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CFI's LaBarbera Debates Nickelodeon Special: 'Morality Is Not Prejudice'     6/28/2002

CFI's LaBarbera Debates Nickelodeon Special: 'Morality Is Not Prejudice'
By Robert Knight

The following is excerpted from a transcript of Cable News Network's (CNN) Crossfire of June 18, in which Peter LaBarbera, senior policy analyst at Culture & Family Institute, debated Winnie Stachelberg, political director of the Human Rights Campaign, about the recent Nickelodeon special on “gay parenting.” Hosting the show were writer Tucker Carlson on the conservative side and Paul Begala, a former official in the Clinton administration, on the liberal side:

HEADLINE: … Should Nickelodeon Deal With Gay Issues?
GUESTS: … Winnie Stachelberg, Peter LaBarbera

PAUL BEGALA:. …How could a family-friendly TV special on a kid channel, Nickelodeon, cause such an uproar that it ends up here on the CROSSFIRE?

Well, when the topic is gay parenting, what their kids are doing and talking about—and right-wing conservatives have heard about this and are having a hissy fit.

The program is called My Family is Different. It airs tonight on Nick News. It allows kids raised by gay parents to discuss their lifestyle. Critics say this is not acceptable family viewing. Ironically, this outrage has only stirred more interest in tonight's special, so let's stir the controversy a little more.

In the CROSSFIRE, Winnie Stachelberg, who is political director of the Human Rights Campaign, and Peter LaBarbera, the senior political analyst of CWA's Culture & Family Institute.

TUCKER CARLSON: OK. So let me just get right to the problem I have with this program, which I have not seen, only read about, but I do have a quote from Linda Ellerbee, who is the host and, I think, the producer as well.

She says, “It's never a wrong time to talk about hate, it's just not. That's what our show is all about.” Strikes me the underlying assumption here is that if you disagree with the proposition that gay parenting is OK, if you're against it, that's hate, you're a hater. That strikes me as unfair and name calling. Don't you think?

WINNIE STACHELBERG: I don't think so at all. I think what this television show is about is about kids talking to kids about an issue, gay parenting, that is out there. And it's age appropriate, and it is a wonderful forum for kids to disagree, and for kids to hear different opinions, and for—most importantly—for kids to know that it's OK to disagree, but it's not OK to attack people for those disagreements, to celebrate our diversity, and that's what this television is about.

CARLSON: So you think it is, in other words, a legitimate position for a person to have, to believe that gays should not rear children, that's a legitimate position. We can disagree, and we're tolerant of each other's positions, say, so it's OK for people to believe that?

STACHELBERG: I don't think that people should believe that gay parents aren't OK. I think it's OK for kids to have different opinions, and that's what we see on the show. ...

CARLSON: Including that opinion? Is that an OK opinion?

STACHELBERG: We see a difference of opinion, but what I think the show is getting at is that—teaching understanding, and teaching tolerance, and teaching the right way to have those disagreements. That's what this television program is all about.

BEGALA: Peter, let me show you a brief video clip from the show itself. I hope everybody has steeled themselves, and I'm glad you're sitting down, because you might get the vapors and faint. [Mocking conservatives as fearful] This is actually what's going on on this program. Take a look. Shocking!

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, Nick News' My Family is Different)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE [girl with two lesbian moms]: People have come up to me so many times and said, “Oh, my God, you have two moms. Are you gay, too? Are you a queer? Are you a fag?”

“It's like, no, but is there a problem with it? Why do you have to use cruel words for it? And it's really—it's kind of painful.”

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BEGALA: What's wrong with showing kids that it's wrong to hate?

PETER LABARBERA: Well, Paul, that's being simplistic. Of course it's wrong to hate, but in schools and in programs like this, what's happening is exactly what Tucker said. They're teaching that viewpoints are hate. In classrooms across the country, children are taught that homosexuality, opposition to homosexuality, is, quote, “bigotry” or “homophobia.” These terms are being taught as fact, and that's the problem.

And I'm really very curious to see in this show whether they show the person from our staff [at] Concerned Women for America, [Carmelo Torres], who was raised by a mother who became a lesbian, announced she was a lesbian, and [he] had a very troubled childhood, and we'll be anxious to see if that makes the cut. [Torres and his family were interviewed for the Nick News program, but none of the interview appeared on the show.]

The problem is twofold. One is the homosexual parenting issue, the other is media bias. And we'll see how balanced this program is.

BEGALA: Well, there's another problem, and that is hate. There is hate in this world and it is directed at gays, particularly.

LABARBERA: There is hate directed against Christians who believe homosexuality is wrong. Would you agree with that?

BEGALA: Actually, I do, but—as a Christian myself—I see that, too, but here is what's different. The most commonly used schoolyard epithet today is not “Christian.” I can't even think of one that would describe us. It is instead the word “fag,” a deeply offensive word.

When I was a child growing up in a small town in Texas, the most prominent racial epithet was the word “nigger.” Today not even in my little town could people use that hate-filled word in polite company. …What's wrong with an America in which we don't use the word “fag” either?

LABARBERA: Paul, first of all, we can't ban speech. I don't use the word “fag,” either. … What's happening is a Politically Correct environment: this is going on schools, where some kid will say, maybe say, “Gosh, that's so gay,” and what gay activists groups, like Winnie's—I don't know if [Human Rights Campaign] in particular is doing this—but they're saying, OK, when a child says that, “You're so gay,” pull him aside, and go give him a Politically Correct lesson on homosexuality. … They're turning bad speech into Politically Correct lessons—one-sided, always, on homosexuality. …

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: ...[compares saying, “You're so gay” to “you're so black”]

LABARBERA: Look, when Mathew Shepard died, Winnie's own group, [blacked out] its Web site [and] blamed the, quote, “Christian Right” for Matthew Shepard's death, even though those jerks [the murderers] had nothing to do with the pro-family movement. So the gay activist movement is on record classifying our belief system as hate, which is why we oppose hate crimes laws and things which fall into this sort of Political Correctness.

CARLSON: Isn't this true, Winnie—I mean, I think you'll admit this—that the purpose of the program, one of the purposes of the [Nickelodeon] program, is to convince people who see it that it's different but not bad for gays to raise children, so to that extent, it's pushing a message, an opinion, a point of view.

STACHELBERG: It is different but OK. I think that's exactly right, and I think that's the message that this country ought to hear about gay men and lesbians, generally. As parents—we are parents out there across this country in big towns, in small towns, in rural areas and urban areas.

That's the facts. [Homosexual] people are parenting at much higher rates than they used to, and I think it's important—I was a teacher in New York City—I think it's very important to teach kids that it's OK to be different. Whether you're black or white, whether you're Dominican or Puerto Rican, these are differences that we all need to live with, and there are appropriate ways to deal with those differences.

Pulling someone aside and calling them gay in a classroom, in fact, Peter, [it] is not appropriate, and there's nothing wrong with suggesting to a young child or a teenager that there is a better way to talk about differences than to call someone a name like that.

LABARBERA: You've hit on a problem, Winnie. … You said that it's OK to be different. One problem we have is people who are people always equating homosexuality with race. It's one thing to teach [against] racist bigotry, but it's another thing to classify a whole belief system... [as hate]

STACHELBERG: I'm not talking about race. … What I'm talking about is the way that we instruct our children...

LABARBERA: But equating homosexuality with the civil rights movement...

BEGALA: I do. I believe God makes us gay or straight.

I never sat down with a legal sheet and said, “Do I fall in love with Diana or her brother Ron, who's a real cutie-pie,” but I'm sorry, God made me heterosexual.

LABARBERA: That's your belief.

BEGALA: It wasn't a persuasion. Did someone try to recruit you to be straight, Peter?

LABARBERA: That's a canard.

BEGALA: Right.

LABARBERA: There are many, many people who've gone into homosexuality and got out of it. It's a behavior...

BEGALA: Do you believe God makes us the way we are?

LABARBERA: I don't believe that God makes anybody gay, of course not. But there are people who go into homosexuality and get out of it. It's a changeable behavior, unlike race. I've never met an ex—black, I've never met an ex-Hispanic, Paul. [But I've met many ex-gays.]

(AUDIENCE APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: That's hilarious.

CARLSON: If I could stop the sermon for one second, Paul.

I just want to get, again, to the issue of tolerance. … You may have said this before, and I may have missed it, but I want to hear you say that it's a legitimate point of view that ought to be respected by gays and everybody, that homosexual acts are immoral. A lot of people believe that.

I know you don't, probably members of our audience may not, but a lot of people in the United States and the world believe that, and it strikes me that in order to be tolerant, you have to agree that that's a legitimate point of view held by many people who are religious.

STACHELBERG: I think there are differences of opinion about homosexuality. I just heard one from Peter that I disagree with fundamentally, and we at the Human Rights Campaign are working very hard to change the hearts and minds of the American people,

CARLSON: But it's legitimate, though?

STACHELBERG: But it is something that exists. Legitimate or illegitimate, it is there. And so I think the point, Tucker is—hold on one second.

LABARBERA:—She's saying it exists like racism exists. This is the problem, Tucker.

(CROSSTALK)

Morality is not a prejudice. Morality is a viewpoint held by millions.

BEGALA: Morality is teaching children not to use the words like “fag,” that's what morality is.

STACHELBERG: Right, and I think, Tucker, to get back to...

LABARBERA:—Morality is behavior, and what you believe about behavior, and why should sexual behavior be outside the bounds of morality? Like I said, there's no such thing as an ex-black, and yet you're equating it to race.

BEGALA: It's an immutable characteristic.

LABARBERA: Paul, for thousands of years, people have believed this behavior to be wrong, even taboo. Why, all of a sudden, in the last 50 is it acceptable, and you can't even say it's wrong?

BEGALA: Our Founding Fathers, God rest their souls, found it acceptable to own people because of their race. They were wrong. We have progressed as a society.

LABARBERA: Just because that was wrong doesn't mean everything they believed is wrong, and they also believed that sodomy was a terrible wrong.

CARLSON: I'm afraid—we could actually keep going and keep going, but we can't. But I want to thank you both for joining us very much.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. … It's “Round Six.” The guests have gone home, leaving Tucker and [me] to debate gays and moms and dads.

I was so struck at Peter LaBarbera, who seems to believe that we sit down and choose—being black, as he said, is not a choice, for God makes us what color we are; but being gay, like you sit down with a legal pad and you say, “Well on the one side, you know, my clothes would match well, my house would be nicely at decorated. On the other side, people would bash my brains in outside of a bar for falling in love with someone.”

I mean, nobody sits—does this. This is how God makes us. And that's why the heart of prejudice is treating people differently because of an immutable characteristic they can't control.

CARLSON: I'm interested, and I'm glad you brought that up—Peter LaBarbera's point.

Peter has a different position than you do. He has a different set of beliefs than do you. You can live—if you were tolerant, you and Peter could live side-by-side respecting one another's differences. Instead, you likened him to Bull Connor, some sort of racist, some sort of grand wizard—calling his beliefs not just wrong or different than yours, but illegitimate—name calling.

And that's what I object to. There are decent religious people who don't hate anybody who happen to believe that homosexual acts are wrong. I think they have a right to believe that. I may or may not agree with that, but I think to call them names is unfair.

BEGALA: First, I didn't call them names. But it is prejudice to say that some people shouldn't be able to have children. I'm amazed that conservatives who think the government can't be trusted to write a prescription drug benefit plan, but can be trusted to tell people who can have children.

(AUDIENCE APPLAUSE)

CARLSON: You are avoiding the question. And the question, I think as Winnie Stachelberg …, I thought, [said in] a compelling way, it's one of civility. It's one of respecting differences. It's one of not calling people illegitimate or calling them names, because it is a different and legitimate point of view to believe that homosexuality is wrong.

People in this television [audience] may not believe it, but a lot of people in the world believe it. So don't call them racist...

(AUDIENCE APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: To act on that belief is to be prejudiced. You can believe what you like, but when you cross the line and act; and when you act against people because of something they can't control, you are prejudiced.

CARLSON: But I—of course, you know, I totally agree with that, Paul...

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: [But] you are attacking the ideas themselves...

BEGALA: Yes. That's called a debate.

CARLSON: No, no, no, [you are attacking the ideas] as out of the realm of debate; as beyond the pale. You likened [opponents of homosexuality] to racism, which is the one thing in America that nobody accepts. That's an outrageous slander.

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: People don't accept it, Paul—[racism] exists, but people hate it, and they should.

BEGALA: And they should hate homophobia just as much.

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