Is pride good PR?

A-list Hollywood publicist Michael Levine assesses the public relations impact of pride festivals and parades.

BY Michael Levine

May 21 2006 11:00 PM ET

It is undeniably
true that it is difficult to be gay in our society.
Cultural, religious, and in some cases governmental
disapproval of homosexuality by the majority infects
the daily lives of gay men and lesbians, and it can
seem that the pressure from all sides to deny one’s
identity is overwhelming and unrelenting.

The need for
release, for freedom, is unmistakable. But gay pride
festivals in cities around the country can sometimes do more
harm than good.

I say this as a
sympathetic heterosexual who makes his living in public
relations and has done so for more than 20 years. When I
discuss the impact of gay pride demonstrations and
parades, it is not from a standpoint of moral
disapproval or even political ideology. I’m assessing
the impact made on society as a whole—the good or
damage done to the cause of gay identity and rights in
the United States—by the spectacle that gay
pride demonstrations can make.

From where
I’m standing, it’s not doing a lot of good.

Believe me, I
understand that it must feel wonderful to take to the
streets with hundreds, sometimes thousands, of people who,
finally, agree with you and understand your life. I
realize that even in today’s less closeted
society it has to be a joyful moment to stop trying to play
by the majority’s rules and simply acknowledge
one’s own identity: to be you.

But it comes with
a cost. Society’s mind-set in the 21st century is
determined by the media, in particular television. And in a
24-hour news cycle, when entire networks have to fill
a full day, every day, with current happenings, the
impact of gay pride festivals will be reduced to a
20-second piece of videotape that will be played and
replayed multiple times during the day until something
new, something else that makes “good
television,” replaces it.

And if you think
that 20-second clip is going to be a reasoned assessment
of the plight of an oppressed minority, a sound bite from a
gay man or lesbian who makes a thoughtful point about
demanding an equal place in our country, you are
living in a very different society than I am.

What’s
going to be shown on CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and for all I
know Aljazeera, is a montage of drag queens, leather
enthusiasts, and floats in the shape of a
penis—all parading down Main Streets in major cities
with the implied message to the red states in Middle America
that this is on its way to an avenue near you.

We can debate for
years whether this is an accurate or appropriate
depiction of most gay men or lesbians. But I can tell you
from a strict public relations viewpoint that it will
not—ever—help the cause of gay equality
in the United States.

When Muslims in
this country argue that the media (in news or fictional
television and film) depict only the most radical of their
religion and thereby distort the view that most
Americans have of all Muslims, they have a point. Such
portrayals make for vivid images, something that will
cause a viewer to stop channel surfing and take a
look—and that’s what television networks
are trying to do. But it doesn’t necessarily paint an
accurate picture or provide comprehensive information about
complex issues.

You’d
think that a 24-hour news cycle would offer more depth, as
news organizations would have much more time than they
once did—30 minutes a night until the
1980s—to delve into complex issues. But what has
happened is that the news has become polarized, and
the extra time is generally given to loud political
debate (if one cares to use the most polite term for
the screaming that goes on). Discussion of issues is left by
the wayside.

I don’t
argue for one second that gay people should not be proud of
who they are, nor that they should deny their true
identities for the sake of society. But I don’t
think that wild gay pride celebrations and
demonstrations in public serve well the cause they claim to
support.

They make good
television, but they certainly don’t make for better
public policy.

Tags: Commentary

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