BY John Caldwell
December 03 2004 12:00 AM ET
When openly gay actor Myles Herman was asked to be part of a television commercial promoting the United Church of Christ he jumped at the opportunity, not just because it was another acting gig but because it was sending a much-needed message of inclusiveness to American gays and lesbians during a time when they might otherwise feel dejected.So when he heard that two of the nation’s leading television networks were rejecting the ad because it was too controversial, he was a little stunned. “It really frustrated me,” he told Advocate.com on December 2, one day after the church announced that CBS and NBC refused to air the ad. “It just really brought a reminder of the homophobia that a lot of the country still has today.”The 30-second spot launched on December 1 highlights the Cleveland-based UCC’s welcoming stance toward gays and lesbians and anyone else who might feel shunned elsewhere. Part of a 3 1/2-week, $1.7 million campaign, the ad shows a muscular bouncer working a rope line outside a nameless church, deciding who is eligible to enter and worship. “No, step aside, please,” he says to two men holding hands, one of whom is played by Herman. Across the screen comes the message, “Jesus didn't turn people away. Neither do we.” The final scene shows two women embracing.Statements from CBS and NBC said the spot was too controversial to broadcast because it implied exclusion of gay and lesbian couples by other groups and therefore amounted to advocacy. CBS even cited President Bush’s support for a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage in their explanation. The ad was accepted, however, by ABC Family, AMC, BET, Discovery, and TBS, among others.Herman, 35, who lives with his 39-year-old partner, Geoff Thomas, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., said he isn’t a member of UCC but felt compelled to speak to Advocate.com about the significance of what happened.What was this experience like for you?I thought it was very important, considering what we’ve been going through this past year. I really felt like I was making a difference. And the people from UCC were so good-natured.What is the ad’s primary purpose?The church is essentially opening their arms and reaching out to all forms of diversity. They are welcoming to all.How did you feel when you heard the ad had been rejected?I don’t think the networks really understood the meaning of the ad. They thought the church was taking sides. And that wasn’t the goal. They really didn’t give the church a chance.Yes, but doesn’t the ad imply a kind of advocacy?I disagree. I think that the UCC is not trying to take sides. They were looking to provide a resource for people who might not have one. During taping of the commercial, no one said they were trying to show the public that this has to be done. They just wanted to get the word out that they have a religious environment in which all people can better themselves. The gay population does not have much spiritual guidance. By having an opportunity to go to a church that welcomes all individuals, it provides gay people with an opportunity to learn.Do you think the rejection has anything to do with the reelection of President Bush and his conservative agenda?It would be very unfortunate if they made this decision based on the Administration. This had nothing to do with gay marriage. It has to do with people wanting to be a part of a support system. If they were to use [gay marriage] as the reason for not allowing the commercial, then they would have completely misunderstood.What have you been hearing from people about all this?My gay friends are very disappointed that CBS and NBC have basically closed off this opportunity. But in the long term they believe that, because they turned their noses away, there’s only going to be more publicity. They were very supportive of it, and they do identify with the commercial.How do you feel about UCC after all of this?I am not a very religious person, but I do feel that the gay community does not have resources for a spiritual environment. It’s a win-win situation for all people. I do feel that this church is moving in a great direction.