Anti-Gay Blogger Opens Up On Radio

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Friday July 30, 2010

The blogger behind the relentlessly anti-gay site Americans for Truth About Homosexuality opened up to the press recently in a revealing interview.

Pete LaBarbera has been denigrated as "Porno Pete" in the GLBT press, and his site's name has been taken as a prime example of false advertising. In a July 28 interview with the nation's youngest syndicated radio host, David Pakman, on Midweek Politics Radio, LaBarbera--the former leader of a conservative Illinois group and the organizer of an upcoming "Truth Academy" designed as a "pro-family" forum to counter the gay "agenda"--made a number of claims, including that the "pro-family" side in the debate are "censored," that ex-gays really are people who once were gay and now are heterosexual, and that he doesn't--or rather, make that does--spend a fair amount of time attending and photographing gay events, such as gatherings of leather fetishists.

"We're a single-issue organization that's on the other side of the debate over homosexuality in the culture," LaBarbera told Pakman at the start of the interview. "The other side is the massive gay rights movement," LaBarbera added, with a chuckle, "which most Americans are probably vastly exposed to." LaBarbera went on to describe his blog as "pro-family," although he described Americans for Truth as being in opposition to marriage equality for gay and lesbian families.

"What is the 'truth about homosexuality' that people just don't seem to know?" Pakman asked LaBarbera.

"We would claim that homosexuality is about behavior," LaBarbera responded, "that it's not an inborn identity." LaBarbera asserted that homosexuality is a "lifestyle" that can be "left behind," and estimated that he'd met "probably fifty former homosexuals, people who once considered themselves gay who have since left the lifestyle. So it's about changeable behavior which we believe is immoral."

Asked by Pakman how a gay person might become straight, LaBarbera said, "I don't think there's... one way in [to homosexuality], I don't think there's one way out." LaBarbera went on to say, "It's interesting that the gay activist movement is sort of trying to shut down the idea of therapy to get out." LaBarbera noted that he knew "committed Christians who have left homosexuality on the basis of their religious beliefs."

LaBarbera went on to talk about his blog's boycott of McDonald's over a TV commercial that is not even airing in the United States. The ad, which is shown in France and which has become an international cause celebre among both gay and anti-gay groups, features a gay teen, and invites viewers to "come as you are." LaBarbera called the TV spot "an affirmative ad about homosexuality... in other words, 'Being gay as a teenage boy, having a romantic relationship with another boy, is a good thing, and we're going to encourage it at McDonald's.' And we believe that's a bad message for young people." LaBarbera went on to add, "Our position is that homosexual behavior is aberrant behavior." LaBarbera added that homosexuality was "controversial" in America, prompting Pakman to query, "Is it?"

Pakman went on to ask LaBarbera, "Is it more controversial to be gay and under 18 than gay and over 18?"

"Well, I can see we're probably on opposite sides of this issue, David," LaBarbera said--at which point both of them had a laugh--"but what I can tell you is, many people simply do not like the idea of affirming homosexuality, as, especially, some sort of rigid, inborn characteristic--who you are--to young people. And in fact, what's happening in a lot of schools is, schools will get pro-gay affirmation, but they'll never hear the other side of the issue."

"I didn't know there was another side," quipped Pakman.

"I thought I just gave you one," rejoined LaBarbera.

"Let me ask you this," Pakman said. "How old, in your experience, are people usually when they decide to 'start being gay?' "

"I don't have the answer of how old they are," LaBarbera said. "What I can tell you is there are surveys which show that the age when people are coming out as... openly homosexual has gone down significantly. I think the average age now is somewhere in the young teens or younger, perhaps.... I think part of the reason the reason this is happening is because there is this ubiquitous propaganda more on one side of the issue than on the other."

"I'll tell you, Pete, you couldn't be more wrong," rejoined Pakman, who advanced the theory that younger kids come out now because they feel safer in doing so.

"But I hope," answered LaBarbera, "that those kids would also learn that just as there are people who are proudly gay, there are also people who are proudly out of that lifestyle. The problem is that a lot of the institutions have sort of bought your propaganda, and are only teaching one side."

"It seems, Peter, like your organization is considered so crazy that even the 'anti-gay movement' sometimes thinks you're too extreme," Pakman observed, going on to cite how Americans for Truth About Homosexuality was "shut out" last fall by anti-gay group the National Organization for Marriage prior to voters in Maine approving a measure to repeal a law in that state extending marriage equality to gay and lesbian families.

"Two things on that, David," LaBarbera shot back. "One is, your producer should have told me how strongly your pro-gay views were. But that aside, listen, we're in a debate here [in America], and I think it's interesting how the people who are doing the censoring in this debate are not the pro-family side, it's the pro-gay side." LaBarbera then asserted that the "pro-gay side" was "desperate" to keep "ex-gays" from appearing on national programs to tell their side of the story. "And my question is, what are you afraid of?"

"I'll be honest," Pakman interjected at that point, "I have no idea what you're talking about."

Pakman asked LaBarbera whether he went "undercover" to "gay sex clubs," to which LaBarbera responded, "We do find it interesting, and actually quite a news story, that in places like San Francisco you have these outdoor extravaganzas on the street, in which men basically walk around totally naked."

Americans for Truth covers the annual Folsom Street Fair, an event to which participants pay a fee to gain entry and which is popular with both straights and gays. LaBarbera's blog--as well as other anti-gay sites--generally uses the event as an occasion to attack liberal California politicians, including Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, whose district includes the city of San Francisco.

Continued LaBarbera, "And unfortunately, the liberal media--of which you may or may not be a part, David--"

"We absolutely are a part, I'll tell you," interjected Pakman.

"--generally find that ho hum. Even here in Chicago, they have gay pride parades in which there has been actually sex acts that have been committed." Added LaBarbera, "Are gays the only ones who get, like, sort of the special right to go prancing around naked in the streets, or is that something that's open to all Americans?"

Pakman agreed with LaBarbera that whatever a person's sexual orientation, public nudity was not acceptable where law prohibits it. "We can agree on that," LaBarbera responded, joking that, "If I were to go nude, that could genuinely be called a hate crime!"

LaBarbera Opposed to "Violence or Hatred Against Gays"

Questioned about Uganda's proposed law to impose steep penalties--including life imprisonment and death-- on gays, LaBarbera said, "Let me be clear on this: we do not agree with anything that would be construed as violence or hatred against gays." However, added LaBarbera, "Sodomy laws are another matter.... I think sodomy laws should basically be [a matter of] community standards. Which is to say, that you are never going to see New York City pass an anti-sodomy law, but if they want to pass one in Mississippi or Kansas, then they should have the right to pass [legislation] against sodomy."

"Do you believe what some conservatives are saying, that legalizing gay marriage would open the door to either three-way marriages, or marriages with animals? Do you see that [as a] slippery slope?" asked Pakman.

LaBarbera replied that polygamous marriages might well result from the legalization of marriage equality for gays and lesbians, based upon the same arguments that gays offer: "Why should that [recognition of] love be denied [to a union of three or more people]?" asked LaBarbera.

Pakman asked LaBarbera which group, between Fred Phelps' Westboro Baptist Church, and Paul Cameron, the discredited anti-gay psychologist, LaBarbera would throw in with should Americans for Truth About Homosexuality fold.

"It's sort of a foolish question, David, but we have denounced the 'God Hates Fags' guy, Fred Phelps," answered LaBarbera. "I think it's a dangerous message, I think it' s not a Biblical message, I don't think he's acting like a Christian, I don't think God goes around calling people fags. It's interesting to us," added LaBarbera, "that the same gay activists who denounce him and rightly so... are quite willing to call people like me names.

"I definitely think that Fred Phelps is a wingnut," added LaBarbera.

EDGE interviewed Pakman briefly about his exchange with LaBarbera. Pakman addressed the question of having had LaBarbera on his program, saying, "Having him on was a matter of finding out every possible angle and complaint that people can have with the "pro-gay" movement," and going on to opine that the anti-gay movement is "unnecessary and a waste of time. That is, there's no reason I could imagine for putting time into preventing homosexual couples from living their lives the way they want, which is what Mr. LaBarbera is doing."

As for LaBarbera's assertion that Pakman's producer ought to have warned him in advance that Pakman might have more LGBT-sympathetic views, Pakman--who is not gay himself--noted, " 'Warning' him that I was 'pro-gay' because he is 'anti-gay' does not seem like a necessity to maintain journalistic ethics. That is, even the most basic Google search would turn up whatever he needs to know." Added Pakman, "I just searched for 'david pakman midweek politics gay rights' on Google and literally the entire first page are links to my positions and previous interviews on the matter... not difficult to find!"

Asked whether he seeks to maintain a "fair and balanced" approach (in the old sense of the phrase, pertaining to journalistic integrity rather than to partisan jingoism), Pakman told EDGE, "I hesitate to say 'fair and balanced' since my program is by all admissions a liberal opinion program, not an 'unbiased news' program, and I am personally liberal.

"That being said," Pakman continued, "if you look at our guest list on our website, it would be hard to argue that I don't have countless conservatives on the show, and unless absolutely necessary for time purposes or because the guest is being boring or bland, I allow those conservative guests to explain themselves--often, the most popular interviews are the ones where the guest is given just enough rope to hang themselves."

"Truth" Academy?

At the end of his interview on Pakman's radio show, LaBarbera encouraged listeners to visit his group's website, and promoted the "Truth Academy" that Americans for Truth is slated to present between Aug. 5-Aug. 7. The "Truth Academy" is advertised as a forum, open to children as young as age 14, where "young people (as well as older pro-family advocates) [learn] how to answer 'gay' activist misinformation and fight the homosexual-bisexual-transsexual agenda."

The event has drawn criticism from those who say they have concerns about exposing children to what they call "hate speech." "AFTAH has a long history of telling lies about Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) people," a posting at the website for the Chicago Independent Media Center said. The posting noted that the Southern Poverty Law Center had recently identified AFTAH as a "hate group," and went on to express concern about young people being exposed to such influences.

Surveying the list of speakers announced for the event, GLBT blog JoeMyGod posted commentary regarding the lineup. "The list... includes Arthur Goldberg from JONAH, the Jewish 'ex-gay' group whose 'therapy' includes nude self-groping in the presence of creepy older 'ex-gay' dudes," the JoeMyGod posting read.

The Chicago Independent Media Center posting related details about a local response to the "Truth Academy." "Please join us in a protest against the opening 'lecture-banquet' of the AFTAH event at 5:30 PM, Wednesday, August 4 at the AFTAH headquarters, 25W560 Geneva Road, Carol Stream, IL," the posting read.

"For those traveling from Chicago, we will be meeting in front of the Ogilvie Transportation Center, 500 W. Madison Street at 3:45 PM sharp." The posting also provided an email' target='new'[email protected]|email contact> for more information, and invited readers to visit the event's Facebook page.

Anti-gay religious site promoted the event in a July 28 article that characterized the "Academy for Truth" as a "three-day conference on fighting the homosexual political agenda in the United States."

"I have a little Irish blood but I'm also Italian, and when political correctness and the thought police tell you what not to do it only makes me want to do more of it, and so in this case the gay thought police are basically saying the issue is over and there is no other side, and so I thought we have to start educating people on the agenda," LaBarbera told the site.

The anti-gay blogger gave some indication as to his own agenda, and his strategy of targeting youth, telling LifeSiteNews that, "The polls show that young people are more pro-life and more pro-gay at the same time. And I think that speaks volumes about the problem that we're in and the long term debt that we face on this issue unless we educate people on what's really at stake with the debate."

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.