Josh Gaunt is getting his first taste of the ugly, exhilarating side of activism, working with the Stop Dr. Laura campaign. First he saw a flyer in CityBeat, and then he saw another in a bar. Since then, he's been listening to a lot of right-wing AM radio.
"I've never felt like it before," Gaunt says of his newfound calling "I just felt really drawn to it, a need to participate."
His participation has taken the form of listening to hours of Schlessinger's diatribe, taking notes on the local sponsors, then contacting them and persuading many to drop ads from her time slot. His persuasion has worked. PNC Bank, Provident Bank, Warsaw Federal, Bridgeway Point Assisted Living and Phyllis at the Madison have pulled out from the radio show.
Gaunt's success has gotten the attention of Clear Channel Radio's 55 WKRC and 700 WLW. Pat Barry, the friendly weatherman at Channel 5 turned right-wing mouthpiece, brought Gaunt in for his show on WKRC. Gaunt describes it as his worst day so far, "getting torn to shreds by Pat Barry, getting called stupid and perverted by ignorant callers. Then Pat Barry went on for another three hours, taking tightly screened calls. It became an on-air fag-bashing festival."
That's typical modus operandi for AM hate radio. You get a nice phone call, an invitation to help get your word out, while the trap is set at Clear Channel's plush offices in Mount Adams.
"But working with them, the only way anything will change is if we affect their pocketbook," Gaunt says.
It hasn't won him any friends. His first death threat recently arrived via e-mail, which he promptly turned over to the FBI. And while Schlessinger's promoters have been tearing into Gaunt, they've also managed to co-opt Stonewall Cincinnati.
Less than one month before Gaunt saw the flyer in a bar, Cincinnati's largest "human rights" organization (PC code for gay) was busily planning to center its presence in Northside's July 4 parade on the Schlessinger controversy. Stonewall had already mailed cards in collaboration with the Human Rights Campaign in Washington, D.C. Stonewall had called a community meeting to determine an appropriate way to thank Procter & Gamble for dropping support of Schlessinger's TV show. It seemed the long-sedated dinner-party queen was finally willing to sharpen her teeth for a showdown with Channel 9.
Apparently not. Gaunt says Stonewall now is working with Channel 9.
"They're in negotiations with Channel 9 over public-service announcements, and they don't want to risk that," Gaunt says.
Of course, it's hard to see how a one-minute public-service announcement could balance a full hour of Schlessinger in the morning, when homes are alive with kids and parents starting their days. It's especially hard to balance when Stonewall purports to stand for "education, advocacy, outreach," and Channel 9 already has right-wing prophet James Dobson on the morning news. Stonewall might do better by educating Channel 9 on how bigotry is bad business. They might do more to advocate for those in the community who are actually having an effect on bigotry's bottom line, such as Gaunt -- instead of trying to sabotage their efforts by coddling up to cash. But no amount of shortsighted outreach can make up for Stonewall's failures to provide either education or advocacy when it comes to mass-media hate marketing.
Gaunt feels the rug has been pulled from underneath him.
"It's all about money, and that's unfortunate," he says. "It's awful. Nationally there have been gay-rights groups like HRC that have spoken out against it, but locally there's been nothing from the gay/les/bi groups. There's no support. It's very discouraging, and it's hurtful. But I don't think this is right, and I'm not gonna stop 'til it is right."
Such is always the case with controversial issues. Those with something to lose will shrink from their responsibility to provide leadership, leaving leadership to those with nothing to lose. It is only through small groups of dedicated activists focused on a single issue that any meaningful changes take place.
Gaunt's most successful day "was the day I got the American Cancer Society and the Ohio State Lottery" to pull their ads.
"Both agreed it was too controversial to be associated with Dr. Laura," he says.
Gaunt also enjoyed an invitation to address a class on diversity at Xavier University.
"It made me feel good to have a professor call and ask me to speak to his class," he says. "But I don't read e-mails anymore, I just delete them. Things have gotten too hateful."
But that isn't stopping Gaunt or his group of about 30.
"We will continue to notify advertisers of both the radio and TV shows," he says. "We've yet to picket an establishment over this, because they've all withdrawn."
To get involved with the Stop Dr. Laura campaign, call 513-269-9345 and leave your name and number. Someone will call you regarding meeting times and locations. Or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.