A young man walks out of an office and begins to make his way down a sunlit street. The sound of breaking glass--a beer bottle being smashed against a wall--is the first sign that something is wrong. A gang of thugs--shouting anti-gay epithets and wielding a baseball bat and the jagged bottle--chase him, surround him and finally trap him against a chain-link fence.
So begins the first of a new series of public-service announcements designed to combat the rising tide of physical attacks against homosexuals, known colloquially as gay bashing.
The spot, part of a national campaign that is being launched in Los Angeles and San Francisco, will begin airing here Sunday on KTTV-TV Channel 11 and next week on KCAL-TV Channel 9. But two other stations have rejected the ad, saying that the language is offensive and potentially inflammatory.
"A lot of young people are going into gay areas for the express purpose of finding gay people to assault; it's kind of a high school blood sport," said Alan Klein, executive producer for the New York City Gay and Lesbian Anti-Violence Campaign, which produced the spots. "What these ads are saying, in as graphic and hard-hitting a way as possible, is: 'This is not a sport.' "
KTTV and KCAL said that the campaign fits in with their public-service goal of combating hate crimes. Of two spots produced so far--there will be four altogether--the stations have chosen to air the one described above. The 30-second spot concludes with the lead gay-basher turning into a ferocious attack dog, while the campaign's slogan appears on the screen: "Hate--it's not human."
KNBC-TV Channel 4 and KCBS-TV Channel 2 have turned down both spots, saying that the language--which includes the derogatory term faggot to refer to homosexuals--is inappropriate. KTLA-TV Channel 5, KABC-TV Channel 7 and KCOP-TV Channel 13 were still deciding Friday whether to use them.
"We determined that although we have run other spots in support of the gay community, we felt the wording was too graphic," said Joseph Dyer, director of community affairs for KCBS. "Words like faggot and queer --the public is not best served by using that kind of wording."
If people hear such language on television, the argument against using the public-service announcements goes, anti-gay bigotry might actually be inflamed.
"I think the language in the spots can inadvertently be a lesson in the kinds of negative stereotypes that the (gay) community would not like to have reinforced," said Marilyn Solomon, director of corporate relations for KCOP-TV Channel 13.
"I would not want my child to see it," said an executive at one local station, who spoke on condition of anonymity. The executive compared the use of anti-gay epithets to the use of derogatory terms about ethnic minority groups, saying that neither is acceptable on television.
Klein said that his organization expected some resistance to the spots. "They are extremely in your face," he said. "We actually enact a bashing."
But, he said, with attacks on gays and lesbians three times more frequent than they were five years ago, the language and the dark nature of the spots are necessary to make the point. The second one features a montage of average-looking people making disparaging remarks about gays and lesbians.
Both KTTV and KCAL have scheduled the ad for broadcast after 10 p.m., when fewer children are watching television.
Elaine Walker, public affairs director for KCAL, said that she accepted the producers' contention that the use of derogatory language was an important part of the message.
"They felt it was important to use that language to identify that type of hate crime for what it is," she said. "So we looked at it and decided there was no reason not to air it."
The stations that have turned down the public-service ads said their decision doesn't mean that they are not concerned about issues facing homosexuals.
"We use spots for National Coming Out Day, spots by GLAAD (the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation)," said Dyer of KCBS.
But, he said, controversial approaches such as the use of derogatory language aren't appropriate in public-service announcements.
"We are very conversant with the whole need to educate the public to the whole cycle of gay bashing, but PSAs are not necessarily the dominion of controversy," Dyer said. "Talk shows are for that, other programs are for that."
Supporters of the campaign say they understand the concern over language and do not accuse the stations of insensitivity to gay and lesbian issues.
"I absolutely do not think it's homophobia," said David Smith, who is leaving his position as director of public information for the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Community Center to head the L.A. offices of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), and who worked on the campaign. "And my homophobia nose is really keen. I can smell homophobia a mile away."
Still, there are no plans to tone down the spots, and supporters stand by them.
"It's going to stir some controversy, but I think the controversy is going to be good, because it's going to open up the debate," said Michael Thompson, executive director of Community United Against Violence, a San Francisco-based organization that combats attacks on homosexuals. "It's just the kind of wake-up call and strong message that needs to get out there."