As the homophobia

As the homophobia

For the past few
weeks it seems like I’ve been spending more time in
the fictional soap city of Oakdale than in my office
at the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation.
Because it’s still rare for gay characters to
populate daytime television, the fact that Lily and
Holden’s son Luke was coming out on As the
World Turns
gave cause for celebration, and
GLAAD wanted to help spread the news.

My association
with the CBS soap goes back to the early ’70s. In
rural Kansas our rooftop antenna only picked up nearby
NBC and CBS affiliates. With just two choices, my
mother and grandmother both watched CBS during the
day, and I got hooked on that network’s soaps as

I remember my
excitement back in 1988 when As the World Turns
introduced daytime’s first gay male
character—and one of the few gay characters
anywhere on television—Hank Elliot. Hank really
was a touchstone for me as a young gay man. After watching a
confused Steven Carrington on Dynasty and Al
Pacino’s dangerous Cruising, it was nice
to be able to identify with someone who lived a pretty
“normal” life in a pretty
“normal” city like Oakdale. Well, as normal as
one gets on a soap.

Fast-forward 18
years. I’m sitting in an office with As the World
executives and actor Van Hansis, who plays
Luke. We’re discussing the importance of
Luke’s story today for gay youth and their
families. As I give Van pointers on talking to the
press about his gay character, I’m impressed with how
seriously he is taking his real-life status as a role

Luke coming out to his father on ATWT | Advocate.comLuke (Hansis, right) coming out to his father on
As the World Turns.

I’m struck by the very public statement he’s
about to make.

In January
ABC’s General Hospital helped GLAAD kick
off our “Be an Ally and a Friend” campaign by
airing a public service announcement featuring two of
its young stars. Now CBS and As the World Turns were
enthusiastically joining our campaign, with Van and
his on-screen mother, Emmy winner Martha Byrne, taping
their own PSA. The script went like this:

Lily (Martha Byrne): Every day people face
rejection, prejudice, and violence because they’re
gay. But you can make a difference.

Luke (Van Hansis): Send a message of support
and acceptance. Be an ally and a friend.

A joint press
release from As the World Turns and GLAAD was
released announcing the coming-out story line and the
airing of the PSA on May 9. Unfortunately, it came as no
surprise that the virulently antigay Traditional
Values Coalition—which claims, among other
things, that “homosexual behavior is no different
than tobacco or alcohol abuse”—launched
a weeklong crusade against CBS, As the World Turns,
and GLAAD.

In all, the TVC
sent out five announcements during the week that attacked
GLAAD as “anti-Christian.” The TVC said the
PSA, which it had not yet viewed, would “label
critics of homosexual sex as bigots.” The group
asked its members to call their local CBS affiliates and
encourage them not to air a PSA that pushes “a
message about homosexuality that is not true.”

In one of her
many hyperventilative moments that week, TVC executive
director Andrea Lafferty wrote, “GLAAD’s
message in its PSA will be to stigmatize any person
who thinks that homosexual conduct is immoral or
abnormal.... The underlying antireligious bigotry of GLAAD
must be rejected by all Americans, and CBS affiliates
should refuse to run their inaccurate PSAs next

Arguments this
disconnected from reality are nothing new for the TVC. It
was clear they were throwing out every outrageous statement
possible in hopes that
something—anything—would stick. We all know
that their real goal is to get themselves on
television to spread their message of discrimination.
It became very clear very quickly that the best response
to their unhinged hysteria was to ignore them. As a result
the TVC didn’t get the national platform they
were looking for.

TVC’s campaign to strong-arm and intimidate CBS, the
network stood by its commitment to increase
understanding and acceptance of gay people in the
United States. My CBS contacts found it bizarre and
off-putting that a group claiming to represent
“values” was condemning a PSA that
called on people to treat one another with acceptance and

May 9 arrived.
Luke came out to his parents, and the PSA reached millions
of As the World Turns viewers. The PSA directed
viewers to, where they could find resources
for parents, youth, families, and friends, including
links to allied organizations such as PFLAG and GLSEN.

Within an hour of
its airing, we received an e-mail from a gay teen in
rural Arkansas who felt abandoned by his family. A mother in
Kansas City wrote asking for help supporting her newly
out son. This was just the beginning of the responses
heard by GLAAD, CBS, and the allied organizations we
directed viewers to.

Nearly two
decades ago, I found inspiration on As the World
Today, new generations can find inspiration
on the very same soap opera. Substantive gay
characters on television are few and far between, but
when they exist, they provide a lifeline for gay people,
their friends, and their families.

The TVC knows
that these stories are powerful, and that is why they want
to keep them off the air, erasing images of our lives and
families. They know that these stories, on daytime TV
or elsewhere, create understanding and acceptance. And
they realize that the networks are growing weary of
intolerance, prejudice, and bigotry masquerading as
“traditional values.”

In its attack on
our “Be an Ally and a Friend” campaign, TVC
branded GLAAD as “one of the most dangerous
organizations in America.” I’m deciding
right now whether to send them a mirror to reflect who the
real danger is, or to wear it as a badge of honor.
Perhaps I’ll do both.

Tags: World, World