Many of you may remember our efforts back in 1998 to challenge the assertion by right-wing radio host Laura Schlessinger that people living with HIV had a moral imperative not to engage in any form of sexual activity. Although our campaign to point out how damaging it was to spread such misinformation about HIV transmission was limited, it did result in at least one on-air tirade condemning AIDS Survival Project as an agency, and blasting us for our "radical gay agenda." It is, therefore, understandable that we should now support the efforts of organizations such as StopDrLaura.Com, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), and the Georgia Equality Project to prevent this person from further spreading hate and misinformation on television.
For those of you unfamiliar with "Dr." Laura, here's a brief summary of the woman that many consider to be one of the most hateful and dangerous public personalities on the airwaves today. Laura Schlessinger launched her career as host of a call-in radio program aimed at helping people solve personal problems many years ago. Schlessinger began her habit of dispensing misleading and inaccurate information from the beginning when she chose the nickname "Dr. Laura." Although she does have a Ph.D. in physiology, her credentials in mental health are limited to a certificate in family counseling from the state of California. When she made the transition from a local personality to a nationally known figure, her politics and views of human relationships made a dramatic turn to the right. As her show became more popular, "Dr." Laura chose to use her radio show as a platform to take pot shots at the very real problems of her callers and to promote a venomous anti-gay agenda. In the past several years she has taken to referring to gay men and lesbians as "biological errors," and has urged her listeners to fight against any effort to promote human rights and understanding for the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered community.
Earlier this year, Paramount Studios announced a multi-million dollar deal for the creation and syndication of the "Dr." Laura show. Within weeks, several lesbian, gay and human rights organizations began calling upon Paramount to rescind their plans for fear of giving Schlessinger an even wider audience for her hate-filled rhetoric. Since then, there have been protests in several cities, including Atlanta, urging local stations not to purchase and air the show. As of this time, Paramount continues its plans to produce the program. Atlanta station WAGA plans on airing the show during the late afternoon hours, which is even more problematic as it will place the show within prime viewing time for young people.
In May, the concerns around "Dr." Laura grew so strong that the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) issued a condemnation against her "abusively discriminatory" language against gay men and lesbians. The statement went on to suggest that Schlessinger's anti-gay rhetoric may "fertilize the ground" for "brutality" against gays and lesbians. What makes this action so noteworthy is that the CBSC is not a governmental agency, but a trade association, thus making it equivalent to being judged by a jury of her peers. The CBSC made special note that "Free speech without responsibility is not liberty; it is license. The freedom to swing one's arm ends where it makes contact with one's neighbor's nose."
It is important that the AIDS community join the efforts to denounce "Dr." Laura and Paramount's plans to give her views an even wider audience. National organizations such as AIDS Action have realized the damage that her misinformation does to people struggling with their sexuality, and the impact that such actions have upon the ability to encourage responsible behavior in an effort to decrease HIV infection. The stigma that so many people living with HIV still struggle with is rooted in the very same homophobia that "Dr." Laura spreads with her rhetoric. Furthermore, by misleading the public into thinking that there is a scientific basis for such hatred, Schlessinger also reflects poorly upon the mental health profession, and may very well keep people from seeking professional help with their problems for fear of being judged with the dehumanizing harshness that has become her trademark.
Take a moment to express your concerns to Viacom, the parent company of Paramount, by contacting Chairman Sumner Redstone in New York at 212-258-6310, or by faxing your concerns to him at 212-258-6311. If they try to pass you to another number, politely insist that they take a message. If you live in the Atlanta viewing area, you can express your comments to WAGA management by calling Gene McHugh, General Manager, at 404-875-5555.
If you'd like more information on how you can work to stamp out prejudice and hate, visit the StopDrLaura website at www.StopDrLaura.com.