The new hot button issue for the religious right is homosexuality. While abortion continues to be a top priority, right-wing Christian leaders believe that there is a wider constituency that can be mobilized to oppose gay civil rights. And the way they ar e doing it is through a cynical exploitation of people's ignorance and fears about homosexuality, to move this wider, unwitting constituency closer to theocracy.
An increasing important element of the Christian Right, the Christian Reconstructionist movement, believes that the Bible calls for the death penalty for "homosexual acts."
"We must not reduce this movement to a couple of issues," declared Paul Weyrich at the Christian Coalition's national conference in September 1992. "The larger issue," he explained, "for example, of the homosexual question, is the point that private acts have public consequences. We are created in the image and likeness of God. God is Trinity. Trinity is community. We are part of a community."
And what are the "public consequences" of homosexuality? And what does Weyrich propose to do about them? Soft-sounding rhetoric about "the family" aside, the Christian Right is seeking to make gay and lesbian Americans second-class citizens, perhaps crimi nals. What's more, an increasingly important element of the Christian Right, the Christian Reconstructionist movement, believes that the Bible calls for the death penalty for "homosexual acts."
Conservative Christian opposition to homosexuality is not new. However, the current stridently political focus on gays and lesbians is unprecedented. The anti-gay referenda in Colorado and Oregon in 1992 led the way. While the former passed and the latter failed, anti-gay ballot initiatives turned out to be powerful politics with a violent undercurrent. The National Gay and Lesbian Task force reports that hate crimes against gays and lesbians are up dramatically in Colorado and Oregon. Nevertheless, anti- gay initiatives may be on the ballot in 12 states in the next two years, as well as 33 towns in Oregon. This movement of anti-gay voters, should work to the advantage of Christian Right "stealth" candidates for local and state offices, running in low-turn out, off-year elections. Among the states expecting ballot initiatives are California, Florida, Idaho, Washington, and Oregon.
Epitomizing this anti-gay offensive is a 19-minute video called "The Gay Agenda." The film presents graphic and outlandish footage, framed by the views of purported experts. Designed to shock convention al sensibilities, the video depicts actual as well a s pseudo human genitalia. The transcript at one point reads: "Two men simulate inter course." The film is also riddled with four-letter obscenities. Distribution of this "adult" video might be illegal in some jurisdictions. Nevertheless, excerpts are appe aring on Christian TV, notably Pat Robertson's "700 Club," which flashed the toll-free number (18004624700) from which one can order "The Gay Agenda," for $13.95.
The video made national news when the commandant of the Marine Corps arranged a screening for the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The video has also been distributed to members of Congress and state legislators. Its producers claimed in February to have distribute d 48,000 copies and were receiving between 300 and 500 orders a day. (On March 24, the church told the Freedom Writer sales had topped 60,000.)
In response to such high-level viewing of anti-gay propaganda, the Gay and Lesbian Emergency Media Campaign (GLEMC) quickly produced an eight-minute video called "Hate, Lies, and Videotape," which compares "The Gay Agenda" to the hate strategies of the Ku Klux Klan, and to a 1940 Nazi propaganda film, "The Eternal Jew."
At a press conference denouncing "The Gay Agenda," Loretta Ross, an expert on hate groups with the Atlanta-based Center for Democratic Renewal, said "When you're talking about the Christian Coalition, you're talking about the ones that don't wear sheets."
"The Gay Agenda" originated with "The Report," a TV ministry affiliated with the charismatic Springs of Life Ministries in Lancaster, California. The No Special Rights PAC bought 6,000 copies as part of the anti-gay campaign in Oregon last fall. (Another 4,000 were used in Colorado.) The leader of both the No Special Rights PAC and the Oregon Christian Coalition is Lon Mabon. At the Christian Coalition's national conference last September, Mabon's workshop on anti-gay initiatives drew over 500 activists.< p> The video demonization of gays and lesbians is driven, in part, by the use of phony statistics, and crank authorities like Dr. Stanley Monteith of Santa Cruz, California. Dr. Monteith is not only a member of the Christian Coalition, but also the overtly t heocratic Coalition On Revival. His resume of cynical anti-gay politics includes a 1987 letter in which he proposes exploiting the MDS crisis to generate membership for the John Birch Society. He wrote in apocalyptic terms about how AIDS "is the last grea t battle, win or lose." And he claimed, conspiratorially, that "The problem is that there is a specific plan to keep us from doing anything about this epidemic. Part of this is engineered by the homosexuals, but part of this is definitely engineered by th e subversive elements within our nation." An unsuccessful 1988 candidate for Congress, Monteith is currently a member of the State Republican Central Committee. In 1992, he attempted to introduce a resolution calling for mandatory HIV testing of school ch ildren. When questioned, he said he meant 7-12th graders. Nevertheless, he got no support.
In "The Gay Agenda," Monteith graphically describes certain gay sex practices, and cites authoritative sounding data about what percent age of gay men do them. However, the Los Angeles Times (2/22/93) reports that he was quoting from a tiny study o f dubious validity conducted by an anti-gay crusader named Paul Cameron, of the Washington, DC-based Family Research Institute. Cameron has been expelled, according to the Times, from the American Psychological Association, and denounced by the American S ociological Association, for having "consistently misinterpreted and misrepresented sociological research."
All this comes at a pivotal moment for the gay civil rights movement. President Clinton was elected in a campaign that was openly friendly to the gay community. What's more, the gays in the military issue has blown up to proportions that surprised everyon e. The Christian Right, how ever, was plotting to up the ante of anti-gay politics and was more than ready, and plans to use the issue to destabilize the Clinton presidency to the extent that it can.
Meanwhile, an April 25th "March on Washington for Lesbian, Gay, and Bi Equal Rights and Liberation" may gather as many as one millin people. Among the endorsers of the march are the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the National Organization for Women, the United Church of Christ, and the Institute for First Amendment Studies. The endorsement by the NAACP and its call for an end to the ban on gays in the military is an important milestone.
The struggle for, and against, lesbian and gay rights promises to be one of the decisive political themes of the decade.