Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

Truth in Advertising?

Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

Truth in Advertising?

Article excerpt

A new conservative campaign to "heal" gay men and lesbians could backfire in November

You've seen the ads. Now you can watch the campaign. With the November elections still months away, political observers believe that the antigay crusade that heated up in early summer may just be starting.

"In an election year, often a group of people are used to drum up support in the extreme right wing of the Republican Party," says Winnie Stachelberg, political director of the Human Rights Campaign. "It's very clear that the House and Senate Republican leadership think that group ought to be gays and lesbians."

The onslaught appears to be a concerted effort by religious conservatives not just to' motivate their own followers but also to stiffen the resolve of Republicans in Congress, a strategy that carries enormous risks for the party. The ads came at a time when the House was already considering several antigay bills and Washington was still reeling from an acrimonious debate in the press about homosexuality that had taken place just one month earlier following antigay comments made by Senate majority leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.).

The latest controversy burst onto the national scene in July, when religious conservatives ran a series of ads calling for a "new national discussion of homosexuality." The ads, which were coordinated by 15 different religious right groups, including the Christian Coalition and the Family Research Council, had a decidedly different spin compared with past efforts.

Running in such politically influential newspapers as The New York Times, The Washington Post, and USA Today, the ads featured Anne Paulk and other "ex-gays," including Paulk's husband, John, who was once a drag queen named Candi. The copy proclaimed that gay men and lesbians could be "cured" through the "truth of God's healing love." The ads also thanked pro-football player and minister Reggie White and Lott for "having the courage to speak the truth about sexual sin."

The bare-knuckles rhetoric of the ads guaranteed attention. "This is something we've wanted to do for a long time," says Robert Regier of the Family Research Council. Regier contends that the ads were placed more to "back up" White and Lott, who had recently taken heat for their antigay rhetoric, than to mobilize voters.

Regier claims the ads were motivated by compassion, not politics. "No matter what we say or do, we're always going to be called gay bashers," he says. "But if we didn't love homosexuals, we wouldn't be taking these ads out...if we didn't honestly believe there's a better way to live."

But the ads coincided with some of the most contentious rhetoric about homosexuality that Washington had seen in years. Moreover, the advertising campaign followed by just two months a meeting between congressional Republican leaders and the heads of major religious groups, who were upset about what they saw as waffling on key social issues. By June prominent Republicans took to the airwaves to denounce gays, with Lott going so far as to compare homosexuality to kleptomania.

Gay rights groups branded the ad campaign as just putting a different face on discrimination and intolerance. "It's a slickly packaged message that's still quite transparent," says Stachelberg. "It says, 'We do not like you, you're not good enough, and the only way you will ever be good enough is if you change.'" HRC, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, and other groups quickly fired off full-page ads of their own in The New York Times and USA Today, proclaiming gays to be "whole, happy, and worthy" people.

The veracity of the conservative ads was attacked elsewhere as well. In claiming that gays can "walk away" from their sexual orientation--a proposition most psychologists view as faulty if not potentially damaging--the ads cited medical evidence to back up the claims. …

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