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As the homophobia
turns

As the homophobia
turns

Damonromine

When GLAAD and CBS joined forces to run a public service announcement about tolerance alongside a teen coming-out story line on As the World Turns, the haters turned up the heat

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 well.

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 Turns 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 model.

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

Moreover, 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 week."

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.

Throughout 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 respect.

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 GLAAD.org, 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 Turns. 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.

30 Years of Out100Out / Advocate Magazine - Jonathan Groff & Wayne Brady

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Damon Romine