The MacNeil/Lehrer Report; Gay Rights
ROBERT MacNEIL: Good evening. Of all the social issues that have gripped this country recently none has stirred any fiercer emotions than that of so-called "gay rights." And the event that has really turned up the heat for and against homosexuality across the nation takes place in Miami tomorrow. Voters of Dade County will go to the polls in a referendum to repeal or leave as it is an ordinance banning discrimination against homosexuals in housing, employment and public accommodations. The ordinance was passed by the Dade County Metro Commission in January. A campaign began almost immediately to repeal it, and the passions that campaign aroused have attracted national attention. Tonight, with Jim Lehrer in Miami on the eve of the vote, we look at the issues facing what the Washington Post calls the first city in the nation to be faced with declaring what it thinks of homosexuality by popular vote. Jim?
JIM LEHRER: Robin, a local TV commentator probably summed it up best the other night. For Miami, he said, it`s a no-win deal no matter what the voters do tomorrow. If the ordinance is repealed some will say Miami is anti-civil rights. If it isn`t, then others will claim Miami is soon to become a haven for homosexuals. This either/or view of things is explicit in the slick TV commercials that both sides have run in this bitter, show- bizzy battle. Here`s a sample from each side`s arsenal:
(FOR REPEAL Commercial Announcement.)
ANNOUNCER: The Orange Bowl Parade -- Miami`s gift to the nation. Wholesome entertainment. But in San Francisco, when they take to the streets, it`s a parade of homosexuals: men hugging other men, cavorting with little boys,, wearing dresses and make-up. The same people who turned San Francisco into a hotbed of homosexuality want to do the same thing to Dade County. On June 7, vote for the human rights of your children. Vote for repeal of Metro`s dangerous homosexual ordinance.
(AGAINST REPEAL Commercial Announcement.)
SPEAKER: All men are created equal ... no, wait a minute -- everybody but homosexuals.
ANNOUNCER: Some people want to decide who`s going to have human rights and who isn`t. Here it`s the rights of homosexuals. But somewhere else it might be Jews, or people with foreign names, or women, or anybody. When you start tearing away at the foundations of our country, where does it stop?
SPEAKER: Well, look, let`s just throw the whole thing out and start over. (Tears up Declaration of Independence.)
ANNOUNCER: On June 7, vote against the repeal of human rights in Dade County.
LEHRER: And in some ways, those are the nicest things that have been said. As the Miami Herald said in an editorial yesterday, "Excessive claims and exaggerated counter-claims have created a witch-burning hysteria more appropriate to the seventeenth century than the twentieth." Much of the attention -- abuse as well as praise -- has fallen on the woman who started it all, Anita Bryant.
Dr. JERRY FALWELL, "Old Pine Gospel Hour": You don`t have to be a Christian to love your children. You don`t have to be a Christian to know that what is happening in this county is vulgar and vile and dirty. If on June 7 this county fails to vote for repeal of this ordinance legalizing homosexuality and denying what we believe to be Biblical rights, if this county fails to go God`s way June 7 it will create a domino effect which we feel will cause city after city across America to fall.
This little girl loves the Lord, she has a precious family, and she has a love for your children. Somebody had to lead the battle. Somebody had to raise up the banner. Because I want to tell you, we`re dealing with a vile and a vicious and a vulgar gang. They`d kill you as quick as look at you.
ANITA BRYANT: If I had known the depth of the vicious attacks of the opposition, I probably would have turned and run the other way, but at that time when I made the decision it was one decision as a Christian, as a mother in protection of my children, in my love for them and for God and for America, realizing that once legislation is turned around to support and to flaunt the abnormal rather than to be laws to protect the normal, then our nation is gone. The ramifications, I thought, were very, very far- reaching; and I particularly stood because this local ordinance would allow flaunting homosexuals to be role models to my four children.
INTERVIEWER: Do you consider homosexuality a disease?
BRYANT: No, I don`t. It`s a sin. That`s not my standard, but it`s God`s standard. It`s very plain in many, many Scriptures -- in the Old Testament as well as the New -- that God calls it an abomination. And if they continue in that sin and do not repent of it -- you see, any sinner has an opportunity to repent of sin, rather than flaunt it and want to change legislation to condone that kind of sin. So my stand is based on the word of God, and if God is not the standard of morality, then who is? (Laugh.) Certainly not the Dade County Commissioners. I`ve never heard of a ... happy ... homosexual, and that`s why I won`t call them gay, because there`s nothing gay about their lifestyle. They`re very miserable within themselves, and I feel that`s where the real discrimination is. Even if you don`t believe in the Holy Scriptures, they know it`s against nature. And sharing the truth, as stated in First Corinthians 6:9, 10, 11, God names all of these sins, He talks about idolatry, adultery, fornication, effeminate, and murder and thievery -- all of these things, but then here`s the good news: He said to the Disciples, "...such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and by the Spirit of God."
(Singing): Glory, glory halleluja, Glory, glory halleluja. Glory, glory halleluja, His truth is marching on. (Applause.)
LEHRER: The other side says Anita Bryant may be the best thing that ever happened to the gay rights movement. They have focused much of their campaign around her. They have accused her of camouflaging a vicious hate campaign under a banner of Christian law. They brought feminist Gloria Steinem, poet Rod McKuen, a San Francisco sheriff and others to Miami to speak against her and for the ordinance; they`ve spent an estimated $350,000, twice that of the Bryant anti-ordinance forces. Even with the money and the electoral heat, only thirty percent of the eligible voters, some 200,000, are expected to actually vote tomorrow, and there are no authoritative polls out saying which way it`s likely to go.
MAN IN STREET: I think Anita Bryant is wrong.
MAN IN STREET: Because I just don`t like it. Like, I`m not against Negroes or Jewish people -- it`s like that, you know. It`s discrimination.
WOMAN: I`m for the repeal. I believe that Anita Bryant is right on. As a parent of five children I`m very concerned for them. And it may be an extreme measure that has to be taken, but if so I`m for it.
LEHRER: The man in the film handing out those leaflets was Bob Kunst, co- director of the Miami Victory Campaign, one of eleven groups here supporting retention of the ordinance. Why is the ordinance needed, sir?
BOB KUNST: Very simply, there is a great deal of discrimination against gays. In the city of Tulsa, Oklahoma, they took a research there of 516 cases that cost the taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars...
LEHRER: What about in Miami?
KUNST: Well, the point is, we didn`t go through all of that here. We knew very well that there was discrimination. Every time there was an election there was a raid on all the bars, people would be having their names printed in the Herald and the News and they`d lose their jobs. There was no way that you could protect people. And a classic example is the Executive Assistant to the Public Service Commissioner, Paula Hawkins, a guy named Jim Curasi, who stood up against our Governor and said, "Listen, I think that you have no right to take away my civil rights," and because he wasn`t protected in Tallahassee he lost his job. That`s a classic example that happened just two weeks ago. The point is that gays need protection as much as anybody else needs protection. All we did was add four words, "affectional and sexual preference," to an already anti-discrimination ordinance that related to race, color, creed, religion, marital status, sex, physical handicap and a few other issues. And in fact, the issue affects everybody in the community in the sense that it protects everybody in the community. There`s not even the word "gay" in the ordinance. The fact that it`s been blown out of proportion like this is really sort of absurd.
LEHRER: In that editorial that I quoted from a moment ago in the Miami Herald, they made the point that the very things that you are now complaining about, there are already laws on the books -- do you not agree with that?
KUNST: No, not at all. This should have been, I suppose, settled with the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights a long time ago, but then we needed in 1964 a Civil Rights Act in order to protect blacks and we need the Equal Rights Amendment, which the Bryant forces conveniently stopped in Florida using gays as a stumbling block on that issue. We of course need this kind of protection. And in fact, what is happening right now is that the so-called Save Our Children people are asking for the right to discriminate. They are proving our case. Here we have an existing ordinance that`s been passed four times already by Metro, twice by both a local court and a district court affirming the constitutionality of the ordinance, and what we are facing, really, the tremendous danger is to take somebody`s civil rights that already exist and overturn it. Well, you`re establishing official second-class citizenship. So they have actually demonstrated the absolute need for this ordinance. Now, this ordinance has been in effect in forty cities. We haven`t had one-single problem; there hasn`t been one single incident in Dade County since the ordinance has been passed; and what we have from the Bryant forces is this incredible witch-hunt which, by the way, was endorsed by the Ku Klux Klan today in the Miami Herald. I mean, what is really so unbelievable about the Bryant forces is that last year we had 100,000 child abuse cases in the state, 30,000 actually reported, 1,200 kids literally killed by their parents, and where were the Save Our Children when we really needed them? The point is that gays have been exploited. And when you have people like Shirley Spellerberg who says, well, if we keep the ordinance then the next thing you`ll find is gays running around having sex with animals and with dead people; Anita Bryant is screaming about how the California drought is responsible for the gay ordinance out there -- I mean, that thing has reached an absurdity; and the point is, this ordinance has nothing to do with sex acts. And their entire campaign has been obsessed with sex acts; it`s really incredible.
LEHRER: I know things have gotten hot, and you`ve just demonstrated that, but again, let me ask: what are the kinds of discrimination against homosexuals in Miami that you want to curb with this ordinance?
KUNST: It`s just really very simple. I`m not going to participate in any conspiracy for Anita or Mike or anybody else to lie to their kids about who I am. I`m not going to lead a double life simply because they want to tell their kids that gays are different from who we really are. We`re not the myths and the shibboleths and the stereotypes that they`ve been flaunting themselves on these commercials. And there`s no reason for me to have to waste that kind of energy; it`s not productive to me or to my family or to my friends or to the community. And when people are free to express themselves that`s what is really important in life. What we have in Miami is a bunch of very insecure people who are obsessed with sex who are really -- you know, I don`t know what their trip is with it, but it`s against everybody, not just against gays; and all they`re trying to do is lay their philosophy and their religious philosophy on everybody else in the community and shoving it down everybody`s throat. And it`s not going to work.
LEHRER: Thank you. Anita Bryant is not the only anti-ordinance leader in this campaign. Mike Thompson is a Florida advertising man, President of the Florida Conservative Union, and Communications Director of the Save Our Children group. Mr. Thompson, what would be the effect, in your opinion, if this ordinance is allowed to stand as it is?
MIKE THOMPSON: The effect will be that homosexuals, who are lawbreakers under the laws of the State of Florida and the laws of forty-four other states, will be given a special privilege -- a special privilege which is not enjoyed by the law-abiding. We don`t think that there is ample evidence of discrimination against homosexuals in this community; in fact, Mr. Kunst and others were unable to cite any cases before the Metro Commission when this issue came up last January. We`re concerned that this Metro ordinance also is an abridgment of our first amendment freedom of religion, because it applies peculiarly to religious and private schools. It tells religious and private schools that -- the test of religion aside -- they may not refuse to hire a homosexual applicant as a teacher or as a counselor in a religious school. Now, we think that`s a clear abridgment of freedom of religion, and the Archbishop of Miami, Coleman Carroll, agrees; the Episcopal Bishop James Duncan, who was in the forefront of the civil rights movement, agrees; twenty-seven conservative and orthodox rabbis agree; more than eighty Baptist ministers agree that this is an abridgment of freedom of religion. So we have other issues here. The issue of human rights, which has often been touted by those who want to keep this ordinance in effect, is not an issue that has been recognized by the Miami Herald, which is for repeal, by the Miami News, which is for repeal, and by various other institutions and individuals in this community. So the issue of human rights, or civil rights, is a phony issue.
LEHRER: The name of your organization is Save Our Children. How are the children affected by this ordinance?
THOMPSON: The children are affected in the area of being exposed to role models. And I would like to quote a psychiatrist, Dr. Samuel Silverman, who recently wrote (he`s Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School):"It is very admirable to be tolerant and sensitive to people`s civil rights, but you have to draw the line somewhere; and a homosexual teacher who flaunts his sexual aberrations publicly is as dangerous to children as one of the religious cultists. Many of these militant gays are not fighting for their own civil rights but are attempting to bring converts to their way of life."
Young people in school, whether we`re talking about religious schools or private schools, which are the ones affected by this ordinance, or in public schools, which are the schools that would be affected by House Resolution 2998, the so-called Koch bill, before Congress now. These are impressionable young people who, when exposed to a form of life, or a lifestyle, as we say, which is aberrant but which is treated as normal and on a par with heterosexuality, these young people could get the impression that there is no difference between homosexuality and heterosexuality and could therefore opt for this deviant lifestyle which is an anathema to our culture, an anathema to our religious values.
LEHRER: Let`s bring Mr. Kunst back in on this. Isn`t that the underlying issue here, though, that children...
KUNST: Yes, but it`s such an incredibly phony issue. I mean, the kids and the teachers and the parents and everybody have been so incredibly exploited in this community. I know Mike thinks that twenty percent of us fall out of the sky, but we are his children and we are his next-door neighbors and we are his parents and people that he knows and cares about. Same thing with Anita. The child`s sexual formation takes place by age three to five. For anybody to say that a person who is a teacher there is going to be flaunting their lifestyle simply because they admit who they are -- they`re not teaching anything about being gay, they`re simply being themselves, which has nothing to do with affecting the kids. In fact, if anything, it`s just an absolute slap in the face to heterosexuality -- male-female relationships -- to assume that anybody has to see an up-front gay and they`re immediately going to turn gay. It`s completely backfired on the Save Our Children people in this community because of this kind of attitude. Now, Mike may not agree with the fact that there are thirty-eight flavors of ice cream; he may be stuck on vanilla and that`s his privilege. But the point is, everyone else may want to have some choices in life, and that`s their business, not yours.
LEHRER: Mr. Thompson?
THOMPSON: Well, Mr. Kunst, of course, had his first homosexual experience at the age of seven in the back of a school bus, according to an interview in Tropic Magazine, and for the past thirty years he has decided to lead this deviant lifestyle, this perverted lifestyle, which is his prerogative. We`re not really concerned about the perverted lifestyle that Mr. Kunst has selected for himself. But what we are concerned about is his right under this ordinance to give the impression to young people that what he`s doing is okay, is acceptable. In fact, last week the San Francisco school board voted to require that homosexuality be taught in the public schools as part of the sex education courses and to be taught on a par with heterosexuality as just simply another lifestyle. We think that is the next logical step in this ongoing battle to reduce society`s values, to destroy society`s values. This is just one shot in an overall war.
LEHRER: Mr. Kunst, let me ask you this: does society, in your opinion, have a right to decide through votes like this what kind of behavior it...
KUNST: Absolutely not. This whole thing is absolutely ridiculous. It doesn`t even have the right to begin with. What if I decided, Mike, that I wanted to go after your freedoms? Supposing I didn`t like the way you combed your hair or what you did in bed? You know, the point is, I could put your issue on the ballot and take it away. But I think what`s here...
THOMPSON: If you think it`s incorrect...
KUNST: Excuse me; let me finish, may I?
THOMPSON: ... or illegal...
KUNST: May I finish, please?
THOMPSON: ...for us to have these elections...
KUNST: May I finish, please, okay? What is immoral and indecent and un- American is discrimination; that is perversion. My love is my business. I`m not asking for your endorsement, I don`t need it. I`m perfectly satisfied I happen to be gay, I am happy, I have liberated myself from the negativity of people like yourself, and no one is going to change that situation tomorrow on any kind of level whatsoever. In fact, what you`ve done -- and I think it`s beautiful, and I must congratulate you -- that with all of your personal insecurity you`ve managed to help get hundreds of thousands of gays out of the closet all across the nation. This is the only issue that has ever united people, not just nationally, but all over the world. I really congratulate you. I think you`re the most beautiful person around. Not physically, on that level, but...
THOMPSON: I would not like to be described by you as beautiful. If you want to recruit, I wish you`d restrict it to ...
KUNST: Don`t compliment yourself on that level.
LEHRER: Mr. Thompson, just respond to the basic point of society`s right to make the decision that the people in Miami are making tomorrow.
THOMPSON: Of course we have the right, and if we didn`t have the right I would suggest that Mr. Kunst and others of his ilk would have gone into federal court and would have sought an injunction against the holding of this election. Of course we have the right, and society also has the right to establish moral values and then to set laws. "Thou shalt not kill" is a moral law which we have translated into secular law. So society does have a right to speak out on the issue of aberrations and perversions. And we shall continue to do so.
KUNST: May I respond, please?
LEHRER: Later, all right? Let`s go to Robin now. Robin?
MacNEIL: The controversy in Miami has split religious communities, the legal profession and educators, partly because the society across the country knows relatively little about homosexuality. The psychiatric profession is also divided. The American Psychiatric Association recently removed homosexuality from its list of mental illnesses, but some psychiatrists disagree with that and some believe that homosexuality should be discouraged.
Dr. Robert Gould is a New York psychiatrist who has written extensively about the problem. First of all, Dr. Gould, why, in an era of growing sexual permissiveness, does this issue arouse such fierce emotions?
Dr. ROBERT GOULD: Well, one of the reasons it arouses fierce emotions is that the permissiveness is not altogether permissive. That is, men and women who are now being told they can change their roles, they can engage in sex somewhat differently from what they`ve done in the past, also threatens them because it means giving up something they have learned was the right way from early childhood on. Suddenly they`re told, Hey, you have more freedom to do things; actually they`re rigid and they`re hemmed in by what they`ve learned all their lives. So now that homosexuality has come out of the closet it is a threat to a number of men and women who may have homosexual feelings, who may have some of these traits within themselves, have never faced them, don`t want to face them, don`t know what to do with them if they came out, so there is a tremendous backlash at this point against homosexuality. I think that`s one of the things we`re seeing in the whole Anita Bryant movement.
MacNEIL: One of the issues in Miami, as we`ve just heard, is the claim by the Save Our Children people and their fear that homosexual teachers would proselytize or recruit in the schools or be role models. Now, is there any consensus in the psychiatric profession that would sustain that fear?
GOULD: There are a lot of myths about homosexual behavior and homosexuality. One of the myths -- I think there is consensual validation among most psychiatrists -- that you do not have homosexuals preying on children to any considerable degree. Yes, there are sick homosexuals who do so, as there are many sick heterosexuals who do so. And there is a consensus that there is more child molestation by heterosexuals than there are by homosexuals. So that is a myth and is not a problem.
The other thing you mentioned, about the role model, is more controversial. There is a theory that...
MacNEIL: In other words, that could be a problem.
GOULD: It could be a problem, but if you accept, as the APA -American Psychiatric Association -- has decreed, that it is not an illness -- homosexuality -- per se and it is a valid alternate lifestyle, then one has to take a position if one is a humanitarian and a liberal that the more variety one is exposed to in living, the more possibilities of fulfillment for one`s own personal way of life, the likelier it is that a youngster is going to pick something that works for him. Now, not to show homosexuals as school teachers or in any other sensitive position is in fact a lie. It is pretending to children that there are no homosexuals. It is sweeping them under a rug, putting them back in the closet, and nothing can be unhealthier for society or children or for homosexuals themselves than if we go backwards and say, "This is not an entity in our lifetime" and a very large entity that many people subscribe to. And in fact, they do live happy lives. Anita Bryant is incorrect. Psychiatrists have said that homosexuals are very disturbed people. But psychiatrists have said this only from the viewpoint of their patients. Those who have seen homosexuals outside of the psychiatrist`s office have seen many of them who are productive, who do all the things that we consider normal for heterosexuals except having a sexual preference for the same sex.
MacNEIL: Can I ask you this quickly: does the fear that homosexual teachers -- whether you think it would be a good idea to have that pluralism or not -- might become role models for the children in schools and children might choose that model, have some foundation -leaving aside one`s judgment of whether that`s good or bad?
GOULD: If one considers homosexuality an illness and a real disturbance in personality, it`s unlikely that a homosexual school teacher teaching English or math is going to persuade a normal, healthy, growing, developing youngster to become a homosexual. If it`s inborn from birth on, which is also another theory, again, a homosexual teacher will have no influence on that. So any kind of theory that one were to use as to what causes homosexuality would hardly account for a teacher who spends one hour a week teaching a youngster English or a language being a role model to change what otherwise would be a healthy, normal development.
MacNEIL: I see. And just one other quick question. If a society adopts a very much more liberal or tolerant attitude towards homosexuality, does that mean there is going to be a lot more homosexuality?
GOULD: There will be a lot less compulsive homosexuality. There will be homosexuality perhaps on an increased basis due to allowing one to be what one otherwise would be repressed. So in other words, you`ll have more overt homosexuality but it will be of a healthier nature than we have now. And as a matter of fact there`s a lot of bisexuality which we have never seen before to this degree, and to most of us that have seen youngsters in college who are bisexual, they seem quite healthy and normal in development. So we will see more kinds of all sexuality. That`s where permissiveness in sexuality will cause increase: in being whatever they were meant to be and want to be.
MacNEIL: We just have a minute. Let`s go back for a final reaction. Mr. Thompson?
THOMPSON: Well, I would like to observe, with all respect to Dr. Gould, that there were 2,800 psychiatrists who voted against a change in the status of homosexuals at the vote taken by the APA. The second point is that in Sexual Offenders, published in 1965 by the Kinsey Institute, a study of eight penitentiaries found that thirty-eight percent of those prisoners who were behind bars for child molestation were there for having committed homosexual acts. Now, if homosexuals constitute ten percent of our population, then their incidence as child molesters is four times greater than their incidence is in the population.
KUNST: Well, I`d like to respond also, because it`s just nice how you keep on distorting the facts; you`ve done it through the whole campaign. In essence, ninety-six percent of the molestations in this county happen to be heterosexual, not homosexual.
MacNEIL: We have to leave it there; I`m sorry, Mr. Kunst. Thank you very much, both of you, and good night, Jim. Thank you, Dr. Gould. That`s all for tonight. Jim Lehrer and I will be back tomorrow night.
Other news permitting, we`ll be examining the Congressional fight for a consumer protection agency and the lobbying effort for and against it. I`m Robert MacNeil. Good night.
- The MacNeil/Lehrer Report
- Gay Rights
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- NewsHour Productions
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- National Records and Archives Administration (Washington, District of Columbia)
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- This episode features a discussion on the gay rights referendum. The guests are Robert Gould, Bob Kunst, Mike Thompson. Byline: Robert MacNeil, Jim Lehrer
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Producing Organization: NewsHour Productions
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Identifier: 96419 (NARA catalog identifier)
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- Chicago: “The MacNeil/Lehrer Report; Gay Rights,” 1977-06-06, National Records and Archives Administration, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed June 25, 2022, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-507-qn5z60ct7w.
- MLA: “The MacNeil/Lehrer Report; Gay Rights.” 1977-06-06. National Records and Archives Administration, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. June 25, 2022. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-507-qn5z60ct7w>.
- APA: The MacNeil/Lehrer Report; Gay Rights. Boston, MA: National Records and Archives Administration, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-507-qn5z60ct7w