OF THE GAY MOVEMENT
following article called "The Overhauling of Straight
America'' was written by Marshall K. Kirk and Erastes Pill and
appeared in Guide Magazine, November 1987. As you read the article,
keep in mind it was printed seven years ago. Many of the strategies
have already been put into place and have achieved their desired
The first order of business is
desensitization of the American public concerning gays and gay rights.
To desensitize the public is to help it view homosexuality with
indifference instead of with keen emotion. Ideally, we would have
straights register differences in sexual preference the way they
register different tastes for ice cream or sports games: she likes
strawberry and I like vanilla; he follows baseball and I follow
football. No big deal.
At least in the beginning, we
are seeking public desensitization and nothing more. We do not need
and cannot expect a full "appreciation" or
"understanding" of homosexuality from the average American.
You can forget about trying to persuade the masses that homosexuality
is a good thing. But if only you can get them to think that it is just
another thing, with a shrug of their shoulders, then your battle for
legal and social rights is virtually won. And to get to shoulder-shrug
stage, gays as a class must cease to appear mysterious, alien,
loathsome and contrary. A large-scale media campaign will be required
in order to change the image of gays in America. And any campaign to
accomplish this turnaround should do six things.
ABOUT GAYS AND GAYNESS AS LOUDLY AND AS OFTEN AS POSSIBLE.
The principle behind this
advice is simple: almost any behavior begins to look normal if you are
exposed to enough of it at close quarters and among your
acquaintances. The acceptability of the new behavior will ultimately
hinge on the number of one's fellows doing it or accepting it. One may
be offended by its novelty at first--many, in times past, were
momentarily scandalized by "streaking,'' eating goldfish, and
premarital sex. But as long as Joe Six-pack feels little pressure to
perform likewise, and as long as the behavior in question presents
little threat to his physical and financial security, he soon gets
used to it and life goes on. The skeptic may still shake his head and
think "people arc crazy these days," but over time his
objections are likely to become more reflective, more philosophical,
The way to benumb raw
sensitivities about homosexuality is to have a lot of people talk a
great deal about the subject in a neutral or supportive way. Open and
frank talk makes the subject seem less furtive, alien, and sinful,
more above-board. Constant talk builds the impression that public
opinion is at least divided on the subject, and that a sizable segment
accepts or even practices homosexuality. Even rancorous debates
between opponents and defenders serve the purpose of desensitization
so long as "respectable" gays are front and center to make
their own pitch. The main thing is to talk about gayness until the
issue becomes thoroughly tiresome.
And when we say talk about
homosexuality, we mean just that. In the early stages of any campaign
to reach straight America, the masses should not be shocked and
repelled by premature exposure to homosexual behavior itself. Instead,
the imagery of sex should be downplayed and gay rights should be
reduced to an abstract social question as much as possible. First let
the camel get his nose inside the tent--only later his unsightly
we talk is important. The visual media, film and television, are
plainly the most powerful imagemakers in Western civilization. The
average American household watches over seven hours of TV daily. Those
hours open up a gateway into the private world of straights, through
which a Trojan horse might be passed. As far as desensitization is
concerned, the medium is the message--of normalcy. So far, gay
Hollywood has provided our best covert weapon in the battle to
desensitize the mainstream. Bit by bit over the past ten years, gay
characters and gay themes have been introduced into TV programs and
films (though often this has been done to achieve comedic and
ridiculous affects). On the whole the impact has been encouraging. The
prime-time presentation of Consenting Adults on a major network in
1985 is but one high-water mark in favorable media exposure of gay
issues. But this should be just the beginning of a major publicity
blitz. by gay America.
Would a desensitizing campaign
of open and sustained talk about gay issues reach every rabid opponent
of homosexuality? Of course not. While public opinion is one primary
source of mainstream values, religious authority is the other. When
conservative churches condemn gays, there are only two things we can
do to confound the homophobia of true believers. First, we can use
talk to muddy the moral waters. This means publicizing support for
gays by more moderate churches, raising theological objections of our
own about conservative interpretations of biblical teachings, and
exposing hatred and inconsistency. Second, we can undermine the moral
authority of homophobia churches by portraying them as antiquated
backwaters, badly out of step with the times and with the latest
findings of psychology. Against the mighty pull of institutional
Religion one must set the mightier draw of Science and Public Opinion
(the shield and sword of the accursed "secular humanism"').
Such an unholy alliance has worked well against churches before, on
such topics as divorce and abortion. With enough open talk about the
prevalence and acceptability of homosexuality, that alliance can work
PORTRAY GAYS AS VICTIMS, NOT AS AGGRESSIVE CHALLENGERS.
In any campaign to win over the
public, gays must be cast as victims in need of protection so that
straights will be inclined by reflex to assume the role of protector.
If gays are presented, instead, as a strong and prideful tribe
promoting a rigidly nonconformist and deviant lifestyle, they are more
likely to be seen as a public menace that justifies resistance and
oppression. For that reason, we must forego the temptation to strut
our "gay pride" publicly when it conflicts with the Gay
Victim image. And we must walk the fine line between impressing
straights with our great numbers, on the one hand, and sparking their
hostile paranoia—"They are all around us!"--on the other.
A media campaign to promote the Gay Victim image should make use of
symbols which reduce the mainstream’s sense of threat, which lower
it's guard, and which enhance the plausibility of victimization. In
practical terms, this means that jaunty mustachioed musclemen would
keep very low profile in gay commercials and other public
presentations, while sympathetic figures of nice young people, old
people, and attractive women would be featured. (It almost goes
without saying that groups on the farthest margin of acceptability
such as NAMBLA, [Ed note -- North American Man-Boy Love Association]
must play no part at all in such a campaign: suspected child-molesters
will never look like victims.)
Now, there are two different
messages about the Gay Victim that arc worth communicating. First, the
mainstream should be told that gays arc victims of fate, in the sense
that most never had a choice to accept or eject their sexual
preference. The message must read: "As far as gays can tell, they
were born gay, just as you were born heterosexual or white or black or
bright or athletic. Nobody ever tricked or seduced them; they never
made a choice, and are not morally blameworthy. What they do isn't
willfully contrary – it’s only natural for them. This twist of
fate could as easily have happened to you!"
Straight viewers must be able
to identify with gays as victims. Mr and Mrs. Public must be given no
extra excuses to say "they arc not like us." To this end,
the persons featured in the public campaign should be decent and
upright, appealing and admirable by straight standards, completely
unexceptionable in appearance--in a word, they should be
indistinguishable from the straights we would like to reach. (To
return to the terms we have used in previous articles, spokemen for
our cause must be R-type "straight gays" rather than Q-type
"homosexuals on display." ) Only under such conditions will
the message be read correctly: "These folks are victims of a fate
that could have happened to me."
By the way, we realize that
many gays will question an advertising technique which might threaten
to make homosexuality look like some dreadful disease which strikes
fated "victims". But the plain fact is that the gay
community is weak, including the play for sympathy. In any case, we
compensate for the negative aspect of this gay victim appeal under
Principle 4. Below.
The second message would
portray gays as victims of society. The straight majority does not
recognize the suffering it brings to the lives of gays and must be
shown: graphic pictures of brutalized gays; dramatizations of job and
housing insecurity, loss of child custody, and public humiliation: and
the dismal list goes on.
GIVE PROTECTORS A JUST
A media campaign that casts
gays as society's victims and encourages straights to be their
protectors must make it easier for those to respond to assert and
explain their new protectiveness. Few straight women, and even fewer
straight men, wilt want to defend homosexuality boldly as such. Most
would rather attach their awakened protective impulse to some
principle of justice or law, to some general desire for consistent and
fair treatment in society. Our campaign should not demand direct
support for homosexual practices, but should instead take
anti-discrimination as its theme. The right to free speech, freedom of
beliefs, freedom of association, due process and equal protection of
laws--these should be the concerns brought to mind by our campaign.
It is especially important for
the gay movement to hitch its cause to accepted standards of law and
justice because its straight supporters must have at hand a cogent
reply to the moral arguments of its enemies. The homophobes clothe
their emotional revulsion in the daunting robes of religious dogma, so
defenders of gay rights must be ready to counter dogma with principle.
MAKE GAYS LOOK GOOD.
In order to make a Gay Victim
sympathetic to straights you have to portray him as Everyman. But an
additional theme of the campaign should be more aggressive and upbeat:
to offset the increasingly bad press that these times have brought to
homosexual men and women, the campaign should paint gays as superior
pillars of society. Yes, yes, we know--this trick is so old it creaks.
Other minorities use it all the time in ads that announce proudly,
"Did you know that this Great Man (or Woman) was _________?"
But the message is vital for all those straights who still picture
gays as "queer" people-- shadowy, lonesome, fail, drunken,
suicidal, child-snatching misfits. The honor roll of prominent gay or
bisexual men and women is truly eyepopping. From Socrates to
Shakespeare, from Alexander the Great to Alexander Hamilton, from
Michelangelo to Walt Whitman, from Sappho to Gertrude Stein, the list
is old hat to us but shocking news to heterosexual America. In no
time, a skillful and clever media campaign could have the gay
community looking like the veritable fairy godmother to Western
Along the same lines, we
shouldn't overlook the Celebrity Endorsement. The celebrities can be
straight (God bless you, Ed Asner, wherever you are) or gay.
MAKE THE VICTIMIZERS LOOK
At a later stage of the media
campaign for gay rights-long after other gay ads have become
commonplace--it will be time to get tough with remaining opponents. To
be blunt, they must be vilified. (This will be all the more necessary
because, by that time, the entrenched enemy will have quadrupled its
output of vitriol and disinformation.) Our goal here is twofold.
First, we seek to replace the mainstream's self-righteous pride about
its homophobia with shame and guilt. Second, we intend to make the
antigays look so nasty that average Americans will want to dissociate
themselves from such types.
The public should be shown
images of ranting homophobes whose secondary traits and beliefs
disgust middle America. These images might include: the Ku Klux Klan
demanding that gays be burned alive or castrated; bigoted southern
ministers drooling with hysterical hatred to a degree that looks both
comical and deranged; menacing punks, thugs, and convicts speaking
coolly about the "fags" they have killed or would like to
kill; a tour of Nazi concentration camps where homoscxuals were
tortured and gassed.
A campaign to vilify the
victimizers is going to enrage our most fervid enemies, of course. But
what else can we say? The shoe fits, and we should make them try it on
for size, with all of America watching.
The buck stops here. Any
massive campaign of this kind would require unprecedented expenditures
for months or even years--an unprecedented fundraising drive.
Effective advertising is a
costly proposition: several million dollars would get the ball
rolling. There are 10-15 million primarily homosexual adults in this
country: if each one of them donated just two dollars to the campaign,
its war chest would actually rival that of its most vocal enemies. And
because those gays not supporting families usually have more
discretionars income than average, they could afford to contribute
But would they? Or is they,
[sic] gay community as feckless, selfish, uncommitted, and
short-sighted as its critics claim? We will never know unless the new
campaign simultaneously launches a concerted nationwide appeal for
funding support from both known and anorymous donors. The appeal
should be directed both at gays and at straights who care about social
In the beginning, for reasons
to be explained in a moment, the appeal for funds may have to be
launched exclusively through the gay press--national magazines, local
newspapers, flyers at bars, notices in glossy skin magazines. Funds
could also come through the outreach of local gay organizations on
campuses and in metropolitan areas. Eventually, donations would be
solicited directly alongside advertisements in the major straight
There would be no parallel to
such an effort in the history of the gay community in America. It
failed to generate the needed capital to get started, there would be
little hope for the campaign and l little hope for major progress
toward gay rights in the near future. For the moment let us suppose
that gays could see how donations would greatly serve their long term
interest, and that sufficient funds could be raised. An heroic
THE AIR, OR, YOU CAN'T GET THERE FROM HERE.
Without access to TV, radio,
and the mainstream press, there will be no campaign. This is a tricky
problem, became many impresarios of the media simply refuse to accept
what they call "issue-advertising" -- persuasive advertising
can provoke a storm of resentment from the public and from sponsors,
which is bad for business. The courts have confirmed the broadcaster's
right to refuse any "issue advertising" he dislikes.
What exactly constitutes
"issue advertising"? It evidently does not include
platitudinous appeals to the virtues of family unity (courtesy of the
Mormons) neither does it include tirades against perfidious Albion
courtesy of Lyndon LaRouche); neither does it include reminders that a
Mind-Is-a Terrible Thing to Waste (courtesy of the United Negro
College Fund); neither does it include religious shows which condemn
gay "sinners"; neither does it include condemnations of
nuclear war or race discrimination--at least not in Massachusetts.
Some guys get all the breaks.
What issue-advertising does
include these days is almost any communique presented openly by a
homosexual organization. The words "gay" and
"homosexual"' arc considered controversial whenever they
Because most straightforward
appeals arc impossible, the National Gay Task Force has had to
cultivate quiet backroom liaisons with broadcast companies and
newsrooms in order to make sure that issues important to the gay
community receive some coverage; but such an arrangement is hardly
ideal, of course, because it means that the gay community's image is
controlled by the latest news event instead of by careful design--and
recently most of the news about gays has been negative. So what can be
done to crash the gates of the major media? Several things, advanced
in several stages.
START WITH THE
Newspapers and magazines may
very well be more hungry for gay advertising dollars than television
and radio arc. And the cost of ads in print is generally lower. But
remember that the press, for the most part, is only read by better
educated Americans, many of whom arc already more accepting of
homosexuality in any case. So to get more impact for our dollars, we
should skip the New Republic and New Left Review readers
and head for Time, People , and the National Enquirer.
(Of course, the gay community may have to establish itself as a
regular advertising presence in more sophisticated forums first before
it is accepted into the mass press. )
While we're storming the
battlements with salvos of ink, we should also warm the mainstream up
a bit with a subtle national campaign on highway billboards. In simple
bold print on dark backgrounds, a series of unobjectionable messages
should be introduced:
IN RUSSIA, THEY TELL YOU
WHAT TO BE. IN AMERICA WE HAVE THE FREEDOM T0 BE OURSELVES...AND TO BE
PEOPLE HELPING INSTEAD OF
HATING--THAT 'S WHAT AMERICA IS ALL ABOUT.
And so on. Each sign will tap
patriotic sentiment, each message will drill a seemingly agreeable
proposition into mainstream heads--a "public service
message" suited to our purposes. And, if their owners will permit
it, each billboard w ill be signed, in slightly smaller letters,
"Courtesy of the National Gay Task Force"--to build positive
associations and get the public used to seeing such sponsorship.
VISUAL STAGE 1:
YOU REALLY OUGHTA BE IN PICTURES
As for television and radio, a
more elaborate plan may be needed to break the ice. For openers,
naturally, we must continue to encourage the appearance of favorable
gay characters in films and TV shows. Daytime talk shows also remain a
useful avenue for exposure.
But to speed things up we might
consider a bold stratagem to gain media attention. The scheme we have
in mind would require careful preparations, yet it would save expense
even while it elevated the visibility and stature of the gay movement
overnight. Well before the next elections for national office, we
might lay careful plans to run symbolic gay candidates for every high
political office in this country. (Such plans would have to deal
somehow with the tricky problem of inducing gays and straights to sign
enough endorsement petitions to get us on the ballot.) Our 50-250
candidates would participate in such debates as they could, run
gay-themed advertisements coordinated at our national headquarters,
and demand equal time on the air. They could then graciously pull out
of the races before the actual elections, while formally endorsing
more viable straight contenders. (With malicious humor, perhaps, in
some states we could endorse our most rabid opponents.) It is
essential not to ask people actually to vote Yea or Nay on the gay
issue at this early stage: such action would end up committing most to
the Nay position and would only tally huge and visible defeats for our
Through such a political
campaign, the mainstream would get over the initial shock of seeing
gay ads, and the acceptability of such ads would be fortified by the
most creditable context possible; and all this would be accomplished
before non-electoral advertising was attempted by the gay community.
During the campaign all hell would break loose, but if we behaved
courageously and respectable our drive would gain legitimacy in and
case and might even become a cause celebre.
If all went as planned, the
somewhat desensitized public and the major networks themselves would
be ‘readied for the next step of our program.
VISUAL STAGE 2:
At this point the gay community
has its foot in the door, and it is time to ask the networks to accept
gay sponsorship of certain ads and shows. Timing is critical: The
request must be made immediately after our national political ads
disappear. Failing that, we should request sponsorship the next time
one of the networks struts its broad- mindedness by televising a film
or show with gay characters or themes. If they wish to look consistent
instead of hypocritical, we'll have them on the spot.
But the networks would still be
forced to say No unless we made their resistance look patently
unreasonable, and possibly illegal. We'd do just that by proposing
"gay ads" patterned exactly after those currently sponsored
by the Mormons and others. As usual, viewers would be treated to
squeak-clean skits on the importance of family harmony and
understanding --this time the narrator would end by saying, "This
message was brought to you by --the National Gay Task Force." All
very quiet and subdued. Remember: exposure is everything, and the
medium is the message.
The gay community should join
forces with other civil liberties groups of respectable cast to
promote bland messages about America the Melting Pot, always ending
with an explicit reference to the Task Force of some other gay
organization. Making the best of a bad situation, we can also propose
sympathetic media appeals for gifts and donations to fund AIDS
research--if Jerry Lewis and the March of Dimes can do it, so can we.
Our next indirect step will be to advertise locally on behalf of
support groups peripheral to the gay community: frowzy straight moms
and dads announcing phone numbers and meeting times for "Parents
of Gays" or similar gatherings. Can't you just see such ads now,
presented between messages from the Disabled Vets and the Postal
VISUAL STAGE 3:
ROLL OUT THE BIG GUNS
By this point, our salami
tactics will have carved out, slice by slice, a large portion of
access to the mainstream media. So what then? It would finally be time
to bring gay ads out of the closet. The messages of such ads should
directly address lingering public fears about homosexuals as loathsome
and contrary aliens. For examples, the following are possible formats
for TV or radio commercials designed to chip away at chronic
Format A for
Familiarization: The Testimonial.
To make gays seem less
mysterious, present a series of short spots featuring the boy- or
girl-next- door. fresh and appealing, or warm and lovable grandma
grandpa types. Seated in homey surroundings, they respond to an
offcamera interviewer with assurance, good nature, and charm. Their
comments bring out three social facts:
( 1 ) There is someone special
in their life, a long-term relationship (to stress gay stability,
(2)Their families are very
important to them, and are supportive of them (to stress that gays are
not "anti-family," and that families need not be anti-gay.)
(3)As far as they can remember
the! have always been gay, and were probably born gay; they certainly
never decided on a preference one way or the other (stressing that
gays are doing what is natural for them, and are not being willfully
The subjects should be
interviewed alone, not with their lovers or children, for to include
others in the picture would unwisely raise disturbing questions about
the complexities of gay social relations, which these commercials
could not explain. It is best instead to take one thing at a time.
Format B for Positive
associations: The Celebrity Spot.
While it might be useful to
present celebrity endorsement by currently popular gay figures and
straight sympathizers (Johnny Mathis? Marlo Thomas?), the homophobia
climate of America would make such brash endorsements unlikely in the
near future. So early celebrity spots will instead identify historical
gay or bisexual personalities who are illustrious and dignified...and
dead. The ads could be sardonic and indirect. For example, over regal
music and a portrait or two, a narrator might announce simply:
greatest playright in the history of the English language. Yet, if he
were alive today, some people wouldn't let him teach a high school
English class. Now isn't that a shame?
The rhetorical question forces
the viewer to answer Yes. And to explain the Bard's failing, the ad
would end simply: "A message from the National Gay Task
Force." Similar commercials could feature Michelangelo (an art
class), Tchaikovsky (a music class), Tennessee Williams (a drama
Format C for Victim
Sympathy: Our Campaign to Stop Child Abuse.
As we said earlier, there arc
many ways to portray gays as victims of discrimination: images of
brutality, tales of job loss and family separation, and so on. But we
think something like the following 30-sccond commercials would get to
the heart of the matter best of all.
The camera slowly moves in on a
middle-class teenager, sitting alone in his semi-darkened bedroom. The
boy is pleasing and unexceptional in appearance, except that he has
been roughed up and is starring silently, pensively, with evident
distress. As the camera gradually focuses in on his face, a narrator
comments: It will happen to one in every ten sons. As he grows up. he
will realize that he feels differently about things than most of his
friends. If he lets it show, he'll be an outsider made fun of,
humiliated, attacked. If he confides in his parents, they may throw
him out of the house, onto the streets. Some will say he is
"anti-family." Nobody will let him be himself. So he will
have to hide. From his friends, his family. And that's hard. It's
tough enough to be a kid these days, but to be the one in ten... A
message from the National Gay Task Force.
What is nice about such an ad
is that it would economically portray gays as innocent and vulnerable,
victimized and misunderstood, surprisingly numerous yet not menacing.
It also renders the "anti-family" charge absurd and
Format D for
Identification with Victims: The Old Switcheroo.
The mainstream will identify
better with the plight of gays if straights can, once in a while, walk
a mile in gay shoes. A humorous television or radio ad to help them do
this might involve a brief animated or dramatized scenario, as
The camera approaches the
mighty oak door of the boss's office, which swings open, and the
camera (which represents you the viewer) enters the room. Behind the
oversized desk sits a fat and scowling old curmudgeon chomping on a
cigar. He looks up at the camera (i.e. at the viewer) and snarls,
" So it's you, Smithers. Well You're fired!" The voice of a
younger man is heard to reply with astonishment, "But—but--Mr.
Thomburg, I've been with your company for ten years. I thought you
liked my work." The boss responds, with a tone of disgust,
"Yes, yes, Smithers your work is quite adequate. But I've heard
rumors that you've been seen around town with some kind of girlfriend.
A girlfriend! Frankly I'm shocked. We're not about to start hiring any
heterosexuals in this company. Now get out." The younger man
speaks once more: "But boss, that's just not fair! What if it
were you?" The boss glowers back as the camera pulls quickly out
of the room and the big door slams shut. Printed on the door: "A
message from the National Gay Task Force."
One can easily imagine similar
episodes involving housing or other discrimination.
Format E for
Vilification of Victimizers: Damn the Torpedoes.
We have already indicated some
of the images which might be damaging to the homophobic vendetta:
ranting and hateful religious extremists neo-Nazis, and Ku Klux
Klansmen made to look evil and ridiculous (hardly a difficult task).
These images should be combined
with those of their gay victims by a method propagandists call the
"bracket technique." For example, for a few seconds an
unctuous beady-eyed Southern preacher is seen pounding the pulpit in
rage about "those sick, abominable creatures." While his
tirade continues over the soundtrack,. the picture switches to
pathetic photos of gays who look decent, harmless, and likable; and
then we cut back to the poisonous face of the preacher, and so forth.
The contrast speaks for itself. The effect is devastating.
Format F for Funds: S.O.S.
Alongside or during these other
persuasive advertisements, we would have to solicit donations so that
the campaign might continue. Direct appeals from celebrities
(preferable living ones, thank you) might be useful here. All appeals
must stress that money can be given anonymously (e.g. via money
orders) and that all donations are confidential. "We can’t help
unless you help," and all that.
The Time Is Now
We have sketched out here a
blueprint for transforming the social values of straight America. At
the core of our program is a media campaign to change the way the
average citizens view homosexuality. It is quite easy to find fault
with such a campaign. We have tried to be practical and specific here,
but the proposals may still have a visionary sheen.
There are one hundred reasons
why the campaign could not be done or would be risky. But there are at
least 20 million good reasons why some such program must be tried in
the coming years: the welfare and happiness of every gay man and woman
in this country demand it. As the last large, legally oppressed
minority in American society, it is high time that gays took effective
measures to rejoin the mainstream in pride and strength. We believe
that, like it or not, such a campaign is the only way of doing so
And, let us repeat, time may be
running out. The AIDS epidemic is sparking anger and fear in the
heartland of straight America. As the virus leaks out of homosexual
circles and into the rest of society, we need have no illusions about
who is receiving the blame. The ten years ahead may decide for the
next forty whether gays claim their liberty and equality or are driven
back, once again, as America's caste of detested untouchables. It s
more than a quip: speak now or forever hold your peace.