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Is pride good PR?

Is pride good PR?


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

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.

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

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Michael Levine