First consider Dr. Laura Schlessinger, the nation's number one radio homophobe, who's new TV show has been shunned by advertisers and audiences alike in the wake of a spectacular grass-roots activist campaign by StopDrLaura.com. Schlessinger's title is deliberately misleading--she's a physiologist, not a psychiatrist or psychologist, and brings absolutely no professional expertise to her program. In other words, she's not a doctor, she just plays one on TV. But she does a lousy job of it, since she ignores the most famous part of the Hippocratic Oath: "First, do no harm."
At first glance, Schlessinger's repeated attacks on gays and lesbians, using terms like "biological error" and "sexual deviants" may seem relatively innocent to those who forget--or never learned--the role that genteel-sounding "scientific racism" played in supporting segregation and laying the foundations for the Holocaust. Authority figures who can put the rationale for group hatred into clinical, 'scientific' terms play an invaluable role in legitimizing everything else that is said or done against the groups they label as 'sub-human,' 'deviant,' 'defective,' or 'life unworthy of life.' That's precisely the role that Schlessinger plays.
But then she slips. She conflates homosexuality with pedophilia and child molestation. She blames Matthew Shepard for his own murder--taking time out in the middle to denies she's doing it! She claims that supporters of gay marriage also favor incest. And when people try to hold her accountable for what she's said, she really starts to lose it. Last February 24, she told the San Francisco Examiner, "'Unless I have hallucinated, I have never made an anti-gay commentary,' she said. 'I have made anti-gay-activist-agenda commentaries.'"
She said it, not me: She's hallucinated. "Biological error," "sexual deviancy," "child molestation," "predatory on young boys" those are all "anti-gay commentary," to put it mildly. Her advocacy of so-called "reparative therapy." to "cure" gays and lesbians is a further example of "anti-gay commentary," since it's based on the assumption that they are sick and need to be cured--an assumption that's anti-gay as well as being a lie. The American Psychological Association's 1997 "Resolution on Appropriate Therapeutic Responses to Sexual Orientation" did everything short of issuing an outright condemnation of the practice, while reaffirming that "homosexuality is not a mental disorder (American Psychiatric Association, 1973)" and that "'in their work-related activities, psychologists do not engage in unfair discrimination based on...sexual orientation.' (Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct, American Psychological Association, 1992, Standard 1.10, p. 1601)" In other words, if Schlessinger were a psychologist, and she talked to her patients the way she talks on the air, she would be guilty of violating professional ethics.
So what about her "anti-gay-activist-agenda commentaries"? Last May 13, she told the Deseret News, "The well-funded and well-connected homosexual activist movement has become the McCarthyism of the 21st century." McCarthyism? It's too bad McCarthy died when he did. If he were around today, he'd certainly accuse anyone who criticized him of engaging in McCarthyism.
After all, it's Schlessinger who--like McCarthy--has a national platform at her disposal which she uses to attack people she knows nothing about. It's Schlessinger who--like McCarthy--is stirring up hysterical fears about a persecuted minority. It's Schlessinger who--like McCarthy--makes accusations without factual foundation. It's Schlessinger who--like McCarthy--contributes to a national atmosphere of unwarranted hysteria in which innocent people lose their jobs and even their lives. It's Schlessinger who--like McCarthy--despises the notion of granting Constitutional protections to those she attacks. It's Schlessinger who--like McCarthy--is a merchant of hatred, ignorance and fear.
But there's more going on here than a simple case of good old-fashioned projection (aka the pot calling the kettle black.). In fact, it's a double case of projection. It seems that the theme of "gay McCarthyism" was trumped up by a number of religious right organizations attacking the threat of a consumer boycott against sponsors who advertised on Schlessinger's radio show or were planning to advertise on her TV show. The projection here comes from the fact that many of the same folks vigorously supported a failed consumer boycott against Disney back in 1997, attacking Disney for gay-friendly policies both real and imagined. It seems that when they do a consumer boycott, it's a holy crusade, but when gays and their allies do the same, it's McCarthyism.
Actually, StopDrLaura.com (the grassroots organization spearheading the organizing) hasn't organized a consumer boycott. Instead, it has organized a massive corporate lobbying campaign. It calls for people to individually act and dialogue with Schlessinger sponsors. StopDrLaura.com points to survey data showing that large numbers of people (74% of gays and lesbians, 42% of straights) will spontaneously tend to avoid companies if they know that they sponsor anti-gay programming. Given this reality, there's no need to call for an organized boycott. All that's necessary is to inform people and urge them to make their own choices and let their voices be heard.
Others have defended Schlessinger on First Amendment grounds, but there's no First Amendment right to your own nationally-syndicated radio show. Trust me, if there were, I'd have one. StopDrLaura.com has never asked for government action against Schlessinger. They've asked individual consumers to act.
The American Prospect (July 31, 2000) put it this way [ "Boycotts Will Be Boycotts" ]:
- "The only real power that gay groups are asserting over Procter & Gamble is gay wallets, which is to say gay buying power. And the demands of GLAAD and the rest are in essence a simple expression of market economics: We are going to make you pick, they are saying to Procter & Gamble, between the Jif-buying dollars of gays and the Jif-buying dollars of Dr. Laura enthusiasts. Take it or leave it. It's precisely the kind of laissez-faire, free market solution conservatives have often favored. And to call it 'Gay McCarthyism' implies their own tactics amount to, well, Straight McCarthyism."
Raw hatred is not the hot commodity in politics that it used to be. That's why many on the religious right have adopted the slogan of "hating the sin, not the sinner." As a member of the religious right, that's Schlessinger's line as well. But it, too, is a lie.
StopDrLaura.com's highly successful organizing showed the real power of actually attacking behavior, while dialoging with those whose behavior you want to change. This is a real life example of "hating the sin, not the sinner," and it's been working. In contrast, how well does Schlessinger do with "hating the sin, not the sinner"? Not too well, it turns out:
"The debate over gay rights. Rights. Rights? For sexual deviancy, sexual behavior, there are now rights. That's what I am worried about with the pedophilia, the bestiality and the sado-masochism. Is this all going to be rights too? To deviant sexual behavior. It is deviant sexual behavior. Why does deviant sexual behavior get rights? I don't understand that..."
- - Dr. Laura radio show, June 10, 1999 (quoted by the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council).
In the second week of Schlessinger's TV show, her ratings are abysmal and dozens of new advertisers have withdrawn support from her show. Many were unwitting sponsors who bought block advertising, and have now demanded that there ads not run during Schlessinger's show. Industry insiders have already begun to write the show off as a goner.
[All quotes from Schlessinger can be found, with citations at StopDrLaura.com -- Words of Insult ]