Whether this was a good decision for gay and lesbian civil rights or a bad one depends on what happens next.
On the surface, of course, it seems good. The infomercial, produced by the gay-hating, radical right-wing religious organization American Family Association, is a stream of misdirection, misinformation and outright lies.
Through interviews with leaders of a small number of far-right organizations like Concerned Women for America, the Christian Anti-Defamation Commission, the Media Research Center and the ex-gay group Exodus International, “Speechless” tells a story that would be horrifying if it were true: Gay and lesbian activists are using violence and intimidation to keep Christians from practicing their religion.
Of course, it’s not true at all. Gay people aren’t trying to pass laws to keep Christians from marrying, or attacking them on the street because they’re Christian, or firing them from their places of employment (which would be illegal anyway, under federal antidiscrimination law that we’d like to extend to ourselves).
These things happen to gays and lesbians all the time.
The infomercial is dangerous, because it feeds on fear and uncertainty with inflammatory language and stock video that tries to scare viewers into believing that if even basic antidiscrimination laws are passed, then America’s children (who, interestingly, all seem to be white in the pictures flashed across the screen) are in danger.
What, exactly, they are in danger of isn’t made clear. Open-mindedness? Independent thinking?
This sort of infomercial, though, sways opinions in the same way those ridiculous, hate-mongering Internet forwards do — by feeding on people’s doubts and prejudices by saying things that aren’t true, but that people fear are true. So in the world of Internet forwards, then-candidate Barack Obama was a Muslim terrorist. And in the world of “Speechless,” gay people are opening fire on places of worship (really).
When the Human Rights Campaign learned that the station in Grand Rapids planned to air the infomercial, they put out a call to action. The station was flooded with messages from angry gays and lesbians demanding the piece be pulled.
And it was.
What I like about the HRC’s call is that it requested that a reasoned debate on hate crime be substituted for the deceitful infomercial. That seems fair.
But the other side, of course, won’t see it that way.
In fact, my guess is that the pulling of the infomercial will only lend fuel to the AFA fire — now they’ll be able to point to it as just another example of gays and lesbians — and the “liberal” media — trying to stifle Christian speech.
I also worry that the controversy over the Grand Rapids television decision means that many more people are watching “Speechless” on the AFA Web site than would have ever seen it on a small, local TV channel.
And yet, when faced with trash like the AFA infomercial, we can’t do nothing. We know that lies like these affect real people in our community, giving bigots who fire us and bash us an air of legitimacy.
So what should we do?
First, of course, we need to counter the AFA’s lies with point-by-point truth.
But it is not facts that sway hearts — it is points of commonality.
We need to do a better job of building bridges between the gay and lesbian civil-rights movement and more liberal faith communities. We need to highlight the experiences of gay and lesbian faith leaders — like Gene Robinson, Mel White and Peter Gomes. We need to start flooding the airwaves with pictures of gay people attending religious services.
We need to end the lie that religion and gayness are incompatible.
I know that a lot of gay people will be uncomfortable with this. Many gays and lesbians, religious or not, have been hurt by religious institutions. But the fact is that America is a religious country, far more religious than other Western countries. And many gays and lesbians who grew up in America are religious, too. We attend church and synagogue. We go to Buddhist temples. We celebrate annual religious holidays. We pray.
Gays and lesbians shouldn’t have to deny any parts of ourselves — not our sexual orientation, and not our religious affiliation, should we have one. We can be both religious and gay.
We need to show that gays and lesbians aren’t silencing Christians — because many of us are Christian, too.
Jennifer Vanasco is an award-winning syndicated columnist. E-mail her at Jennifer.email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/JenniferVanasco. Mark My Words is on vacation and will return.