VOICES AND ECHOES
DECEMBER 10, 1999 • HOUSTON VOICE
Anti-gay ads in our own papers?
Matthew A. Hennie
Bethany Bartran - Graphic Designer
Mike Swenson - Graphic Designer
Rich Arenschieldt, Kay Y. Dayus,
Trayce Diskin, Earl Dittman,
D.L. Groover, Robert B. Henderson,
Gip Plaster, Ella Tyler
Dalton DeHart. Kim Thompson,
Richard B. Hayes
Classifieds & Directory
Carolyn A. Roberts
National Advertising Representative
Rivendell Marketing Company, Inc.
A WindowMedia Publication
GAY & LESBIAN
I CHAMBER OF COMMERCE
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What if you were flipping through
this week's issue of Houston Voice
and happened upon page 24, which
featured a snazzy ad promoting a daylong conference called "Love Won Out,"
where according to the ad you could
"find answers to your questions about
A provocative topic, to be sure, and
the ad's appearance in a gay newspaper
might lead you to believe it's put on by a
local gay therapy group or even the
Metropolitan Community Church. In
fine print, the ad says the seminar is to
be presented by Focus on the Family.
For regular Houston Voice readers, that
would raise the red flag. Focus on the
Family is a right-wing religious group
out of Colorado, founded by Dr. James
Dobson, a popular talk radio host. It's
the same group that was principally
responsible for funding last year's "ex-
gay" newspaper ads that appeared in
mainstream papers across the country.
Back then, the Gay & Lesbian Alliance
Against Defamation joined with other
gay activists in calling on newspapers to
reject the "conversion ads" because they
were offensive and went against the
entire body of scientific evidence on the
nature of sexual orientation.
Surely, if we're calling on mainstream
newspapers not to run such advertisements, they would never appear in the
pages of our publications.
Yet there it was, on page 24 of the Oct.
28 issue of the Bay Area Reporter, the
largest and most respected gay newspaper in San Francisco.
Not surprisingly, publication of the
ad raised the ire of many gay San
Franciscans, who took the paper to task
for caving into "political correctness"
and participating in an effort to mislead
those struggling with coming out.
The BAR didn't just publish the ad,
though. It also ran a front page story
about the anti-gay agenda behind the
Love Won Out seminar, an editorial—
with the headline "Free Speech Won
Out"—defending the decision to publish
the ad, and the newspaper presented a
check for $231.60, the amount charged
for the ad, to an area AIDS service
The Bay Area Reporter claimed that its
decision was a principled stand against
the same sort of censorship that kept
gays from winning coverage in mainstream newspapers, though that position
confuses a publisher's decision to accept
an advertisement with every newspaper's journalistic responsibility to air all
sides in a story or on its opinion pages.
In fact, every newspaper has policies
that result in refusing ads based on their
content. Most will not publish explicit or
offensive ads or those that advocate illegal activity. Most won't accept advertisements that the publisher knows are false
Federal law prohibits newspapers
from allowing advertising for housing
or employment that expressly discriminate on the basis of race and other protected categories (not including sexual
Many newspapers make it a policy to
refuse advertisements of any sort by
businesses that discriminate against the
typical class of protected categories,
including sexual orientation. But having
a policy and enforcing it when it means
saying no to money have always been
two different things.
At the other end of the spectrum,
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some newspapers won't run ads with
content that the publishers strongly disagree with or fear their readers will
strongly disagree with.
That's the sort of timidity that has
resulted in the refusal of gay-oriented
ads. To this day, most big city newspapers won't run commitment ceremony
ads on equal footing with paid wedding
So where along the spectrum is this
Focus on the Family hasn't approached
Houslon Voice about placing a similar ad,
but we would refuse if they did.
If the ad advocated conversion of sexual orientation through therapy or
prayer, we would refuse it because we
know the claim to be false and misleading. We have that base-level responsibility to our readers.
The BAR ad is subtle, though, not saying much about the plans for the seminar. That sort of hide-the-ball tactic in
itself could be considered misleading
enough to justify refusing the ad.
But there's an even more solid
ground. We also will not publish ads by
organizations or businesses that we
know discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation.
It's safe to say that Focus on the
Family discriminates in hiring and promotion on the basis of sexual orientation, refusing to accept individuals who
are openly gay and unwilling to undergo
"conversion therapy" of the sort practiced at Love Won Out seminars.
That policy cannot be taken to say this
newspaper vouches for the workplace of
every one of its advertisers. We cannot
investigate each and every advertiser,
but where an anti-gay practice is open
and notorious, we will not do business.
The question, to be sure, isn't an easy
one. Line-drawing can prove extremely
difficult. Local gay-positive churches, for
example, run ads with this paper but
won't perform same-sex marriage ceremonies and often affiliate with denominations that won't allow openly gay
ministers in the pulpit.
And yet out and proud gay parishioners fill their pews every week, testimony to their acceptance with at least a
portion of our readership.
Ultimately, the decision to close a newspaper forum down to a particular viewpoint is an excruciatingly difficult one for
a newspaper publisher, whose gut is with
giving a reader more speech, not less.
So it comes down to a case-by-case,
soul-searching decision, and as always,
input from our readers on the issue is
welcome. We can promise one thing: Any
time this newspaper refuses an ad based
on the policies at issue here, we will
report that refusal on these pages, letting
you know with whom your newspaper
won't dp business