For a while there it seemed like Gay Days, which lures thousands to Central Florida for the first weekend of every June, had left the attendant controversies behind.
Absent this year were the gay-pride rainbow flags, and with them the rancorous debate that led to a ban on all banners not advertising city of Orlando-sponsored events. Missing in action were the itinerant anti-abortion protesters, whose weeklong Central Florida residency of one year ago ended with anti-gay protests inside Disney's parks. Silent was Pat Robertson, his 1998 warning of divine wrath in the form of "earthquakes, tornadoes and possibly a meteor" reduced to a mocked memory.
Had the celebration -- now in its ninth year, still a growing, grass-roots grab bag of events spread across five days with multiple sponsors that includes the traditional Saturday flock to the Magic Kingdom -- worn down its opponents?
Enter the Christian right -- a little late, but still on cue.
At press time, the coalition of conservative Christian groups who last summer sponsored print ads in national newspapers saying that gay people can change their sexual orientation was busy trying to buy TV time in Central Florida to continue that message with a new commercial campaign timed to coincide with Gay Day.
The spot -- including John and Dena Westcott of Orlando, both of whom say they are former homosexuals now married to each other with two kids -- is the brainchild of Janet Folger, director of the Fort Lauderdale-based Center for Reclaiming America. It follows an ad broadcast in the Washington, D.C., area over the Mother's Day weekend.
Whether the new ad finds a local broadcast outlet, however, was uncertain as late as Tuesday.
Last year's print ads prompted wide examination and general discrediting of so-called ex-gay ministries. And in Washington, after major network stations refused to run it, the inaugural TV ad appeared only on a UPN affiliate.
Here, Time Warner Communications was approached but refused to air the ad on its cable system, says Diane Pickett, Time Warner's vice president of public affairs; she would not elaborate. Though no other stations could be reached for comment, the obvious barriers led Barry Kase, an advance analyst for the Center for Reclaiming America, to complain of "censorship."
"There's not anything in the commercial that represents any type of hate or tries to raise any anger," says John Westcott. "The whole thing's about hope and love. There's nothing about hate or bashing or anything in that commercial."
A statement from Kerry Lobel, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force in Washington, counters, "This ad campaign is simply one more weapon in the conservative arsenal of those who want to wage war against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. It is bankrupt of the very virtues it espouses -- love and compassion."
Should the campaign not air, would Westcott be willing to enter the Magic Kingdom to minister one-on-one? "No, I'm not into confrontation," he says. "Unfortunately in those situations it becomes a big -- what's the word? -- dispute."
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