BY Jon Barrett
August 18 2010 11:40 AM ET
In 2000, now Advocate editor in chief Jon Barrett wrote the magazine's cover story on Dr. Laura. Ten years later, the antigay conservative radio host is ending her show. See what we had to say about Dr. Laura back then.
How do you go from mother and radio talk-show host to public enemy number 1 in the eyes of gay activists? If you are Dr. Laura Schlessinger, you would say you do it by following your heart and speaking your mind.
“If you are gay or lesbian, it’s a biological error that inhibits you from relating normally to the opposite sex,” Schlessinger has said. “The fact that you are intelligent, creative, and valuable is all true. The error is in your inability to relate sexually, intimately, in a loving way to a member of the opposite sex.”
It’s a belief bound to create controversy and one Schlessinger swears is heartfelt. She has gained popularity by discouraging unwed couples from “shacking up” and encouraging parents to spend quality time with their children, so when she calls gay men and lesbians “deviants” and “mistakes” in her inimitably take-no-prisoners style, she says she’s just telling it as it is. And in an exclusive written interview with The Advocate, she says that no matter what the activists say, she’s not about to change her tune.
This “doctor knows best” attitude is what has made The Dr. Laura Program the most-listened-to radio program in the country, with more than 20 million listeners on nearly 500 stations in the United States and Canada. In addition Schlessinger writes a syndicated column that is carried in more than 100 newspapers in the United States and has a TV program planned for the fall. The problem, activists say, is that is she is now riding a wave of antigay sentiment.
Whereas Schlessinger said in 1996, “I cannot in good conscience tell someone that they cannot have a lifelong companion of love and affection,” she now tells listeners that when God created Adam “he didn’t get Adam another guy. He didn’t get Adam three guys. He got Adam a woman.”
That change in attitude has made Schlessinger the leader in the broadcast charge against gay rights. In her most recent campaign, she has taken to the ramparts against December’s Vermont supreme court decision recognizing the rights of gay partnerships, urging her listeners and visitors to her Web site to bombard Vermont legislators with messages of outrage. Anything that legitimizes gay marriage is simply contrary to God’s plan, she argues.
In the past year Schlessinger has told her listeners and readers about the moral perils she sees in gay marriage, gay parenting, and hate-crimes legislation and has become one of the biggest proponents of reparative therapy, the so-called cure for homosexuality. She has derided groups such as the American Psychological Association and the National Education Association while promulgating dubious reports from notoriously antigay religious-right groups Focus on the Family and the Family Research Council. And she has done it all from a media empire that will grow even larger in the fall, when she kicks off an hourlong weekday TV talk show. All the while her popularity continues to grow.
Schlessinger didn’t begin her career on the same note. “My first experience hearing her on the radio—and at that point it was pretty early on—she was defending gays,” says Vickie L. Bane, author of 1999’s Dr. Laura: The Unauthorized Biography. “I thought, Well, that’s a pretty positive point of view, [especially] from someone who at that point already was starting to convert to [Orthodox] Judaism. I would have never dreamed two years ago…that she would have gone this far.”
The 53-year-old Schlessinger, who lives with her husband, Lew Bishop, and their 14-year-old son, Deryk, in Southern California’s San Fernando Valley, agrees that there has been a shift in her thinking regarding gay men and lesbians. A self-proclaimed moralist—her Ph.D. is in physiology, not psychology—Schlessinger points to religion as the main impetus behind this shift.
“I have grown in faith in Judaism, which forbids acting out sexually with a member of the same gender, or different gender outside of marriage, and believes that marriage is a covenant with God and a man and a woman,” she wrote to The Advocate, insisting that her rants against gay rights are actually compassionate. “It has not altered my personal, oft-stated position that homosexual people, like all other people, are entitled to respect and kindness as fellow human beings.”
Indeed, Schlessinger says, she enjoys close relationships with several gay men and lesbians. A former chief engineer of her radio show (who recently retired after ten years) and her closest male friend are both gay. A top-level executive on her upcoming TV show is a lesbian, she says. “They actually agree with me that legalizing homosexual marriage and adoption is wrong.”