The Rev. Jerry Falwell has slammed an upcoming cable TV special about gay parents and their children on the youth-oriented Nickelodeon network as a show that aims "to invade the minds and hearts of children." But among the guests appearing on the program he so strongly denounces is Falwell himself. While disapproving of gay parenting in his comments on the program, the conservative Christian evangelist also says homosexuals are entitled to respect and should not be "in any way harassed or robbed of their civil rights."
The program, "Nick News Special Edition: My Family Is Different," airing on June 18, also features comic Rosie O'Donnell, herself a gay parent of three adopted children, discussing the issue with a group of teenagers and host Linda Ellerbee. They are joined by a gay principal from Minnesota and a gay firefighter from New York City who has kids of his own. Falwell appears in a separate segment of the program, which the conservative Washington, D.C.-based lobbying group Traditional Values Coalition has attacked as a "pro-homosexual show."
Falwell started out with a sort of disclaimer of his own, saying, "The Bible condemns homosexuality as wrong" and "I feel that gay parenting is not overall a good thing." But according to a transcript of his remarks, he goes on to say that while he and like-minded Christians cannot approve of homosexuality, "we cannot disapprove of them. We love them. We care for them. We communicate with them, and we show them the same love and respect that we would expect to be shown us. When a kid meets a kid in school who has a gay parent, that should not enter into his or her thinking as far as his relationship with that kid is concerned. That kid is not responsible for his or her parent--has no voice in that," Falwell said. He ends by saying, "It is important to respect one another.... Hatred, malice, particularly violence, whether it's verbal or physical, is wrong always."
Ellerbee, an award-winning veteran broadcast journalist who hosts a weekly youth-oriented news program on Nickelodeon called Nick News, said she has had Falwell on before and respects his opinion. "I like what he says," Ellerbee said. "He says hatred is wrong. He says God is love."
However, Falwell sings a somewhat different tune in The Washington Post on Friday. "I'm not naive," the Post's TV column quoted him as saying. "The subtle purpose of the program is to invade the minds and hearts of children who enjoy Nickelodeon and teach them that what their parents believe and their faith dictates regarding the wrongness of the lifestyle is not correct." Falwell added that he agreed to appear on the program because he "felt there needed to be a kind of gracious voice from the other side."
Ellerbee, who also produced the half-hour special, dismissed suggestions that her show has a hidden agenda. "It's a very honest show," she told Reuters. "It is not a promotion of the homosexual lifestyle. It is a promotion of tolerance and respect. I would hope people would just watch it before they make up their minds." She said the show does not shy away from the difficulties faced by the children of same-sex parents. O'Donnell acknowledges that her 7-year-old adopted son "wishes he had a daddy," and a teen girl interviewed for the telecast laments that she loves her two mothers despite the teasing and peer pressure she endures at junior high school.
Ellerbee said the program will air Tuesday, June 18, at 9 p.m., rather than her usual 8:30 p.m. Sunday slot, to focus on the older range of her youthful audience and encourage viewing with parents. It opens with a disclaimer, voiced by Ellerbee, saying, "It does not deal with issues such as how do you know you're gay. It is not about sex. It does not tell you what to think."