Flip the political calendar back to 1997: Led by the Southern Baptist Convention, social conservatives targeted the Walt Disney Corporation with a nationwide boycott in response to, among other sins, condoning "Gay Day" at Walt Disney World, having relatively gay-friendly corporate policies, and producing the sitcom Ellen. Now, back to the present: Gay civil rights groups are pressuring sponsors of Dr. Laura Schlessinger's forthcoming TV show, which will be syndicated by Paramount and feature the same bigotry and Crossfire-style family counseling we've come to expect from the good doctor, a radio personality who, as it happens, has her degree in physiology, not psychology.
The main difference between the two controversies is that the Disney boycott failed miserably--Baptist kids are as good as non-Baptist kids at pestering their mommies to see Hercules--while the Dr. Laura boycott was, until recently, succeeding. Procter & Gamble, the show's chief sponsor, announced in May that it would not advertise on Schlessinger's show. Then the national religious right groups jumped in to accuse gay rights activists of censorship. Brandishing a newfound passion for the First Amendment, the likes of James Dobson, the Family Research Council (FRC), and the American Family Association have denounced the "anti-family crusade" of "Gay McCarthyism." "The television airwaves," intoned televangelist Jerry Falwell, "are rapidly embracing indoctrination, as honest debate is apparently no longer important."
Hypocritical rhetoric? Clearly--once the FRC stepped in the ring, they called for a boycott of Procter & Gamble to protest the gay groups' implicit threat of a boycott, with Dobson encouraging his listeners to "tell the soap maker you're not going to buy their products." And in June, after a meeting with Focus on the Family, according to Salon magazine, Procter & Gamble promised to pull ads off two MTV shows: the supposedly lesbian-friendly Undressed and the supposedly antifamily Tom Green Show.
But the accusations of censorship still seem to have thrown some gay activists off stride. "We're not objecting to anybody's right to speak," argued Suzanna Walters of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) on CNN. "Obviously, GLAAD has always been very strongly in support of free speech. However, free speech doesn't encompass the right to your own talk show as a platform for the defamation of a particular group."
As John McClaughlin would say: Wrong! Free speech does encompass the right to use your talk to show to denigrate gays. That's why they call it free speech. However, neither GLAAD nor any other gay organization is calling for legislation against Dr. Laura's show, nor is the Federal Communications Commission moving to ban Schlessinger from the airwaves--these are the kind of improbable actions that could constitute true censorship.
But as the religious right should know--and as gay activists should attest--a boycott is different. The only real power that gay groups are asserting over Procter & Gamble is gay wallets, which is to say gay buying power. And the demands of GLAAD and the rest are in essence a simple expression of market economics: We are going to make you pick, they are saying to Procter & Gamble, between the Jif-buying dollars of gays and the Jif-buying dollars of Dr. Laura enthusiasts. Take it or leave it. It's precisely the kind of laissez-faire, free market solution conservatives have often favored. And to call it "Gay McCarthyism" implies their own tactics amount to, well, Straight McCarthyism.
Not that there's anything wrong with that.