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Media Visibility

The 1998 ex-gay newspaper ad campaign was the brainchild of Janet Folger, national director of the Center for Reclaiming America, an advocacy group started by Rev. D. James Kennedy. Kennedy is the founder of Coral Ridge Ministries, a multimedia evangelical organization. Before joining the Center for Reclaiming America, Folger was a lobbyist for the Ohio Right to Life Society and was the major force behind Ohio's becoming the first state to ban late-term abortions. She rallied state legislators by referring to the procedure as "brain suction abortion" and displaying gory posters.

Folger came up with the idea to place national ads promoting the ex-gay movement after public comments by Senator Trent Lott likened homosexuality to kleptomania and alcoholism, and football star Reggie White called homosexuality a sin. In a conference call to conservative strategists on June 24, Folger proposed taking out full-page newspaper ads that would showcase "former homosexuals" who "overcame" their sexual orientation through prayer and with the help of ex-gay ministries.5959 Folger raised $400,000 and placed the ads in national newspapers including The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Today, The Chicago Tribune, The Wall Street Journal, and The Los Angeles Times.

The national ad campaign generated an impressive wave of media coverage for the ex-gay movement. For the most part, the media has been generous to the movement, covering it as a human interest story and neglecting to unmask the political and legal implications of the ex-gay movement's partnership with the Christian Right.

The debate about homosexuality currently being showcased in the media has centered around nature vs. nurture. While some gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender activists say homosexuality is not a choice, activists of the Christian Right say it's a result of negative childhood experiences. But both sides miss the point that sexual identity -whether it be homosexual, bisexual, transgender, or heterosexual-is a human right. Under a human rights paradigm, all people have the right to control their bodies and everyone has the right to name their own sexual identity, whether it is chosen or not.

Media coverage of the ex-gay movement has included national network television, as well as articles about the ex-gay ad campaign in Newsweek, Time Magazine, The New York Times, The Boston Globe, USA Today, and The Washington Post, among other publications. With this kind of extensive media coverage, the ex-gay movement is successfully raising its public profile, furthering its chances of convincing people that gays need not "be that way," while it reinforces the work of Christian leaders and activists who oppose civil rights for lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender people.

In addition, the ex-gay ad campaign is currently being used as a fundraising tool by certain Christian Right organizations. "CWA is making Headlines & America is Waking Up!" asserts a Concerned Women for America fundraising appeal sent out in August 1998. The appeal features pictures of the ads and gives a chronology of when and where the ads were placed. "With your financial support, Concerned Women for America constantly monitors the progress of the radical homosexual movement.

CEO Jim Woodall and President Carmen Pate meet monthly with representatives from various pro-family groups. Together, this coalition has been dedicated to stopping the tide of homosexual activism which is seeping into the nation's mindset, threatening to undermine the traditional family."60

Colorado for Family Values mailed a similar fundraising appeal, enclosing a copy of the ex-gay advertisement placed in The New York Times. "In the days of Amendment 2, we saw intense, hard-hitting, unwanted attacks on people of stature like (Coach) Bill McCartney and (Senator) Bill Armstrong. Today we are seeing the same intensity of smears and attacks on people of stature such as All Pro Reggie White, Senator Trent Lott, and recording artists like the Winans sisters," notes the letter. "The threat today is even more serious than it was in 1992. We face a very intense campaign to force homosexuality onto our cities, states, and nation."61

Prior to the ad campaign, the visibility of the ex-gay movement, and with it the force of the political backlash, were quietly growing within mainstream news media, on the Internet, and in society at large. CBS's 60 Minutes aired a segment about ex-gay ministries in March 1998. Exodus International, the leading ex-gay organization,

had also received mention in other national media, including The Washington Post, National Public Radio, Hard Copy, the Jerry Springer Show, and the Sally Jesse Raphael Show. Exodus had also been featured in several Christian publications, including New Man magazine, Christian Single, Charisma & Christian Life, Gospel Today, Focus on the Family Magazine, and Today's Christian Woman. In 1996 Exodus claimed it received 600 requests for information each month. In August 1998, Exodus Update noted that the recent media interest is the largest media exposure it has received in its 23-year history.62

This visibility, enhanced by the organizational and financial support of Christian Right organizations like the Family Research Council, furthers the goals of the Christian Right and strengthens the ex-gay movement. And in the process, thousands of gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgender people who are struggling with coming out and struggling with reconciling their religious beliefs with their sexuality, are being exploited for political gain.

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