality in America: Exposing the Myths.” (Tupelo, MS: American Family Association, 1994): 14. Available online at (PDF: 229 KB/24 pages). [BACK]