My friend Randy Thomas was recently featured in a Los Angeles Times full page advertisement for his employer, Exodus International. In the ad, he briefly recounts his story of change from a gay to straight identity. Apparently the Times is getting lots of mail about the ad and some reaction has been printed in the paper. Two folks published in the Times caught my eye and engaged my word processor.
First, Times columnist Steve Lopez called the Thomas ad “the largest singles ad in publishing history.” Why? Mr. Lopez is a bit skeptical of Randy’s changes, preferring to consider him a bisexual who is now more in touch with his straight side. And so he suspects Randy’s motives for appearing in the ad are to attract both men and women to the phones to learn more about that handsome guy pictured in the paper. Ex-gays are used to that “you-were-never-gay-but-really-bisexual-all-along” rap so that was expected.
However, Mr. Lopez did not stop there.
He then discloses that he called Randy at Exodus. Further, he made up a problem to get Randy to call him back. It’s complicated but the problem involved identity confusion and his weakness for Spanish speakers. Probably Mr. Lopez knows that caring people often respond to a person who is in need. When Mr. Lopez says in his column, “throw me a lifeline, amigo,” could he be looking for a little love connection?
If so, then Mr. Lopez’s column was the most public reply to a perceived singles ad in publishing history. It was also the biggest misperception of an ad as well. Sorry, Mr. Lopez, no conexión del amor there.
If Mr. Lopez was offended by the Times decision to run the ad, he certainly downplayed that aspect. However, the second person I have seen in print about Randy’s testimonial left no question about her sentiment.
Joan Garry, Executive Director of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) was not happy. Ms. Garry’s organization, which takes being offended to professional levels, posted on its website that the Times had opened “its pages to ads and groups promoting an agenda of fear and intolerance toward our community.” Fear and intolerance? I had to read Randy’s ad again; I didn’t see those ugly cousins anywhere.
What I read was Randy’s story of how he had come to see himself as gay in reaction to some difficult times in his life. As he worked out those difficulties, he began to wonder if he was really gay. He says in the ad: “So I questioned my homosexuality.” Notice the little word “my.” Randy was telling how it was for him. His story is that he has experienced profound change in his sexuality and is much happier now than before he questioned his gay identity.
Where is the fear and intolerance in this? Ms. Garry’s published letter to the Times editor in the August 2 edition says the Times should not have allowed the ad to be printed because it promotes “myths and falsehoods about gay Americans.”
Is Ms. Garry saying that Randy is lying?
Whatever she is saying, she wants people who visit her website to say it too. Those who didn’t see the ad can view it on the GLAAD website. Those who are not glad about it are urged to write the Times and protest the decision to print the ad.
Let me understand this. The Times shouldn’t publish advertisements that some readers won’t like or disagree with? Physicians don’t like ads by chiropractors but chiropractors are not denied ad space. Randy talked about his life and as he says, “This is my story and I am living proof that change is possible.” It is a testimonial. For those who might be of a similar worldview, providing information about an organization that helped Randy find peace and happiness seems like a good thing.
However, this common sense application of free speech and expression seems lost on Ms. Garry. In fact, I think she is overreacting. If she read the ad carefully, she would see that the ad is geared to those people who are unhappy with their sexuality. Ms. Garry seems happy enough about her sexuality so really the ad wasn’t aimed at her. Even Mr. Lopez said in his article that his sexual orientation was not in question. So why are all these happy people so unhappy that someone else found his happiness in a different way?
So like Ms. Garry, I call for an end to fear and intolerance. Ms. Garry need not be afraid of people like Randy and she should not be intolerant of their right to purchase ad space in a public forum.
Note: See Randy’s ad at http://www.exodus.to/pdf/Randy_Ad.pd