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David Benkof: Behind the Mask

Timothy Kincaid

June 16th, 2008

NOTE: David Benkof likes to dismiss this expose as being “filled with unnamed sources and broken links”. Since we created this page in June of 2008, some of the reference sources to which we linked have been removed or revised by Mr. Benkof. We try to keep the links as active as possible. Also, some references on this page are made to people by their title or position rather than by their name.

benkof.jpgDavid Benkof has been getting a bit of attention lately. This year he’s written several articles which he has been able to get published in mainstream newspapers. Sadly, he’s used deception and dishonesty to do so.

Background

Benkof, as David Bianco, lived as a gay man and was actively involved in gay news distribution, serving as founder and contributor to Q-Syndicate from 1995 to 2003. Then in 2003, Bianco announced that he had made some changes in his life. He had changed his identity to bisexual, his religion to Orthodox Judaism, his beliefs about homosexual acts to be unacceptable, his goals to include marriage to a nice Jewish girl, and his name to Benkof. He then went off to Israel for some years to study. And now he’s reemerged and is seeking to be influential in the restriction of gay rights and equality.

No one objected to Benkof’s declarations about his new identity. But now he’s saying things that deserve to be questioned. Somewhere in Benkof’s reinvention tour, he forgot that some things really are true; not in the religious because-God-said-so way, but in the objective factually accurate way.

Let’s look at a few of the claims that Benkof has been making recently.

Gay Columnist

Benkof uses some variation of the following description of himself when writing his columns for straight readers:

David Benkof is a columnist for several gay newspapers across the country. He blogs at GaysDefendMarriage.com and can be reached at DavidBenkof@aol.com.

Now, that is an effective description. Those reading it think, “Hey, this guy is credible. He writes for gay newspapers, he must be saying what some gay people are thinking”.

The only problem is that it isn’t true. On the Gays Defend Marriage website, Benkof claims:

David Benkof’s “Fabulously Observant” column offering readers of LGBT newspapers traditionally religious and conservative perspectives on gay and lesbian issues debuted at the beginning of May. Currently, two publications subscribe – the Dallas Voice and Q-Notes (North Carolina). Other publications in Florida, Ohio, and Oklahoma have purchased at least one installment.

I’m particularly excited that in publications like Q Notes, my column will run alongside those written by people like Wayne Besen, who I’m told despise me and everything I stand for. We’re a wide and diverse community, and everyone’s voice should be heard.

But according to Q-Notes, Benkof’s article will not be next to Besen’s or, indeed, anywhere on the page:

I was approached by Benkof to run his columns in our paper. I accepted, in order to have some semblance of balance (progressive vs. conservative LGBT viewpoints), but did so with a few reservations:

We told Benkof that we would run his column ONCE per month, giving us up to four columns to choose from if we thought any were too offensive. We would also have a file of past columns to run if we thought all of his four columns were unsuitable.

When I became aware of his recent, extreme misrepresentation of Sean Kosofsky and another individual, I informed Benkof that we would not be able to run his column. I also asked him to remove Q-Notes’ name and url from his website.

He replied attacking our journalistic integrity regarding a situation that occurred more than a year ago under the direction of the editor who worked here prior to me.

We have not and will not be running any of his columns.

The Dallas Voice responded:

David Benkoff is a freelance columnist who submits stuff to me on a regular basis. I have used a couple of his columns but he is NOT a member of Dallas Voice staff.

And while the Dallas Voice has published a commentary of Benkof’s since our correspondence, David is not listed as a columnist for the newspaper.

When a commenter at the LA Times website challenged Benkof’s claims, he replied:

Mr. Coleman- I certainly am a columnist in several gay newspapers across the country. For example, check out: http://www.ozarksstar.com/pg-6.html http://www.dallasvoice.com/artman/publish/article_8776.php

I don’t know whether Mr. Coleman followed up on Benkof’s dare, but I did. I found them to be one opinion piece published by the two magazines. In it Benkof encourages either leaving transgender persons out of ENDA or dropping the appeal to end the military ban because efforts aren’t currently including transgender people.

What I did not find, however, was David Benkof’s name listed as a columnist for the Ozark Star. So I asked the editor and, as I suspected, Benkof had assigned himself a title to which he was not entitled.

Hi Timothy, We have not dedicated a column to David Benkof. We ran his article on the Transgender issue in our view point section of the June issue because we felt his message would be of interest to our readers. In the event he submits articles in the future that we deem of interest, they will be considered for publication.

In other words, Benkof has written some opinion pieces and has been published in at least two gay magazines. But Benkof is most certainly not “a columnist in several gay newspapers across the country”.

Which left me wondering as to his motives for using this description.

I think it is because by suggesting that he has credibility within the gay community and is in some manner respected, he can plant in the mind of the straight reader the notion that there is some movement from with the community to restrict marriage to heterosexuals. He creates a false following to prop up an argument that most gay people find reprehensible.

And this is not the only place where Benkof uses this tactic.

Fellow Travelers

On his website, Gays Defend Marriage, Benkof seeks to present an image of a movement, a collection of leaders who share his views:

A website for LGBT folks who support marriage as the union of husband and wife—and getting the gay leadership to return to more pressing LGBT issues for our community.

It’s actually a little amusing how clever Benkof thinks he is being here. A site for the tiny handful of those who agree with him… and the much larger group who have differing priorities.

And I scoff at the use of “our community”… but I’ll get to that later.

Benkof’s site loves the use of the plural: “gays defend marriage”, “about us”, “other voices.” But what he fails to disclose is that those other voices are in other rooms.

As his “other voices” Benkof seems to list any gay thinker, writer, or leader who has ever questioned the prioritizing of marriage, the wisdom of any particular decision, the logic of a court case, or even if they personally find marriage not to be the best or sole vehicle through which a same-sex couple establishes family. From the supporters of “beyond marriage” to Jonathan Rauch’s concern about the California Supreme Court decision, he lists them all as though they are in agreement.

But in the process he takes liberties that go far beyond inaccurate or somewhat deceptive and veer right into blatant falsehood. Take, for example, this quote from Gays Defend Marriage:

Finally there are LGBT people who don’t understand why any relationship deserves special privileges because of its conjugal nature, and who would therefore like to see the gay community focus on measures that take care of everyone, no matter what kind of relationships or living arrangements they have.

Perhaps the most prominent example of the latter type of person is Jonathan Rauch, whose book Gay Marriage: Why It Is Good for Gays, Good for Straights, and Good for America does not match my political preferences but clearly respects what marriage is.

That sure sounds like a supporter. A prominent example of one who would like to see the gay community focus on a broad range of “living arrangements” without regard to whether there is a conjugal aspect (which certainly isn’t privileged unless it’s heterosexual. Because, after all, why should a monogamous, committed, decades-long relationship be treated any differently than roommates?)

And I suppose that if one had never heard of Jonathan Rauch before it might be convincing. But I’ve read Gay Marriage: Why It Is Good for Gays, Good for Straights, and Good for America. And the basis of Rauch’s argument is that some form of consideration of gay couples is inevitable. And BECAUSE marriage is meaningful, it behooves society to encourage gays into marriage rather than create other lesser accomodations that may well appeal to heterosexuals as well and weaken the institution. Specifically, from page 53:

[E]mpowering a bunch of competitors cannot do marriage any good, especially if the competitors offer most of the benefits with fewer of the burdens. If marriage’s self-styled defenders continue along the Anything But Marriage path toward making wedlock just one of many “partnership choices” (and not necessarily the most attractive), they will look back one day and wonder what they could have possibly have been thinking when they undermined marriage in order to save it from homosexuals.

Not at all how Benkof insinuated Rauch to be. But that didn’t discourage Benkof from making claims about Rauch’s beliefs and intentions so as to artificially advance his own.

And Rauch is not the sole victim of Benkof’s parasitic efforts. On May 23 in a comment on Box Turtle Bulletin, Benkof said:

Emily K says I’m the only gay on the site. … The “other voices” page lists dozens of LGBT people who oppose the prioritzation of same-sex marriage over other measures to help gays and lesbians. Among them are some very prominent LGBT names like Armistead Maupin, Chai Feldblum, Kerry Lobel, and Nadine Smith.

Well this certainly sounded to me like he was saying that Maupin, Feldblum, Lobel, and Smith were in support of his efforts. Perhaps contributors to his “other voices” page. Or at least that they were opposed to our community’s efforts towards attaining marriage rights.

In fact, of these four he says:

They all oppose the same-sex marriage push by LGBT leaders. They all think, as I do, that it makes no sense to extend rights to same-sex couples in conjugal relationships that the government denies to same-sex pairs in non-conjugal relationships.

They all oppose the same-sex marriage push?

This seemed rather unlikely to me. And I did not have to look far to see that he had laid a false claim to Armistead Maupin. The Bay Times ran a May 29, 2008 interview with Maupin and it seems pretty clear that he and his husband do not share Benkof’s dismay and opposition to the California marriage decision:

(Bay Times) What are your thoughts on California’s ruling to allow gay marriage?

(Maupin) Of course, I was excited as the next person. My husband Christopher and I went down to Castro Street for the big block party and ran into six or eight of our friends. We all stood around, talked and enjoyed the wonderful feeling in the air. It was just one of those nights you’re grateful to be a San Franciscan. I was very proud of our mayor, and Mark Leno and all the people who fought to make this happen. It was interesting to me that it was a record heat wave. It occurred to me that maybe this was San Francisco’s version of “when hell freezes over.” (Laughing.) When something miraculous has happened, it has to be marked by the weather.

And while I was unable to reach all of them for comment, Chai Feldblum was very quick to disavow any affiliation with Benkof or his site.

Of course I don’t agree with his characterization of my position!

Feel free to send anyone to my web site www.gayisgood.org if they want to know my position.

And, indeed, reviewing her thoughts and speeches, it becomes pretty clear that while Feldblum does not see marriage as the sole vehicle for couple recognition, she strongly advocates for marriage equality.

There are undoubtedly those in the community who think other goals are more important. And there are those who think marriage is archaic or not their ideal relationship identity. But I think it is fair to say that there are virtually no influential thinkers, writers, lecturers, or other leaders in our community that would join Benkof to “support marriage as the union of husband and wife”.

Misquotes, Context, and Borderline Libel

Benkof has been getting away with making wild claims about reputable people primarily because he’s relatively unknown. But Benkof has in one instance made assertions about the statements, beliefs and intentions of reputable gay leaders and done so in a public way. In a May 20, 2008 opinion piece carried by a number of newspapers, including Philadelphia Inquirer, Benkof tried to raise fears of evil intentions of the gay community. And he named names:

Although California marriage-equality leaders won’t say what impact they expect the new decision to have on religious freedom, activists in other states haven’t been so shy.

A representative of the largest Michigan gay-rights group, known as the Triangle Foundation, and openly gay Washington State Sen. Ed Murray both told me that any person who continues to conduct himself as if what he thinks is God’s definition of marriage is correct, instead of the gay community’s definition, should be fined, fired and even jailed until he relents.

“If you are a public accommodation and you are open to anyone on Main Street that means you must be open to everyone on Main Street. If they don’t do it, that’s contempt and they will go to jail,” says the Triangle Foundation’s Sean Kososky.

So why do gay activists outside California support limitations on the freedom of speech, the press, and religious expression for anyone who disagrees with them? And why won’t California marriage-equality activists go on the record with their opinions on this vital issue?

Needless to say, this did not sit well with those accused of supporting limitations on the freedom of speech, the press and religious expression. Sen. Ed Murray responded in a letter to the editor:

That’s not at all what I said, and Benkof’s deliberate misrepresentation of my views does damage to them and to me.

Worse, his implication that I believe that those who oppose marriage equality for same-sex couples should be punished until they “relent” is both absurd and borderline libelous.

Kososky’s experience was no different. Benkof had misquoted him as well, and Kososky was not pleased:

David Benkof is misleading folks about my quote. He selectively removed several minutes of our conversation between statements and did not disclose that. What I said was that if you break a civil law and you do not pay your penalty or you do not follow a judges order that you could indeed be found in contempt of court. When an individual is found in contempt of court a punishment for breaking the law can include jail time. I don’t know of any gay activist prescribing jail time for discrimination. Although when you violate a court order you should be penalized accordingly.

and more directly:

David, it is flat out immoral to do what you did. It is not my responsibility to track you down to correct a lazy, stupid and inflammatory misrepresentation. You should be ashamed of yourself, your journalistic integrity and your misrepresentation of your agenda during our call.

David’s gay, bisexual, queer, ex-gay identity

And it is not only in the discussion of others that Benkof is free and easy with shaky descriptions. He’s also a bit less than scrupulous in the way he lets other think of his orientation. Benkof identifies — when it is convenient to do so — as bisexual. But not the “I could fall in love with a person of either sex” kind of bisexual. Benkof is the “Gay sex is immoral so I hope I can have an adequate relationship with a woman some day” kind of bisexual.

But he still claims membership within the LGBT community. And he likes to speak for “our community” and what he believes it should do. He speaks as though he shares the goals of the LGBT community.

He does not, as we will shortly see. But Benkof is never one to let inconvenient facts get in the way of the story he wants to tell.

Knowing “ABisexualDefendsMarriage” is not a title that is likely to impress, he adopted GaysDefendMarriage instead, even though it appears that he was the sole participant when he selected the name and he does not identify as gay.

He’s quick to tell anti-gay websites that he no longer has a gay identity. But if he’s not talking to the anti-gays and needs some LGBT cred, he’s a bit less forthcoming about his exit from a gay identity. Like, for example, on the LA Times website where he told a commenter

Brian- I’m queer as a three dollar bill. Google me.

Ah yes, “queer,” a term that can mean just about anything. But what is David Benkof really? He’s a guy with unwanted same-sex attractions who opposes gay equality and uses his gay history to argue against the rights of gay men and women. If that sounds familiar, it’s probably not a coincidence.

Ex-Gay Connections

Benkof does not present himself as ex-gay. And on his website, Is Judaism Homophobic, Benkof gives a nuanced answer to the question of change, though he clearly comes down on the side of the possibility.

Whether people can change their sexualities is a complicated subject. There certainly are many onetime gay and lesbian people who later find themselves in opposite-sex relationships, sometimes to their surprise, and sometimes after much therapy, study, and prayer. There’s even special “reorientation therapy,” which is controversial, but appears to work in some cases. There are many people now in happy opposite-sex marriages who credit their therapy for helping them go from gay to straight living. On the other hand, there are many others who have found that no matter how much counseling they go through, their same-sex attractions don’t go away, and they aren’t successful in mustering opposite-sex desires.

However, Benkof does clarify that change in attraction is not required to adhere to the commands of Jewish life. Just restraining behavior.

Writing in a comment at Good As You on May 21, Benkof said:

I am certainly not ex-gay. I have spoken publicly about how I reject much of the philosophy behind the ex-gay movement, particularly its supposedly Jewish but actually not very Torah-true branch, Jews Offering New Alternatives to Homosexuality (JONAH). Of course you like to say I’m ex-gay because the movement is discredited and it makes me look bad. It’s no better than if I called you a pedophile and suggested you support NAMBLA.

Reading the above, one might think that Benkof would stay as far away as possible from ex-gay groups (especially JONAH) and from lending himself to that movement. It’s ironic then to find that JONAH, along with two other ex-gay groups, PFOX (parents who campaign against the rights of their gay children), and Evergreen (ex-gay Mormons) submitted a Brief of Amici Curiae to the California Supreme Court in support of the ban on gay marriage which featured the testimony of David Benkof.

Being of the belief that orientation is mutable (can change towards heterosexuality), they argued, “Ruling that gays and lesbians are an immutable oppressed class unnecessarily stigmatizes the small minority of Californians who have changed their self-understanding of their orientation.” And in evidence of this mutability, they presented David Benkof:

From my perspective, for this Court to rule that “orientation” is like race or gender would suggest that I was born with a category that stuck with me my whole life, and that just didn’t happen. … If the California Supreme Court declared homosexuality a suspect class like race or gender, they’d be saying people like me don’t exist, that somehow my life story of change and choice in identity and behavior (if not always in attraction) is less real or true than another person, who shapes their identity around their dominant sexual attractions in a more direct way.

Perhaps it is ironic that in being presented as the ex-gay movement’s ultimate example of mutability and by declaring that gay and lesbian persons must continue to experience so that he could continue to “exist” and feel as “real” and “true,” Benkof may have helped the Court conclude that orientation is indeed a suspect class. It is not possible to know, but perhaps this appeal to selfishness and privilege had some sway on the decision.

David’s “Pro-Gay” Writings

If we were to believe Benkof’s hype, we’d think that he is a supporter of gay rights… up to a point. We’d be wrong.

A closer look at Benkof’s writing shows him to always be a supporter of some lesser rights than the ones he’s discussing. He never seems to actually support anything that is being considered… he just offers theoretical alternative possible support for some lesser thing. He’s very much like the anti-gay activists who claim their anti-marriage positions are not a threat to partner benefits… until they challenge them in court.

Take, for example, Benkof’s article dated June 9, 2008 and published in the NY Post. In it, he criticizes the Human Rights Campaign’s commitment of $500,000 towards protecting marriage for same-sex couples from an amendment initiative in November. Amidst his objections about how the money could better be spent (on gays in Folsom, AIDS in the black community, and hospital visitation in Ann Arbor) is the clear message that gay people are foolish and callous and wasteful.

Yet, from what I can tell, David Benkof has not since his epiphany in 2003 expended ten minutes or $1.25 on gays in Folsom, AIDS in the black community, or hospital visitation in Ann Arbor. So we must ask, are these really his priorities or does he simply wish to bash gays?

Look at the statement he uses as his central point:

We in the gay and lesbian movement have done a lousy job of paying attention to people who share our identity but lack the resources to hobnob at fancy dinners.

It is outrageous that the community which has proven its generosity far beyond its size or resources is attacked by this vile lie. But not only is the claim a lie, the way it is placed is a lie.

Benkof does not “share our identity,” nor is he “in the gay and lesbian movement.” This is simply an artifice to push his efforts to diminish gay relationships to nothing more than roommates. If Benkof does want protection for Michigan couples, he wants those protections divorced from what he calls “conjugal relationships.” Consider his ideal:

Salt Lake couples who share a “mutual commitment” — whether their relationship is conjugal or not — have a set of rights, including insurance and workplace benefits.

Ah but these mutual commitments do not come with any benefits, either insurance or workplace, other than for the convenience of those already voluntarily provided by private industry. They also allow for recognition of relationship by the City, but in a way that ensures that gay couples are not recognized as such.

The Salt Lake City Counsel is to be commended. And indeed they would have given gay couples specific recognition had the Utah legislature not meddled. But being able to add your brother to your library card is hardly a comparable alternative to marrying your partner.

But that is what Benkof apears to like about the Salt Lake mutual commitments. That they do not recognize the vows, commitments, familial ties, or “erotic relationships” of same-sex couples to any greater extent than “siblings, long-term roommates and parents”.

Or take Benkof’s June 13, 2008 article in the Dallas Voice in which he lays out “several substantive issues on which LGBT community members and traditionally religious people can work together”. Benkof purports to identify gay issues, and at first glance it might seem as though he does. But Benkof is very careful not to state his own position clearly. His five “substantive issues” are:

1. That the FDA blood donation ban “needlessly stigmatizes ‘ex-gay’ as well as gay men”.

Neither Benkof nor I would want a blood donation procedure that was without any screening whatsoever. But while most gay people would allow gay men to donate if they were in a monogamous relationship, Benkof has consistently opposed any recognition of “conjugal relationships.” So it is fair to question whether his objection to the blood ban is only that it excludes ex-gays or other celibate persons.

I find it rather unlikely that LGBT community members are going to come together with traditionally religious people any time soon to champion ex-gays getting rights that are denied to gay people.

2. Tax credits for families that adopt.

I have no problem with tax tax credits for families that adopt. And indeed tax credits already exist.

But let’s not pretend that Benkof is speaking in support of gay adoption. Benkof believes that heterosexuals should receive preference in adoption and that gays and lesbians can then adopt the left over “children of color and special-needs children”.

3. Ban abortion based on sexual orientation.

This is an odd one but I’ve seen this argument before. Usually it’s a lead-in for, “if you think aborting based on sexual orientation is immoral, what moral reasons are there for murdering a child in the womb”.

Yawn.

If Roe v. Wade is ever overturned and if a child’s orientation is ever detectable in the womb and if there is some pattern of aborting fetuses that show a genetic likelihood to be gay, well then get back to me. In the meanwhile, let’s not pretend that anti-abortion arguments are really pro-gay.

4. Opposing prison rape.

I don’t know anyone who doesn’t oppose prison rape. But Benkof’s reason for including this issue seems to be so that he can say, “The gay community should be embarrassed that conservative Christians have put much more energy into fighting prison rape than LGBT people have.”

5. Support the troops and support the Boy Scouts

I, like most Americans — gay and straight — support our troops. Regardless of our opinion about the situation in Iraq, we all agree that military men and women are heroic and brave and are deserving of a more adequate compensation. But I question Benkof’s insinuation that he opposes the ban on gay men and women in the military in the same way as others in our community.

Does he favor married gay servicemen being treated equally, regardless of the gender of their spouse? Does he favor any consideration for the relationships (yeah, “conjugal” ones) of gay service personnel? His history would suggest not. Would Benkof’s ideal be that the ban be lifted to allow identity but not behavior (i.e. lift the ban on celibate gays or ex-gays only)? He isn’t clear; and with David Benkof, only a fool accepts the surface appearance.

As for supporting the Boy Scouts, well that one is just silly. Benkof imagines that by supporting the Boy Scouts with their current policy (which, ironically is to deny gay support of any kind) then the Boy Scouts might like gay people more. This is not a likely scenario. Rather, it is an argument that gay people should not advocate against their tax dollars be used to privilege those who discriminate against them. A comparable position might be that black and Jewish citizens should support public funding for country clubs from which they are excluded.

Really, I’m not finding that Benkof has identified ANY areas in which he agrees with freedom and equality for gay people.

What David really believes

To find out what Benkof really believes, we have to look closer than his grand — but vague — proclamations of what he supports. When we do we find that he believes:

In fact, there just doesn’t seem to be anything good that Benkof has to say about gay men and women or any equalities that he does not support without reservation.

And because community is about those things that a group shares in common, that’s why I state that David Benkof is not a part of the gay community. He has no detectable principles, values, beliefs, identity, behavior, association, communion, or indeed anything else I could find in common with the gay community other than his same-sex attractions. And he wishes those would go away.

The Purpose Behind David’s Efforts

I don’t discount Benkof’s right to his opinions. And I strongly support his right to truthfully state his beliefs and to fight for his political ideals. But, of course, there are very few with which I would agree.

However, I will not waste my time here on debate or rebuttal. Not because I wish to distract from substance by making some ad hominem attack. I could in detail refute his positions and show the fallacies of his arguments.

But I will not debate David because it is pointless. You see, Benkof is not swayed by logic. As Benkof argued in a chatroom debate over same-sex parenting:

However, my stance wouldn’t change even if 100 studies showed no differences in children of every family structure — because my beliefs are informed by a traditional Jewish worldview and its attitudes toward families and childrearing. But I want to ask you — would your stance change if 100 studies showed harmful effects in children raised without both a mother and a father?

You see, all of Benkof’s arguments have nothing to do with what he’s claiming in his writing. Benkof doesn’t care whether it could be proven by undeniable evidence that equality, marriage, children’s issues, the military, discrimination, and every other issue was without question on our side.

He’s not really debating policy, he’s pushing his religion.

And if Benkof were honest about his efforts, I would be fine. I have respect for those who live according to their religious constraints. And I don’t seek to diminish those who present their faith for others to consider.

But that isn’t what David is doing. He’s not presenting his articles of faith for consideration for cultural adoption. He’s seeking to advance the rules of his faith by making secular argument, and not being honest about it. Because pushing religion is viewed suspiciously, David Benkof has chosen to adopt artificial arguments. And an artificial identity. And artificial supporters.

I wonder if he thinks his God is pleased.

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