Selling Homosexuality to America
Mr. Rondeau has been a senior sales and marketing management professional with industry leaders for over 25 years; MA Management with a specialty in persuasive communication, Regent University; BA Marketing Management, Concordia University. Currently, he is a doctoral student in communications studies with a focus in rhetoric and persuasion and works as Director of Development for Regent University.
"[I]nstitutional sites from which discourse proceeds must be identified . . . . [D]iscourse is power itself, and the power to control discourse is thus the master power in any society." 1
"Truth is not the issue. The issue is power."2
Among America's culture wars, one of today's most intense controversies rages around the issue alternatively identified, depending on one's point of view, as "normalizing homosexuality" or "accepting gayness." The debate is truly a social-ethical-moral conceptual war that transcends both the scientific and legal, though science and law most often are the weapons of choice. The ammunition for these weapons, however, is persuasion.
This article explores how gay rights 3 activists use rhetoric, psychology, social psychology, and the media–all the elements of modern marketing–to position homosexuality in order to frame what is discussed in the public arena and how it is discussed. In essence, when it comes to homosexuality, activists want to shape "what everyone knows" and "what everyone takes for granted" even if everyone does not really know and even if it should not be taken for granted. 4
The first strategy of persuasion is to establish a favorable climate for your message so that the communicator (marketer) can influence the future decision without even appearing to be persuading. Pratkanis and Aronson refer to this as pre-selling. 5 This is at the heart of the homosexual campaign: to get consent via social construct today to determine whose idea of personal freedoms will prevail in our legal codes tomorrow.
Part II of this article provides a brief overview of the social climate and politics that ultimately led to the American Psychiatric Association's (APA) imprimatur of homosexual behavior. The declassification of homosexuality as a disorder by the APA provides context for the propaganda war proposed by Kirk and Madsen's homosexual manifesto fifteen years later. The section ends by reviewing the main elements of the campaign including the call to specifically discredit, intimidate, and silence opponents with particular attention paid to conservative Christians.
Part III presents the connection between persuasion and democratic processes. Rhetoric, persuasive communication, propaganda, and social psychology theories are foundational to the concept of selling homosexuality as presented in this article. The purpose of this section is to provide a greater understanding of why persuasion works in order to strengthen the later discussion of how it is applied in the mass persuasion techniques evidenced in today's "gay rights"-style marketing.
Part IV moves to the "4-P's" of the traditional marketing paradigm–Product, Price, Place, and Promotion–to deconstruct and to illustrate how homosexuality is packaged and sold as a competitive product in the marketplace often through education 6 and through positive media coverage. "What is pitched is different–a product brand versus an issue–but the method is the same. In each case, the critical thing is not to let the public know how it is done," 7 states Tammy Bruce, a self-described lesbian feminist and ex-president of the Los Angles chapter of the National Organization for Women. 8
Part V presents several real examples of how this strategy is employed in five important markets of social influence. The areas examined, which touch every citizen in
Part VI concludes by recapping some achievements of the gay rights campaign and discussing what these may portend for their opponents and American society in the future.
II. Getting Here from There
A. Kinsey to the APA Victory of 1973
A basic understanding of how the social definition of homosexuality has seen change over the course of this century is important. Homosexuality was considered criminal under the law and evil by the church. Homosexuals were rescued by the medical establishment when the condition was "medicalized" early in the 1900s and redefined as a pathological condition, a disease. Then, beginning in the 1950s, scientific and political forces converged. 9
Until Alfred Kinsey claimed that the large majority of Americans had homosexual interests and John D. Rockefeller's empire marketed Kinsey's voluminous Sexual Behavior in the Human Male (1948) and Sexual Behavior in the Human Female (1953) studies 10 five decades ago, few ever spoke of homosexuality in public let alone as a public possibility. It certainly was not "O.K. to be gay" openly in
Even so, several years after the Kinsey bombshells, the Group for the Advancement of Psychiatry (GAP), an organization of esteemed physicians founded by the noted psychiatrist William C. Menninger, still defined homosexuality as a treatable disease, a sexual perversion, and as psychological (not biological) in nature. 11
As late as 1960, all fifty states maintained laws criminalizing sodomy. In 1963 the New York Academy of Medicine Committee on Public Health, restated that not only was homosexuality a disease (disorder), "some homosexuals have gone beyond the plane of defensiveness and now argue that deviancy is a 'desirable, noble, preferable way of life.'" 12 In 1970, it was estimated that 84% of Americans agreed homosexuality was a "social corruption." 13 In fact, far from homosexuality being considered just a social aberration, it was still officially defined by the American Psychiatric Association as a mental disorder.
Years of disruptive homosexual protests at APA annual conferences, some openly backed by the Gay Liberation Front, and aggressive internal homosexual activism finally changed all that in 1973. 14 This political and non-scientific decision was "simply the opening phase of a war with normality. It was part of a two-phase sexual radicalization, the second phase being the raising of homosexuality to the level of an alternative lifestyle." 15 It appears that this war analogy is justified. The success of the effort to neutralize the APA's disapproval gave the homosexual movement just the weapon they needed for the campaign we see today.
B. Sans Facts, Logic, or Proof
1. The Need for War
"In February 1988, a 'war conference' of 175 leading gay activists, representing organizations from across the land, convened in Warrenton, Virginia, (near Washington, D.C.) to establish a four-point agenda for the gay movement." 16 After that meeting, Harvard-trained social scientists and homosexual activists Marshall Kirk and Hunter Madsen wrote a homosexual manifesto that proposed "[d]ismissing the movement's outworn techniques in favor of carefully calculated public relations propaganda . . . . lay[ing] groundwork for the next stage of the gay revolution, and its ultimate victory over bigotry." 17
The strategies they promulgated are best understood by peering into the authors' shared fundamental belief: "Any society that flatly denies the fact that one or two citizens in every ten have strong homosexual interests, and structures its laws and values around this denial, is, to this extent, seriously ill." 18 Driven by a worldview of victimization, the need for revolution and the establishment of a cultural identity, their strategy was unabashed and blunt: manipulate and control public discourse in order to unite and legitimate one group even at the expense of others.
The war goal was to force acceptance of homosexual culture into the mainstream, to silence opposition, and ultimately to convert American society. This "stunningly systematic and controversial blueprint . . . of carefully calculated public relations propaganda," 19 has value as a template to guide discussion of how the homosexual movement 20 hopes to achieve social power and codify homosexual behavior as a right.
Warfare-type tactics are espoused to counter such evils as "homohatred" from being induced in children at an early age, even children who later turn out to be homosexual. People who dissent based on faith are defined as religious homohaters. Heterosexuals and even homosexuals who do not tow the gay rights line are also the enemy. Both are labeled as gay homophobes 21 who place "the needs of their own cowardice above the reputations and even the lives of millions of others, a failing of the ethical test of life so great that if the [Christian] fundamentalists are even half right they'll go straight to hell." 22
2. Desensitize, Jam, and Convert
The extensive three-stage strategy to Desensitize, Jam and Convert the American public is reminiscent of George Orwell's premise of goodthink and badthink in 1984. 23 As Kirk and Madsen put it, "To one extent or another, the separability–and manipulability–of the verbal label is the basis for all the abstract principles underlying our proposed campaign." 24
Desensitization is described as inundating the public in a "continuous flood of gay-related advertising, presented in the least offensive fashion possible. If straights can't shut off the shower, they may at least eventually get used to being wet." 25 But, the activists did not mean advertising in the usual marketing context but, rather, quite a different approach: "The main thing is to talk about gayness until the issue becomes thoroughly tiresome." 26 They add, "[S]eek desensitization and nothing more. . . . [I]f you can get [straights] to think [homosexuality] is just another thing–meriting no more than a shrug of the shoulders–then your battle for legal and social rights is virtually won." 27 This planned hegemony is a variant of the type that Michael Warren describes in Seeing Through the Media where it "is not raw overt coercion; it is one group's covert orchestration of compliance by another group through structuring the consciousness of the second group." 28
Jamming makes use of the rules of Associative Conditioning . . . and Direct Emotional Modeling.
. . . .
. . . [T]he bigot need not actually be made to believe . . . that others will now despise him . . . [r]ather, our effect is achieved without reference to facts, logic, or proof. . . . [W]hether he is conscious of the attack or not. Indeed, the more he [the bigot] is distracted by any incidental, even specious, surface arguments, the less conscious he'll be of the true nature of the process–which is all to the good. 29
Jamming is psychological terrorism meant to silence expression of or even support for dissenting opinion. According to one knowledgeable source, "Dr. Laura is only the most visible victim of this new assault on free speech and thought." 30
The final stage, Conversion, means the "conversion of the average American's emotions, mind, and will, through a planned psychological attack, in the form of propaganda fed to the nation via the media." With Conversion, the bigot is shown images of "his crowd actually associating with gays in good fellowship." 31 The alleged bigot "is repeatedly exposed to literal picture/label pairs . . . of gays . . . carefully selected to look either like the bigot and his friends, or like any one of his other stereotypes of all right guys." 32
Another tactic is to claim that famous historical figures were homosexual. This associates homosexuals with positive images (symbols) just like advertisers use celebrity endorsements.
Famous historical figures are considered especially useful to us for two reasons: first, they are invariably dead as a doornail, hence in no position to deny the truth and sue for libel. Second, and more serious, the virtues and accomplishments that make these historic gay figures admirable cannot be gain said or dismissed by the public, since high school history textbooks have already set them in incontrovertible cement. 33
The negative variant is to portray all detractors as victimizers by pairing them with negative images (symbols) of "[k]lansmen demanding that gays be slaughtered[,] . . . [h]ysterical backwoods preachers[,] . . . [m]enacing punks[,] . . . [and a] tour of Nazi concentration camps where homosexuals were tortured and gassed." [34 In essence, they use positive or negative icons (symbols) and not the actual words for their persuasive message. 35
3. Dust Off the Unholy Alliance
Perhaps the most menacing focus of the campaign is the special treatment reserved for the religious dissenters. The strategy is to "[j]am homohatred by linking it to Nazi horror." 36
Most contemporary hate groups on the Religious Right will bitterly resent the implied connection between homohatred and Nazi fascism. But since they can't defend the latter, they'll end up having to distance themselves by insisting that they would never go to such extremes. Such declarations of civility toward gays, of course, set our worst detractors on the slippery slope toward recognition of fundamental gay rights. 37
. . . [Furthermore] gays can undermine the moral authority of homohating churches over less fervent adherents by portraying . . . [them] as antiquated backwaters, badly out of step . . . with the latest findings of psychology. Against the atavistic tug of Old Time Religion one must set the mightier pull of Science and Public Opinion . . . . Such an 'unholy' alliance has already worked well in
Although some might label such virulent persuasion tactics as antisocial, the form of government that we enjoy has persuasion at its roots.
III. Persuasion, Society, and Democracy
The ancient civilizations of
When Rome later arose as a representative republic, 40 "[p]ower was very often exercised not through bottom line legalities but through the persuasiveness and force of argument of particular office holders or assemblies." 41 The Roman marketplace now required not only teachers but also professional persuaders for hire. Sophists were reborn as lawyers and lawmakers.
Modern rhetorician Richard M. Weaver "was a champion of conservative . . . ideas." 43 "One of the mainstays of conservative thought is a concern for values. Weaver felt that American culture was losing many values worth preserving." 44 These very same concepts underlie the resistance by society at large to affirmation of the homosexual community. The homosexual movement is formed and driven in that conflict.
Weaver's book, Ideas Have Consequences, has been described as "a profound diagnosis of the sickness of our culture." 45 Certainly, this diagnosis is a common argument in opposition to homosexuality. Weaver's defense of language as the touchstone to enduring human values and universal truths is recurring and central to the conception of the role of rhetoric.
Weaver describes four ways to interpret a subject rhetorically: "define its nature"; "place it in a cause-and-effect relationship"; interpret it "in terms of relationship of similarity and dissimilarity"; or interpret it "by credit of testimony or authority." 46
The gay rights movement draws upon this strategy in the hope of reshaping American society and laws. Recall Kirk and Madsen's candid admission that, "[T]he separability–and manipulability–of the verbal label is the basis for all the abstract principles underlying our proposed campaign." 47
The current debate, then, is framed differently by both sides. Is homosexual behavior normal or abnormal? Are the maladies commonly associated with the homosexual condition (depression, AIDS, suicide, cancer) caused by the behavior itself or society's reaction to it? Are homosexuals just the same as heterosexuals? Should science or society determine the acceptability of "gayness"?
If history repeats itself, the point of view that holds sway in
B. Modern Persuasion Theory: The Elaboration Likelihood Model (ELM)
1. Credibility of the ELM
"Persuasion is the essence of marketing . . ." 48 and the "Elaboration Likelihood Model of persuasion has emerged in the last decade as a central focus of research on communication and persuasion." 49 The ELM is the most comprehensive modern theory of how persuasion works. "For a given topic and setting, the ELM has the benefit of suggesting which kinds of source descriptions would or would not have effects similar to traditional message arguments." 50
2. To Think or Not to Think: Elaboration
Petty and Cacioppo theorized a framework for two relatively distinct routes to persuasion (i.e. attitude change) as the central route and the peripheral route. 51 These two routes are differentiated by the level of cognitive processing undertaken (i.e. amount of conscious examination or "elaboration" of the message) by a person exposed to persuasive communication. The central route is high level processing "based on a careful and thoughtful assessment . . . . [The low level peripheral route] is based on some cognitive, affective, or behavioral cue." 52 As underlying motivations on how each route is used, Petty and Cacioppo list seven postulates in the ELM:
1. People are motivated to hold correct attitudes.
2. Although people want to hold correct attitudes, the amount and nature of issue-relevant elaboration in which they are willing or able to engage to evaluate a message vary with individual and situational factors.
3. Variables can affect the amount and direction of attitude change by . . . affecting the extent or direction of issue and argument elaboration [i.e. cognitive effort to evaluate].
4. Variables . . . [have an affect] by either enhancing or reducing argument scrutiny.
5. Variables affecting message processing in a relatively biased manner can produce either a positive (favorable) or negative (unfavorable) motivational and/or ability bias to issue-relevant thoughts attempted.
6. As motivation and/or ability to process arguments is decreased, peripheral cues become relatively more important determinants of persuasion.
7. Attitude changes that result mostly from processing issue-relevant arguments (central route) will show greater temporal persistence, greater prediction of behavior, and greater resistance to counterpersuasion . . . . 53
Although the ELM is often graphically illustrated as two distinct routes, the theory actually describes a continuum bounded on one end by "a person's careful and thoughtful consideration of the merits of the information presented" (the central route) and on the other by no "scrutiny of the central merits of the issue-relevant information presented ([the] peripheral route)," 54 but rather a reliance on cues. Persuasive communications can move the recipient to arrive at a similar final attitude by either route or by something in between. 55
With the "mindless acceptance" 56 of cues at the end of the continuum bounded by the peripheral route, it is put forward that any attitude change achieved via this process is more transitory and subject to counterpersuasion and counterargument. At the opposite end, "attitudes formed or changed via . . . central route [processes are predicted to be more] persisten[t], [more] resistan[t], and [more] predict[ive] of behavior." 57 So, although Petty and Cacioppo believe central route attitude change is "quite desirable, the ELM makes it clear that this is a difficult persuasion strategy." 58 And, while they argue that "enhanced thinking produces persistence," they believe that "processing may proceed in either a relatively objective or a relatively biased manner." 59
Applied to this discussion of marketing the concept of gay rights, it is noteworthy that "in targeting an attitude for change, the ELM suggests that it is more important to know something about the underlying qualities of the attitude than simply knowing if a person has an attitude or not." 60 In short, knowing how to influence attitude is more important than knowing what attitude, opinion, or belief is held.
3. Which Thinking Route to Take: Variables and Moderators
Fleming and Petty make it clear that "many variables are capable of moderating the route to persuasion, either central or peripheral." 61 Petty explains that moderators influence the strength or direction of a relationship. The moderator variables in the ELM (e.g. issue involvement, distraction, and need for cognition) can serve as variables "that can moderate the route to persuasion." 62 For different topics, situations, and audiences the same communication sources can serve as central merits, bias the interpretation, or generate additional arguments to evaluate the persuasive communication. 63
Moderators can include speaker source or credibility, 64 distraction, 65 strength of argument, 66 personal relevance, 67 the recipient's mood, and the recipient's ability or motivation to process. 68 However, "[O]ne cannot place [these] variables into simple lists because, depending upon the meaning of the variable in the specific context, and the overall elaboration likelihood, variables can sometimes act as cues, sometimes act as arguments, and sometimes affect the extent or direction of elaboration." 69
Homosexual strategists want lasting attitude change in society toward their behavior, but know that many people see their arguments as weak, such that a successful appeal to the central route (high processing) is unlikely. Since ELM predicts that attitude changes via the peripheral route (using cues) are less durable, gay rights activists have a different answer as to how longer lasting attitude change can still be achieved–cognitive dissonance.
4. Control Behavior, Change Attitudes: Cognitive Dissonance
Another psychosocial concept is helpful in discussing the actual marketing of homosexuality. Leon Festinger, "one of social psychology's most important theorists," 70 theorized that people hold a multitude of cognitions: beliefs, pieces of knowledge held as appropriate or true, values, memories or emotions. 71 Most cognitions are irrelevant to others, such as liking the color blue but not liking hot dogs. Some are consonant, like believing in God and believing in honesty. However, an uncomfortable psychological state called cognitive dissonance sets in when people hold inconsistent (dissonant) ideas, beliefs, or opinions. 72
Dissonance is a conflict of inconsistent or "nonfitting" relations among cognitions. Consonance is consistency or balance between cognitions. The magnitude of pressure to change is relational to the importance of the dissonance. 73 Because there is a tendency among people to seek consistency between attitude and behavior, something must change in the case of a discrepancy to resolve the conflict and to eliminate the dissonance. There are three ways people resolve dissonance: (1) reduce the importance of the dissonant beliefs, (2) add more consonant beliefs to outweigh the dissonant beliefs, or (3) change the dissonant beliefs so they are no longer inconsistent with one another. 74
When it comes to mass persuasion in the name of gay rights, two particularly important concepts from Festinger's work are applicable. The first is threshold reward/punishment. The second concept is forced compliance. Maximum dissonance, the maximum psychological need to rationalize inconsistent beliefs or replace them with new beliefs, sets in if only just enough reward/punishment is used to gain public compliance. 75 Then, forced compliance occurs when, due to their environment, a person must exhibit overt behavior or the verbal expression of opinions that conflicts with privately held original beliefs. 76
Perhaps counterintuitively, attitude change often follows behavioral change and not vice-versa. This explains why the gay rights movement often focuses on negative labeling (bigot, ignorant, intolerant) in the marketplace of competing ideas; a social environment is created that is unfriendly to anti-homosexual speech. Like Chinese water torture rather than brute force, only socially enforced public compliance at a minimum level, through continued application, can ultimately change the privately held attitude or belief.
Thus, to psychologically propel societal attitude change regarding homosexuality,
IV. Marketing 101
A. Defining Marketing
1. Propaganda, Persuasion, Education and the 4 P's
It is not common practice to think of social movements in terms of marketing. Perhaps this is because using terms like "selling" or "marketing" seems to denigrate noble activities that usually portray themselves in terms of grass roots and the will of the people. 79 However, the American Marketing Association defines marketing as "the process of planning and executing the conception, pricing, promotion, and distribution of ideas, goods and services to create exchanges that satisfy individual and organizational goals." 80
There are many variations of the definitions related to the theory of marketing but generically they all fall into one of four categories–the easy-to-remember 4-P's: product (conception), price, promotion (marketing communications), and place (distribution). Each is interrelated and each also has a persuasive function. 81
The concept of product is formally defined in marketing to include all "functional, social, and psychological utilities and benefits." 82 Ideas (as products) are defined as concepts, philosophies, images, or issues. 83
Pricing of a product has several functions. Price is a pre-persuader. It positions the product versus the competitor. For example, "good" perfumes are expected to be more expensive; whereas, generic brands are expected to sell for less. When pricing is related to policy issues, it is often framed in terms of competing interests: the cost to the environment in drilling in pristine wilderness versus the cost to
A new pricing concept called exaction pricing is introduced in this article. Rather than the mutually satisfying exchange relationships proposed in marketing theory, exaction pricing is defined as the economic or emotional price that is exacted from targeted groups for not buying the gay rights idea.
Promotion includes the different methods for getting the persuasive message to the target audience: advertising (paid persuasive messages), personal selling (which would include lobbying), publicity (working the media for positive coverage), and direct inducements.
Place is shorthand for the distribution channel (place) where consumers can buy the product. 84
"Marketing communicators–as well as all persuaders (politicians, theologians, parents, teachers)–attempt to guide people toward the acceptance of some belief, attitude, or behavior by using reasoning or emotional appeals." 85 And, if education is learning new ideas and information, then "every time we turn on the radio or television, every time we open a book magazine or newspaper, someone is trying to educate us." 86 Therefore, marketing is rhetoric on steroids–the commercialized, technologized, and systematized application of persuasion, propaganda, or education (depending on who is doing the naming).
2. The Marketing Environment
There are five broad forces that often are considered uncontrollable: social, economic, technological, regulatory and competitive. 87 However, the gay rights movement seeks to change the social and regulatory, exploit the economic and technological, and silence or convert the competition. Therein lies the brilliance and power of their marketing campaign.
In this postmodern society "[t]ruth is not the issue. The issue is power. The new [social] model[ ] 'empower[s]' groups formerly excluded," 88 and "the power to control discourse is thus the master power." 89 By 1990, half of all marriages from twenty years earlier had ended in divorce, and the traditional family, and its values, did not look so traditional anymore. 90
The explosion of communications technology, including the advent of Internet, allowed the homosexual movement to exploit society's changing values. It enabled a disparate homosexual community representing "less than 3% (and perhaps less than 2%) of the population" 91 to act as a cohesive group to project persuasive power into society.
B. Conceptualizing the Product
1. Repackaging the Product: A New Identity for Homosexuality
In 1989 two strategies on how to totally repackage homosexual behavior as a rights issue were unveiled to the gay rights community.
[F]irst, you get your foot in the door, by being as similar as possible; then, and only then–when your one little difference [orientation] is finally accepted–can you start dragging in your other peculiarities, one by one. You hammer in the wedge narrow end first. As the saying goes, [a]llow the camel's nose beneath your tent, and his whole body will soon follow. 92
Pederasts, gender-benders, sado-masochists, and other minorities in the homosexual community with more extreme "peculiarities" would keep a low profile until homosexuality is in the tent. Also, common homosexual practices such as anal-oral sex, anal sex, fisting, and anonymous sex–that is to say what homosexuals actually do and with how many they do it–must never be a topic.
Rather, only strongly favorable images of homosexuals should be displayed, even "paint[ing] gay men and lesbians as superior–veritable pillars of society. . . . Famous historical figures are especially useful . . . for two reasons: first, they are invariably dead . . . hence in no position to deny the truth . . . [and] high school history textbooks have already set them in incontrovertible cement." 93
In other words, change the basic offer and do a marketing practitioner's job; only "provide positively valued information . . . that will increase the odds of [the consumer] ultimately choosing the marketer's offering over competitive options." 94 Both ELM and Weaver would refer to this as associating the right symbols with your communication.
The second strategy was even more powerful.
[T]he public should be persuaded that gays are victims of circumstance, that they no more chose their sexual orientation than . . . their height . . . . ([F]or all practical purposes, gays should be considered to have been born gay–even though sexual orientation, for most humans, seems to be the product of a complex interaction between innate predispositions and environmental factors during childhood and early adolescence.) To suggest in public that homosexuality might be chosen is to open the can of worms labeled 'moral choice and sin' and give the religious right Intransigents a stick to beat us with. 95
2. Redefine Abnormal as Normal
In the early 1970s, homosexual activists unleashed a "violent and extortionary political campaign." 96 Homosexual activists reasoned that if the influential American Psychiatric Association (APA) were to redefine homosexuality, other professional guilds (like the several times larger American Psychological Association) and then the rest would follow.