Why the anti-LGBT movement should fear greater TV representation

In reaction to GLAAD's findings that LGBT characters are still under represented on American television, anti-LGBT critics have come back with one major charge.  Led by Brent Bozell of the extremely hostile Media Research Center, anti-LGBT commentators keep claiming that the true unfairness is in the lack of anti-LGBT characters (or "pro-family," as they call them).

Here's a snip from the Family Research Council:

"Here's the catch," Brent [Bozell] explains. "Gay characters never face any real opposition to the gay agenda on these so-called 'inclusive' programs. There is no measure of Orthodox religious inclusion and no real debates. The victory of the left is assumed without thinking. When a conservative character is created -- like Ellen Barkin's 'Nana' in 'The New Normal' -- it's a vicious cartoon, the kind that those 'against defamation' folks deeply enjoy. These people are all about tolerance and sensitivity. But if you disagree with them, they will have your head. Ask anyone in Hollywood who's pro-family." It's time for families to let networks know that what they gain by being pro-homosexual doesn't compare with what they'll lose. And that's viewers. [FRC]

Folks like Bozell and FRC head Tony Perkins seem to believe that their "side" might have a fighting chance, if only those mean network executives would let them have some fictional counterparts populating sitcoms and dramas.  They act as if there is an agenda guiding the exclusion, and they claim that the stereotypes that are paired with the anti-LGBT characters that do appear are all skewed portraits of the truth.  

The truth, however, is that many of these anti-LGBT commentators reliably say worse and more overheated things than Hollywood writers would have ever dreamt up!  In fact, I would argue that some of the anti-LGBT rhetoric is so over the top that many viewers would think it was a far-fetched cartoon, just as Bozell complains.  

Take Tony Perkins, for just one example.  Here is a small sampling of some of the things he has said about LGBT people in recent months:

-- Says about gay people: “They are intolerant. They are hateful. They are vile. They are spiteful"..."pawns" of the "enemy.” (See 1:30 mark.)

-- Lumps together Aurora shooting, kidnapping, and openly gay soldiers as three examples of a "nation gone under"

-- Says many gays have an "emptiness within them" (:55) because they are "operating outside of nature" (1:09)

-- Says that gay young people “have a higher propensity to depression or suicide because of that internal conflict; homosexuals may recognize intuitively that their same-sex attractions are abnormal.

-- Despite what health experts have said, insists that pedophilia is “a homosexual problem.”

-- The Family Research Council has distributed a pamphlet that begins by likening the logic behind same-sex marriage to the logic behind man-horse marriage (complete with horse graphic)

-- Compares gay legal advocates to terrorists (at 0:31 mark): “[B]ack in the 80s and early 90s, I worked with the State Department in anti-terrorism and we trained about 50 different countries in defending against terrorism, and it’s, at its base, what terrorism is, it's a strike against the general populace simply to spread fear and intimidation so that they can disrupt and destabilize the system of government. That's what the homosexuals are doing here to the legal system.”

-- Says: "It doesn't matter what society does, I think within the homosexual, most of them know that this behavior, it's just not right, it's not what we were created to do and it's against God's plan and it's contrary to our nature and the way were were created."

-- Says: “The truth is that we cannot redefine marriage without opening the door to all manner of moral and social evil.

-- Called the It Gets Better project "disgusting," claiming it tells children "that it's okay to be immoral" and constitutes a "concerted effort to persuade kids that homosexuality is okay and actually to recruit them into that lifestyle"; also called the project a "deceptive lie"

-- Claims "blood of young marines" is on hands of legislators who voted to repeal Don't Ask Don't Tell.

-- Claims "people know intuitively that [homosexuality] is morally wrong"

-- Says "it's a fact" that homosexuality leads to "eternal damnation"

-- Says gays and lesbians are "held captive by the enemy"

-- Claims his kids couldn't be gay because he is "teaching them the right ways that they are to interact as human beings" (3:15-3:39)

-- Compared Mayor Bloomberg's proposed ban on supersized soft drinks to the "need" to ban homosexuality: "On one hand, he's happy to legislate people's food choices, using the dangers of obesity as justification. On the other, he not only promotes--but forces others to embrace--a sexual behavior that carries just as many public health risks. If that isn't hypocrisy, I don't know what is....On the "Today" show, Bloomberg reiterated that all he wants to do is improve life expectancy. If that's the case, then perhaps the Mayor should reconsider his endorsement of homosexuality, which, as Peter Sprigg explains, is one of the greatest public health hazards in America." 

-- Equates LGBT pride with drunkedness and adultery: "The month of June is Gay Pride Month. Now, I have not yet seen where they have declared Adultery Pride Month, I have not seen where they have declared the Drunkenness Pride Month." 

-- Dedicated seven minutes of a recent radio should to framing scientifically-discredited "ex-gay" therapy as "successful," encouraging gays to "escape the homosexual lifestyle"

-- Claims: "Even if society embraced homosexuality, there would never be that sense of self-fulfillment because it's outside of how God created man and woman, and that's the bottom line.  They can't erase that." 

-- Claims Uganda anti-gay bill (with death penalty attached) simply "upholds moral conduct"

-- Equates gay people with drug addicts, adulterers: "...[W]e need to be praying for those who are bound up in these lifestyles whether it is homosexuality, whether it is drugs, whatever it might be, anything that is outside the design of God for mankind, it could be adulterous relationships, it doesn’t matter."

-- Compares the "unfortunate experience" and "lifestyle choice" of homosexuality to that of drug abuse

-- Says marriage equality will be "the nail in coffin of marriage" and will "take society down with it"

-- Says Republican Senator Rob Portman should not support his gay son's "choices that are both harmful to [him] and to society as a whole"

Tony Perkins [GLAAD CAP]

If a writer put that character into a script, using his own verbatim words, it is likely the producers would send back the script as way too unbelievable.  If this character made it to air, it's possible that even gay TV critics would wonder if perhaps the show's producers were trying to make some sort of heavy-handed statement.  When you put it all out there, it really does read as too shocking to be believed.  

Only thing?  This is Tony Perkins' truth, as he himself has told it!  This is Tony Perkins' version of reality TV!  We don't have to make it up—it exists!

But while sheer unbelievability is one reason why an onscreen stand-in of a true-to-life anti-is pundit is unlikely to make it onto mainstream TV, the other reason is viewer relatability.  Viewers tend to gravitate to characters that they find relatable.  Or, if the viewer isn't to love the character, then the viewer needs to love to hate the character.  But when it comes to those who traffic in anti-LGBT discrimination for a living, it's hard to envision either.  In terms of likeability, it's increasingly unlikely, here in a world where Modern Family tops rating charts, that we will see American viewers rooting for a character who spends his days condemning Mitch and Cam's mortal and eternal futures.  And on the other side of the possible coin, the one pertaining to "love-to-hate"-iness, it's equally hard to imagine an outspoken anti-LGBT character who is compelling enough to irk you enough to want to tune in every week just so you can seethe at their antics.  

The second possibility is a more likely one, but it would have to be executed with surgeon-like precision.  The truth is that the majority of people find the very idea of anti-LGBT discrimination, at the level that someone like Tony Perkins dishes it, to simply be too outmoded and foreign to even recognize as "a thing."  While it's a daily battle for people like me and groups like GLAAD, the fact of the matter is that denouncing LGBT people for paycheck and sport is a pretty one-note operation.  It couldn't make for the most compelling television.  I would think that after just a couple of episodes featuring a character who compares his or her gay neighbors to drug abusers, American viewers would be all like, "Right, we get it—you think you own the world and that certain kinds of people are not fit to exist within it.  Is Modern Family on yet?"  

Personally, I would have no problem with an American TV show that crafted an accurate portrait of a Tony Perkins.  For someone like me, who tries so hard to get the word out about these extreme voices and the things that say about us, this kind of national conversation could bring the kind of exposure that I could never get through traditional channels.  So while Bozell, Perkins, and the rest seem to believe that those of us on the opposition are fighting tooth and nail to make sure that U.S. couch potatoes don't get to stream their fictional analogues on a TV or any other device, I do want to let them know that some of us are quite open to that possibility. Bring it!

They are the ones who shouldn't want this to happen.  The truth of anti-LGBT punditry is so much stranger than fiction.  For a movement hellbent on selling the fiction that militant discrimination is really "pro-family," having their everyday advocacy brought into the bright light of a top-rated TV show could be the final nail in a proverbial coffin that is already closing.  If they aren't careful, they might wish away this, their bread and butter fight against LGBT humans, ending this so-called "culture war" quicker than any election, court case, or political move could ever do.

Then maybe I could catch up on my backlog of shows (I'm three seasons behind in Dowton!  I've yet to see one episode of Scandal!) rather than track the guest arcs that these "pro-family" figures insist on making into my life.