Weekly Wire
Memphis Flyer Let "Love in Action" Be

By Brian Pera

OCTOBER 20, 1997:  When Love in Action recently took an ad out in the Flyer, the reaction of the Memphis gay and lesbian community seemed generally to be fueled by old ideas about what should and should not be done by what was assumed to be a progressive newspaper.

The indignant line taken by readers who vowed never to read the paper again was that we had been betrayed by a once-supportive ally.

Yet in all our horror we overlook such issues as free speech, the realities of publishing any paper (let alone an allegedly progressive one), journalistic impartiality,and the significance of upholding personal choice in a culture that increasingly defines itself in broad fascist sweeps.

Above all, we miss the opportunity to engage in a sober critique of groups like Love in Action and their leaders that, more than any bullying missives we could rush off to the editor, might assist troubled gays and lesbians making informed decisions about self-acceptance and personal growth.

John Smid, Love in Action's director, recently participated as one of many religious leaders in a day-long event organized by the Gay and Lesbian Coalition for Religious Affairs, the aim of which was to take a beginning step toward reparative dialogue.

Smid spoke about having battled with attractions to the same sex for most of his young adult life and about his eventual "triumph" over those urges. But his presentation degenerated into lackluster ineffectuality. He had only experienced a small handful of gay relationships." These few gays are all gays," he seemed to be saying. "Their lives are empty, so it follows that gay life itself is."

The fundamental problem with Smid's conclusion is that it is hardly definitive: Someone else might have gone through the same several relationships and come up with vastly different awakenings. The experiences reveal more about his choice of partners than about his choice in gender.

The problem for the Right is that in acknowledging things like homosexuality as complex human problems, they sacrifice the sure shot of unequivocal moralizing. Smid, for instance, speaks of homosexuality as if it's nothing more than an alcohol problem. He says he no longer proselytizes,that he has given up the toxicity that has classically swirled in the test tube of religious fervency.

Taking out an ad would seem (as many gays have said) to contradict this pledge. But without the aid of condemnation, Smid and others must soft-sell to convert. While it might be counterproductive to focus on the Flyer's decision to run the ad, it can only help to scrutinize Smid's message and Smid himself.

His assertion that one cannot rid oneself of one's homosexuality baldly contradicts the textual promise of his ad, which implies he has successfully converted by stating that he "used to be a homosexual." One must question not just Love in Action's right to advertise in a paper but whether they are falsely advertising to begin with.

And what about the Flyer? A progressive paper presents, if it's worth the rag stock it's printed on, sometimes unsavory ideas -- the kind of ideas that don't often attract big ads from mainstream advertisers (not to mention the kinds of ideas that are sometimes objectionable to progressive people). And inherent in this process is the idea that an audience can, given a properly representative scope of information, make its own informed decisions.

If concerned readers truly are as concerned as they are poetically indignant, they might seek to transform the situations that breed decisions they find objectionable, rather than censor the decision themselves.

They might discover ways to reach out to the young gays and lesbians who see no visible alternative to Smid's ad. A dearth of options is not so much the failing of the Flyeras the failing of adult gays and lesbians who rely on the Flyer to do their work for them. Finally, they might discover that the John Smids of the world can no better be dealt with in the dark than can their own urges. (Brian Pera is editor/publisher ofUltraviolet, president of the Memphis Gay and Lesbian Community Center, and founder of the Mid-South Archives.)

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