Events such as Anita Bryant's "Save Our Children" campaign in 1977, and a police raid of Toronto-area gay newspaper The Body Politic for publishing "Men Loving Boys Loving Men" set the stage for the founding of NAMBLA.
In December 1977, police raided a house in the Boston suburb of Revere. Twenty-four men were arrested and indicted on over 100 felony counts of the statutory rape of boys aged eight to fifteen. Suffolk County District Attorney Garrett Byrne found that the men used drugs and video games to lure the boys into a house, where they photographed them as they engaged in sexual activity. The men were members of a "sex ring", and said that the arrest was only "the tip of the iceberg." The arrests sparked intense media coverage, and local newspapers published the photographs and personal information of the accused men. The "Boston-Boise Committee", a gay rights organization, formed in response to these events and to protect the "rights of gay men" and promote "gay solidarity." NAMBLA's founding was inspired by this gay rights organization. It was co-founded by the gay historian David Thorstad.
In 1982 a NAMBLA member was falsely linked to the disappearance of Etan Patz. Although the accusation was groundless, the negative publicity was disastrous to the organization. NAMBLA published a book documenting the events, A Witchhunt Foiled: The FBI vs. NAMBLA.
In testimony before the United States Senate, NAMBLA was exonerated from any criminal activities and it concluded "It is the pedophile with no organized affiliations who is the real threat to children,"
Mike Echols, the author of I Know My First Name is Steven, infiltrated NAMBLA and his observations are recorded in his book, published in 1991. At one point he published the names, addresses and phone numbers of 80 suspected NAMBLA members on his website, which lead to death threats towards people who were not members.
In 1994 NAMBLA was expelled from the International Lesbian and Gay Association, having been the first US based organization to be a member. Chicken Hawk: Men Who Love Boys was produced and directed by Adi Sideman in 1994. Members of NAMBLA were interviewed and presented defenses of the organization. Allen Ginsberg appeared in the film.
In 2000, Robert and Barbara Curley sued NAMBLA for the wrongful death of their son. A NAMBLA founder speculated that the case would "break our backs, even if we win, which we will." The suit was eventually dismissed. Media reports from 2006 have suggested that for practical purposes the group no longer exists and that it consists only of a web site maintained by a few enthusiasts.
Relations with LGBT organizations
The first documented opposition from LGBT organizations to NAMBLA occurred in the conference that organized the first gay march on Washington in 1979.
In 1980 a group called the "Lesbian Caucus – Lesbian & Gay Pride March Committee" distributed a hand-out urging women to split from the annual New York City Gay Pride March because the organizing committee had supposedly been dominated by NAMBLA and its supporters. The next year, after some lesbians threatened to picket, the Cornell University gay group Gay PAC (Gay People at Cornell) rescinded its invitation to NAMBLA founder David Thorstad to be the keynote speaker at the annual May Gay Festival. In the following years, gay rights groups attempted to block NAMBLA’s participation in gay pride parades, prompting leading gay rights figure Harry Hay to wear a sign proclaiming "NAMBLA walks with me" as he participated in a 1986 gay pride march in Los Angeles.
By the mid-1980s, NAMBLA was virtually alone in its positions and found itself politically isolated. Gay rights organizations, burdened by accusations of child recruitment and child abuse, had abandoned the radicalism of their early years and had "retreat[ed] from the idea of a more inclusive politics," opting instead to appeal more to the mainstream. Support for "groups perceived as being on the fringe of the gay community," such as NAMBLA, vanished in the process.
In 1994 the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) adopted a "Position Statement Regarding NAMBLA" saying GLAAD "deplores the North American Man Boy Love Association's (NAMBLA) goals, which include advocacy for sex between adult men and boys and the removal of legal protections for children. These goals constitute a form of child abuse and are repugnant to GLAAD." Also in 1994 the Board of Directors of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF) adopted a resolution on NAMBLA that said: "NGLTF condemns all abuse of minors, both sexual and any other kind, perpetrated by adults. Accordingly, NGLTF condemns the organizational goals of NAMBLA and any other such organization."
In 1994 NAMBLA, along with many members of the Gay Liberation Front participated in the "The Spirit of Stonewall" march which commenorated the 1969 Stonewall Riots.
In 1994, Pat Califia argued that politics played an important role in the gay community's rejection of NAMBLA, however, Califia has since completely repudiated his earlier support for NAMBLA.
The International Lesbian and Gay Association controversy
In 1993, the International Lesbian and Gay Association achieved United Nations consultative status. NAMBLA's membership in ILGA drew heavy criticism and caused the suspension of ILGA. Many gay organizations called for the ILGA to dissolve ties with NAMBLA. Republican Senator Jesse Helms proposed a bill to withhold $119 million in U.N. contributions until U.S. President Bill Clinton could certify that "no UN agency grants any official status, accreditation, or recognition to any organization which promotes, condones, or seeks the legalization of pedophilia, that is, the sexual abuse of children". The bill was unanimously approved by Congress and signed into law by Clinton in April 1994.
IN 1994, ILGA expelled NAMBLA and two other groups (MARTIJN and Project Truth) because they were judged to be "groups whose predominant aim is to support or promote pedophilia." Although ILGA removed NAMBLA, the U.N. reversed its decision to grant ILGA special consultative status. Repeated attempts by ILGA to reacquire special status with the U.N. were eventually successful in 2006.
Gregory King of the Human Rights Campaign later said that "NAMBLA is not a gay organization ... They are not part of our community and we thoroughly reject their efforts to insinuate that pedophilia is an issue related to gay and lesbian civil rights." NAMBLA responded by claiming that "man/boy love is by definition homosexual," that "man/boy lovers are part of the gay movement and central to gay history and culture," and that "homosexuals denying that it is 'not gay' to be attracted to adolescent boys are just as ludicrous as heterosexuals saying it's 'not heterosexual' to be attracted to adolescent girls."