"The Gay Agenda" and "Gay Rights, Special Rights" and
the Construction of a Homosexual Role
The rhetoric of the right traditionally has employed the language of norms. In his comparative study of the rhetoric of the left and the right, Tomkins noted: "On the right man is at best neutral, without value. There exists a norm, an objective value, independent of him, and he may become valuable by participation in, conformity to, or achievement of this norm" (83). The Gay Agenda and Gay Rights, Special Rights are consistent with this rhetorical stance.
The Gay Agenda begins with a familiar warning that "the following program contains scenes" that might be offensive to viewers. This opening and the rest of the video is underscored with ominous music. It runs about 20 minutes. Gay Agenda mixes soundbites from experts and "ex-gays" with video footage of Los Angeles and San Francisco Gay Pride parades, footage that includes nudity and rough language.
Gay Rights, Special Rights runs about twice as long, and begins with a far different image: Martin Luther Kings "I Have a Dream." This is followed by a number of African American men and women, an Asian American man and a Hispanic man detailing for the viewer in brief soundbites that the gay civil rights movement demeans the gains of the civil rights movement of the 1960s. A narrator then details why gays and lesbians are not a legal minority and do not deserve minority status. Like Gay Agenda, Gay Rights, Special Rights then proceeds to intercut expert testimony with footage from gay rights events, here primarily the 1993 March on Washington. Gay Rights, Special Rights also uses soundbites from gay and lesbian activists contextualized in damning rhetoric. In the context of the video, their statements are self-incriminating.
The Gay Agenda creates a framework in which sex, generally, is given a negative connotation. This sex negativity immediately places homosexuality outside the mainstream. This strategy reinforces what Rubin has argued is a devaluing of sex in western society. "Sex is presumed guilty until proven innocent," Rubin said. "Virtually all erotic behavior is considered bad unless a specific reason to exempt it has been established" (278). In Gay Agenda, sex is suspect. John Nicolosi, identified as a reparative therapist, implies this on several occasions. He notes that gay pride parades are "outrageously sexual," adding, "The reaction that were getting from conventional American society is against that." Later Nicolosi suggests that "eroticism is the fiber of the gay culture," creating a negative connotation of eroticism that is imposed on all gay culture. Sex negativity is part of the mediated reality of Gay Agenda, and the constructed homosexual role is to reinforce this reality. The full impact of this ideological discourse is realized only if one is predisposed to see sex in a negative light. Therefore, it is essential to create a sex-negative context for the rhetoric. In other words, the ideas presented in the video--that homosexuals average 300 to 400 sexual partners, for example--are neutral unless they occur in a context that makes them perversions. This context is created through both the internal reality of the video and the broader cultural discourse of sexuality, of which the video is a piece.
In this sex negative environment, the video uses strategies employed in the service of normalcy. Language choice and verbal juxtapositioning create a compulsory normalcy of which homosexuals are not a part. For example, Nicolosi refers to "conventional American society" placing homosexuals outside the conventional. The video ends with two questions: "Will society be forced to surrender its standards? Will the tide be turned?" Each of these comments, and others throughout the Gay Agenda, constitutes a heterosexual norm from which the homosexual stands outside, in opposition, and as a violation.
By playing on the perceived fears of its audience, the video constructs a villainous homosexual identified by the heinous sexual behaviors in which he (always "he") engages. This occurs through rhetoric that constitutes abnormal types of sexual activity, abnormal amounts of sexual activity, abnormal places for sexual activity, and abnormal contexts for sexual activity.
The clearest example of abnormal types of homosexual activity are articulated by Stanley Monteith, identified as a medical doctor. Monteith delivers a litany of behaviors accompanied by the percentages of gay men who engage in them. In tone, in context and explicitly, these are activities that fall outside of acceptable norms:
a hundred percent of homosexuals engage in fellatia . . . about 93 percent engaged in rectal intercourse . . . and then about 92 percent of homosexuals engaged in rimming . . . then you had something called fisting, and fisting involved about 47 percent of homosexuals . . . and then 29 percent engaged in something called golden showers . . . and then theres something called scat, and about 17 percent of homosexuals engaged in that.
The statistics are accompanied by lurid descriptions of the named activities. These descriptions serve to reinforce the abnormality of the activities: "Of course, the rectum was not built for intercourse;" "you couldnt do this without some ingestion of feces;" "a man lays on the ground naked, and other men stand around him and urinate on him." The effect of this discourse is to construct a homosexual who is unhealthy, unsavory, and abnormal. These are activities and behaviors outside the realm of what is normal within the reality created by the video.
The video also promotes the notion that gays have abnormal amounts of sex, specifically an abnormally large number of sexual partners. The narrator provides statistics that homosexuals have between 20 and 106 partners a year and that 28 percent have had anal intercourse with over a thousand men. He also claims that "the average homosexual man has between 300 and 500 sex partners in his lifetime." John Paulk, identified as an administrator of the "ex-gay" organization Love in Action, describes orgies with "multiple, multiple partners."
Of course, with all this sex going on, homosexual activities cannot be confined to the "normal" location of the bedroom. Gay Agenda describes the abnormal places for sexual activity, such as parks, malls, rest stops and bath houses.
Discussion of the abnormal contexts in which homosexual activities occur comprise a great deal of the video. This discussion takes a number of different forms. For example, all five experts testify that people dont know these activities are going on. This puts homosexuality into a secretive context of the Other. The assertion that homosexuality is "centered around anonymous sexual encounters" heightens this connection.
Gay Agenda uses other connections to vilify the homosexual and reinforce compulsory norms. Protection of children from the homosexual menace is a longstanding argument of the religious right, and the video goes to great lengths to maintain this association. Monteith says during the first minutes, "Most Americans would be highly offended if they really understood what was involved and what their children are being exposed to." After the narrator says homosexuals have "a long history of focusing on youth" (accompanied by NAMBLA marching in a gay pride parade), John Smid, an ex-gay administrator with Love in Action, says they are "stuck in that little boy stage." Freud's construction of homosexuality as arrested development gets played out, then, as a pathology of pedophilia. Images of young children, included throughout the video, serve as a constant reminder of this pathology.
Another association made in the testimonials is between homosexuality and disease. The narrator notes that homosexuals are eight times more likely to have hepatitis, 14 times more likely to have syphilis and 5,000 times more likely to have AIDS. Monteith notes that the tearing of the rectal mucosa is the basis for the higher incidence of disease among homosexuals. This frequent link between homosexuality and disease results in a construction of the homosexual as diseased. Disease is no less a social construction than homosexuality, however. The homosexual constructed as a diseased entity is something pathological that can spread and infect the rest of society (especially children).
As in any television media presentation, visual image choice and music or sound effects are a component of the rhetoric. From the opening image--a viewer warning--the video sensitizes viewers to the perverse activities they are about to witness. The warning is followed by violent images of rioting following "Pete Wilsons veto of Assembly Bill 101, which would have extended special minority rights to homosexuals." The narrator continues: "Gays mobilize and immediately activate a plan to replace A.B. 101, just one part of an aggressive nationwide offensive aimed at every segment of society to force approval of their chosen lifestyle." The visual images that accompany this narrative are burning buildings, windows being broken, fighting with police--images that equate "aggressive nationwide offensive" with hostile, dangerous behaviors. Thus, from the outset, the homosexual is created to exist outside the norm and to threaten that norm.
Visual images directly reinforce the homosexual role constituted through the narrative. Gay Agenda runs about 19 minutes. Of that time 12 minutes are testimonials of experts accompanied by a shot of the expert. Just under six minutes include images of gays (and a smattering of bare-breasted lesbians). The images include semi-nude men, shirtless women, costuming, drag, same-sex kissing, dancing, signs emblazoned with the word "fuck," and simulated S&M. Nicolosis comment that public sentiment is against overt eroticism is followed by a 2 minute gay pride sequence with pounding dance music. The outrageousness of the images, created through context, places the homosexual outside the norm. Images of sexually explicit ads and homoerotic imagery from magazines accompanying statistics on the high incidence of disease among homosexuals have exactly the same effect.
Overall, then, Gay Agenda is an argument for strict adherence to norms. By defining an "Other," the homosexual pervert, compulsory heterosexuality is constituted. The video creates two worlds, the normal and the perverse, and its internal structure mandates the former by constructing and vilifying the latter. The homosexual role is to threaten the norm and, ultimately, scare viewers into action.
Whereas the beginning of Gay Agenda is ominous and titillating, Gay Rights, Special Rights begins warmly and seductively with Martin Luther Kings "I Have a Dream." The rhetorical strategies and the production aspects of the film are much more sophisticated. Beginning with the opening narration, though, the video creates a reality in which normalcy is revered and the homosexual exists outside and threatens the norm. Kings speech, which lasts over a minute, is followed by Larry Kramer, identified as a homosexual and founder of ACT-UP, paraphrasing Dr. King. The narrator then says, "Many people failed to notice Mr. Kramers substitution of the words sexual behavior for skin color as he misquoted the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King on the steps of the U.S. Capitol." The videos declaration that gays are using sexual behavior as a way to get special rights then becomes code for the homosexual as abnormal and as threat.
Unlike Gay Agenda, this construction of homosexuality as abnormal comes from a diverse array of individuals. Mississippi Senator Trent Lott, for example, says homosexuals attempts to get special rights "makes a mockery of other legitimate civil rights that people have worked at for years." James Little, an African American minister with the Traditional Values Coalition, says the gay civil rights movement "threatens to undermine and belittle the entire civil rights efforts of the 1960s." An African American publisher, Emanuel McLittle, expresses concern that "homosexuals are using not only the language, but . . . the statutes, the laws" that were designed to protect legitimate minorities. Clearly, these comments are rhetorically constructed to drive a wedge between two communities that have some history of cooperation, but equally important, they are rhetorically constructing a reality of legitimate and illegitimate, normal and perverse. Other corroborating testimony comes from gays and lesbians themselves. Torrie Osborne, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force President, comments that gays and lesbians are emerging as the "great civil rights movement" of the 1990s. These frequent juxtapositions, though not precise, are effective.
Gay Rights, Special Rights uses a second subtle strategy to construct the homosexual as outside the compulsory norm. It defines homosexuality as a behavior, while defining gender and skin color as benign characteristics, adding the argument that behavior cannot define a minority. The narrator defines homosexuality for the viewer over footage of the 1993 March on Washington: "Homosexuality is defined as a behavior by the act of sex with members of the same sex. It does not qualify for minority status classification because behavior or conduct is irrelevant." Ralph Reed, Executive Director of the Christian Coalition, argues "no one should have special rights or privileges or minority status because of their sexual behavior." Ed Meese says "Color, gender are benign characteristics having nothing to do with behavior." The success of this argument is dependent upon the extent to which it can construct color as benign and behavior as malignant. To do this, almost every expert during the first 20 minutes of the video uses "sexual behavior" or "behavior-based lifestyle" when referring to gays and lesbians, contrasting them with "benign" attribute of color.
Gay Rights, Special Rights embraces a language of diversity. It celebrates the achievements of African Americans. It includes the voices of African Americans and Hispanics and Asian Americans. In fact, it includes the voices of gays and lesbians. But in this multicultural mediated reality, the video is very clear that the homosexual is not a part of this celebrated, hard-won diversity, but something that threatens it.
In an ironic moment, Gay Rights, Special Rights articulates the myths of homosexuality, including the myth of 10 percent, the myth of minority status, the myth of biology and the myth of immutability. Just when the homosexual is not a minority at all, it becomes an even smaller minority. These myths are attributed to "militant homosexual leaders," and once again testimony from activists is included: "10% was a nice, round number," one activist admits. After the initial soft sell, the video goes on an offensive that mirrors Gay Agenda. John Nicolosi, the reparative therapist who appears in Gay Agenda , is used as an expert; testimonial from ex-gays is included. Rhetoric that emphasizes the abnormal types, amounts, places, and contexts of sex stressed in the first video is used in Gay Rights, Special Rights, as well. The video systematically associates homosexuals with prisoners, sex offenders and child molesters. As the narrator begins to discuss the March on Washington, the accompanying footage imitates the gay pride parade footage from the earlier film. Visual imagery and sound effects support heterosexual hegemony. The subtleties of the first 15 minutes of the video--utilization of the language of diversity and the question of minority status--are replaced with a language of normalcy and perversion.
The argument is basically the same as Gay Agenda, but it is organized in terms of the negative impact granting minority status would have on business, education, the church, and the family. This restructuring changes the rhetorical impact of the film, at least initially, providing what appears on first viewing to be a reasoned basis to Gay Rights, Special Rights. The argument seems more rational and clearly intended for a wider, more diverse audience.
The segment on education is used as the forum to articulate the threat to children. The discourse of normalcy is clear, as one expert says the goal of the gay agenda is to promote homosexuality as "normal and desirable" in the schools. The homosexual is a threat to compulsory heterosexuality. This threat includes pedophilia and recruiting. A marcher in the gay teachers contingent says, "Were here to fight homophobia in the schools." Author Marlin Maddoux follows:
One of the things that sex education does in the public schools is to tell the kids that there is no difference between homosexual lifestyle and heterosexual lifestyle. The aim of that is basically to break down any type of what they would call prejudice against the homosexual lifestyle. So basically what Americans have to understand is that the agenda of the homosexuals is aimed at the children.
Ominous music and slow motion effects with a sinister look (mostly marchers) accompany the second half of Maddouxs comment. Without any pause a second expert begins: "The young boys are so vulnerable to this because theres a period of time in their life when they like boys. . . . Were going to lose thousands and thousands and thousands of good heterosexuals. . . ." The seemingly innocuous comment from the marcher is used as a catalyst to warn against the promotion of homosexuality in the schools and ultimately the threat of recruiting young boys. His comment is contextualized in pathological rhetoric, an effective strategy because it makes the homosexual self-incriminating.
The segment on the Impact on Family in Gay Rights, Special Rights parallels the structure of the segment on education. It begins with a number of marchers defining family and introducing their children. This creates the framework against which the experts argue. Donald Wildmon says the homosexual agenda "redefines the family. No longer do we have a family consisting of mother and father, children. What you gonna have now is family of anyone who wants to shack up for awhile for whatever reason." Another says the gay agenda is "a total rejection of the basic building blocks of society." These comments lead into the same litany of perverse behaviors named in Gay Agenda. This time, however, the text is divided among three people: an ex-gay, a registered nurse and Maddoux, making it easier to digest.
The video ends with a barrage of rhetoric that constructs the homosexual role in direct opposition to all that is good and innocent. A rather lengthy section discussing activity in a park in Riverside includes the following:
It averages between 100 and 150 men a day that walk down this bike path, one at a time, wearing different clothing according to their sexual perversion. They take the dirt paths off into the brush. They meet one another, and they do their sexual perversions right there in the open. . . . They come out one at a time, walk into the park with the children. Ive seen them talk to the children.
Another expert follows, "If you give homosexuals special rights in America, first of all youve opened a Pandoras box to every deviant behavior group logically being able to line up." Finally, Former Secretary of Education William Bennett says, "No society can survive, obviously, unless it comes full forward in favor of heterosexuality, and no society in its right mind would do anything but that." Gay Rights, Special Rights ends by returning directly to the language of normalcy and the abnormalcy of amounts, places, and contexts for homosexual sex.
Gay Rights, Special Rights ultimately constructs the homosexual as the pervert, effectively defining the rule that mandates compulsory norms. In this context the homosexual role is most apparent. It is to serve as the other against which the religious right can argue for heterosexual norms, monogamy norms, and the need to vigorously and vociferously enforce them.
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