SOLOMON: Dr. Laura: Radio's Leading Anti-Gay Zealot

Twenty million listeners are accustomed to hearing the refrain on the radio: "I'm Dr. Laura Schlesinger." While many assume that she's a licensed physician or psychologist, her doctorate is actually in physiology. What's most unfortunate is that Schlesinger uses her enormous media power to violate a key precept of health care: First, do no harm.Dr. Laura does a lot of harm. Sitting at a powerful microphone, she spews abuse at those who live outside the circle she has drawn around humanity. Being gay is "a biological error," Schlesinger proclaims.Many of the people listening are youngsters. The other day, I heard a 10-year-old caller on Schlesinger's program, deferentially seeking advice. He got plenty of it, like everyone else within earshot.Children are particularly vulnerable to this inflated radio icon, who often sounds much more like a verbal bully than a counselor. They're unlikely to understand that she's on the national airwaves not because of wisdom or compassion or scientific knowledge, but because "Dr. Laura" is show biz -- and big bucks. To broadcasting executives, the fact that she's the most widely heard talk-show host in America means exquisite cash flow."I am getting people to stop doing wrong and start doing right," she says. And she's fond of laying down the moralistic law in no uncertain terms. For gays, that means a steady stream of corrosive venom.Early last summer, voicing scorn for "gay rights," Schlesinger launched into a diatribe. "Rights. Rights! Rights? For sexual deviants...sexual behavior, there are now rights," she said on the June 9 broadcast. "That's what I'm worried about with the pedophilia and the bestiality and the sadomasochism and the cross-dressing. Is this all going to be 'rights' too, to deviant sexual behavior? It's deviant sexual behavior. Why does deviant sexual behavior get rights?"As customary with authoritarian demagogues, Schlesinger blurs and conflates all forms of sexuality that do not meet with her approval, while she tries to lay down rules for "sexual behavior."In late July, Schlesinger eagerly touted "therapies which have been successful in helping a reasonable number of people become heterosexual." On Aug. 9, she told listeners: "If you're gay or lesbian, it's a biological error that inhibits you from relating normally to the opposite sex." Three days later, she was at it again, insisting that "gay" is a smoke-screen word: "When we have the word 'homosexual,' we are clarifying the dysfunction, the deviancy, the reality."Schlesinger has been carrying on this way for quite some time. But now she's facing a well-organized challenge. "The anti-gay beliefs you espouse on a regular basis -- that homosexuality is 'deviant' and that gays can and should be cured -- are entirely outside the mainstream of scientific thought," said a Feb. 24 letter. Signers included more than 100 prominent clergy in addition to dozens of medical, child-welfare and civil rights organizations.They told Schlesinger: "Your claim that homosexuality is a tragic pathology and that gays and lesbians can and should be 'cured' by 'reparative therapy' is not only inaccurate but also promotes the idea that there is something wrong with being gay."The letter noted that the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association and similar professional groups have repudiated "the idea that homosexuality is an illness." And the letter pointed out that "nowhere are the consequences of anti-gay feelings more apparent than in the high number of suicides among gay youth ... While suicide is the ultimate consequence of homophobia, studies find that gay youth -- and youth who are perceived to be gay -- are more likely to get beat up, feel isolated, and have trouble in school."Did the letter call for censorship? No. "Dr. Laura, we are not saying that you should be censored. Nor are we implying that you don't have the right to express yourself. We are simply saying this: Young people who are otherwise happy and healthy are being taught to hate themselves simply because they are gay."Appropriately, the letter concluded with a plea for transformation: "As the most powerful radio show host in America, you understand the effects of language on children. It is within your power to use your wit and intelligence to help kids by speaking out against homophobia and anti-gay violence."Dr. Laura, heal thyself.Norman Solomon is a syndicated columnist. His latest book is "The Habits of Highly Deceptive Media."

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