Save Our Children: Overcoming the Narrative That Gays and Lesbians Are Harmful to Children

By Niedwiecki, Anthony | Duke Journal of Gender Law & Policy, Fall 2013 | Go to article overview

Save Our Children: Overcoming the Narrative That Gays and Lesbians Are Harmful to Children


Niedwiecki, Anthony, Duke Journal of Gender Law & Policy


The argument that gay people were harmful to children also had narrative fidelity with voters. The argument that the proponents of the referendum advanced was laden with values, specifically those regarding children, sexual morality, religion, and the health and safety of families. (187) Society has a strong history of valuing children more than almost anything, (188) and the media and culture of the 1970s focused heavily on parents' love for their children, as seen on televisions shows like Happy Days and The Waltons. (189) Because it was framed around protecting children, the referendum's proponents' message resonated with parents and aligned with the cultural views of family. (190) It essentially personalized the message to voters with children (or who may want to have children), making it consistent with their own experiences and values. (191) This gave the message strong narrative fidelity. The proponents also gave this message narrative fidelity by supporting claims that gay men are more likely to be pedophiles with references to stories from reputable newspapers about men arrested for soliciting sex from young boys. (192) These stories seemed to provide proof that gay men are predisposed to harm children, giving credibility to these provocative claims. (193) Further, the narratives were often created by people considered to be moral leaders, (194) so they seemed rational--if a minister or priest says that this will be bad for my children, who am I to question them? Finally, they framed their arguments to evoke fear, one of the best ways to motivate voters, thereby adding narrative fidelity to their claims. (195)

The narrative that gay people are dangerous to children also helped move the Florida legislature to pass a law banning adoptions by gays and lesbians, which occurred shortly after the Dade County vote in 1977. (196) The ban was strictly enforced for several decades until the Florida Third District Court of Appeals found the statute unconstitutional under Florida law in 2010. (197)

Anti-gay activists used similar efforts to stop anti-discrimination laws in cities across the country, often focusing on the need to protect children. In Eugene, Oregon, a gay rights ordinance was defeated in 1977 with the campaign theme: "Keep it straight. Our children come first." (198) In Wichita, Kansas, anti-gay activists, including Bryant, produced a political ad that compared gays to pedophiles, with other campaign materials discussing the dangers of having gay teachers recruit students to be gay. (199)

Following the successes that Bryant and others were having in defeating anti-discrimination laws, gay rights opponents in California took the narrative a step further and pushed for a ban on gays and lesbians teaching in the public schools. (200) This effort, known as Proposition 6, was spearheaded by a California State Senator, John Briggs. (201) It was meant to bar gays, lesbians, and those who advocated or promoted homosexual activity from teaching in California schools. (202) Briggs' organization, named "California Defend Our Children," played off of the same themes presented by "Save Our Children." (203) Because California is such a large state with large media outlets, the debate became the next widely-publicized national debate on gay rights. (204) Sensing a more difficult fight, Senator Briggs decided to heighten his rhetoric about the harm that gay teachers present to children, but he kept with the same themes that gays need to recruit children, are predisposed to cause physical harm, and are more likely to seduce and molest children:

   Homosexuals want your children. They don't have any children of
   their own. If they don't recruit children or very young people,
   they'd all die away. They have no means of replenishing. That's why
   they want to be teachers. (205)

   Homosexuality is a more insidious threat than Communism: It is like
   a creeping disease where it just continues to spread like a cancer
   throughout the body. … 

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