For years, the war over civil rights for homosexuals has been fought in the press, at the polls, and in the corridors of Congress. Now it is being joined on a new front: the videocassette recorder.

The opening salvo, The Gay Agenda, aimed at countering “sanitized” media portrayals of homosexuals, was launched last fall. Since then, groups on both sides of the debate have been locked in a battle of video images over public perceptions of homosexual rights.

“We believe the American public is being asked to embrace a lifestyle they are not fully aware of,” says Ty Beeson, coproducer of The Gay Agenda. “The media do not report on homosexuality, they promote it.”

Homosexual-rights groups have countered with videos of their own, while producers of The Gay Agenda and other antihomosexual-rights groups have released another round of videos.

The video agenda

Produced by The Report, a Christian media resource center in Lancaster, California, The Gay Agenda contains graphic footage of homosexual-rights demonstrations and gay pride parades that has scenes of violence, public nudity, and simulated oral and anal sex.

In other parts of the 20-minute program, doctors and leaders of “ex-gay” ministries describe, in frank detail, various homosexual sex practices and other aspects of the homosexual lifestyle they say are suppressed by mainstream media outlets.

“The tragedy today is that most people in the general population do not understand what the homosexual lifestyle really involves,” says Stanley Montieth, author of AIDS: The Unnecessary Epidemic.

Says the program’s narrator: “Studies show that male homosexuals average between 20 and 106 partners every year; the average homosexual has 300 to 500 partners [in] his lifetime.”

But homosexual-rights advocates say The Gay Agenda misrepresents homosexuals by focusing on extremes. “It is a very deliberate brainwashing strategy to characterize us in a negative light,” says Ann Northrop, executive director of the Gay and Lesbian Emergency Media Campaign.

Following the video’s release, her group quickly produced and circulated Hate, Lies, and Videotape, a ten-minute video that compares The Gay Agenda to Nazi and Ku Klux Klan propaganda. The Emergency Media Campaign’s hour-long Sacred Lies, Civil Truths, released in early May, depicts “mainstream” rather than “marginal” aspects of the homosexual-rights movement, its producers say.

Not ready for prime time

The video image war heated up after the April 25 march for homosexual rights in Washington. According to several media analysts who monitored media coverage of the event, the major networks showed few scenes that the public would find disturbing.

To fill the perceived information gap, the Christian Action Network quickly released Gay March ’93: What You Didn’t See on Network TV, which contains footage of self-identified members of leather-fetish communities, a man demonstrating how to use a condom on a sex toy, and Church Ladies for Choice singing “God Is a Lesbian” to the tune of “My Country ’Tis of Thee.”

Hoping to win public support for lifting the ban on homosexuals in the military, homosexual-rights supporters released To Support and Defend: The Role of Homosexuals in the Military, hosted by actress Cybill Shepherd.

Groups on both sides of the media campaign are distributing videos widely to military officials, members of Congress, and the public.

That is a cause for concern, says Quentin Schultze, professor of media ethics at Calvin College. “By marshaling the creative forces of video to elicit raw, emotional responses to persuade people, these videos are shifting public discourse toward a high level of emotionality and a low level of rationality.”

Still, Bob Knight of the Family Research Council (FRC) calls The Gay Agenda a “welcome corrective to the mainstream media’s monologue on homosexual issues.” And the FRC’s Gary Bauer says the video will have a “dramatic” effect on the public-policy debate.

By Thomas S. Giles

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