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How To Write An Anti-Gay Tract In Fifteen Easy Steps

Jim Burroway

October 1, 2006

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The Fifteen Steps

Step 1: Set the Stage.

Step 2: Talk about sex. A lot.

Step 3: Use plenty of references.

Step 4: Cite authoritative sources, such as national probability-sampled surveys or governmental statistics.

Step 5: Slip in other less reliable “random” surveys.

Step 6: Cite casual surveys.

Step 7: Add behavioral statistics using convenience samples from clinical research, especially STD/AIDS and other medical studies.

Step 8: Manipulate the data.

Step 9: Use your opponents’ words and actions against them.

Step 10: Get really kinky.

Step 11: Cite a threat to marriage and the family.

Step 12: Cite a threat to health.

Step 13: Cite a threat to children.

Step 14: Cite a threat of a societal breakdown.

Step 15: Close on a compassionate note.

This article originally appeared as part of The Heterosexual Agenda: Exposing The Myths

The Heterosexual Agenda: Exposing The Myths is a parody. I wrote it to show how Focus on the Family, American Family Association, and many others produce some pretty convincing anti-gay books, videos, web pages, and other tracts. In doing so, I used social science research exactly as they do. The only difference between what I did and what they do is this: I showed you exactly what I did every step of the way in the footnotes. Look them over carefully, because that’s where I explain clearly everything you need to know about the sources — something you won’t find in anti-gay activists’ footnotes.

I have counted fifteen key steps to writing an anti-gay tract. While the steps are very wide-ranging as tactics, there is one common element that ties them together: fear. Each step builds on the previous one, reinforcing the things the writer wants his readers to be afraid of. It starts with a fearful premise reinforced with fearful “facts,” and leads to the fearful consequences of those “facts.” It ends with a fearful depiction of the future for our society if these fearful problems aren’t dealt with.

Fear is a great motivator. The proliferation of negative political ads is based on the unfortunate discovery that voters can be more easily motivated to vote their fears than their hopes. Tracts like these don’t enlighten anyone and they don’t provide any useful information. But they do instill fear, and that’s the point.

If you were to sit down to write one, you wouldn’t necessarily have to follow all fifteen steps. Some may not apply depending on the particular subject you’re working with. But the more of these steps you follow, the closer your work will come to matching the “best” that these anti-gay groups have to offer.

Step 1: Set the stage. Most anti-gay tracts begin with a short opening section similar to mine. This is where you quickly dispense with the notion that gays and lesbians are actually human beings, let alone friends, family, neighbors and fellow citizens. Instead, gays and lesbians are portrayed as a faceless sex-obsessed hoard representing a dark and ominous force in American culture.

It’s important to set this stage right away — to make sure your reader is on board with the premise that the rich and complex lives of gays and lesbians can be reduced to one singular component — because it leads directly to the subject that many Americans find very uncomfortable: sex.

Step 2: Talk about sex. A lot. Most general-topic anti-gay tracts begin with a detailed description of sexual practices. There’s a good reason for that:  no one looks good when their entire life is reduced to one-dimensional statistical descriptions of sexual practices.

Talking about sex can be rather gross, but don’t let that stop you. In fact, that’s the whole point. You want your audience to share your revulsion of gays and lesbians, and this is the easiest way to do it. Talk about sex as though it were the only thing that matters to gays and lesbians. Not love, not relationships, not commitment, not families – just sex.

To reinforce this point, anti-gay writers make extensive use of the term “homosexual” throughout their tracts. By constantly emphasizing “homosexual” instead of using the terms “gay” or “lesbian”, the sexual component of gays and lesbians are emphasized above all other aspects of their lives. And the more you portray gays and lesbians as sex-obsessed homosexuals, maybe your readers won’t notice the irony of your tract being obsessed with the sex lives of supposedly “sex-obsessed” people.

Step 3: Use plenty of references. Professionals are smart people, and smart people use lots footnotes or endnotes.

An abundance of reference citations gives your article a scholarly tone and allow you to build trust with your readers. With them, your descriptions of those fearsome homosexuals will have the full backing of professional authorities. Having lots of references is probably the most important step you can take in building a convincing anti-gay tract.

And there is an additional beauty to having plenty of reference citations: while footnotes are impressive, nobody actually reads them. You can use virtually any source you want to and nobody will bother to see whether it actually means anything or not. Having seen your extensive reference citations, they’ll just take your word for it.

Another advantage to using lots of reference citations is this: once your reader gets accustomed to seeing them sprinkled throughout the page, you can easily slip in all sorts of “facts” without providing any source citation at all. Once you have established “cred” you can do just about anything.

Step 4: Cite authoritative sources, such as national probability-sampled surveys or governmental statistics. If you want your readers to be afraid of your target, you have to give them lots of reasons to be fearful. The best place to start is by using reliable surveys and governmental statistics, sources that everyone can trust.

But you’ll find that it’s not so easy to get the really juicy statistics you’re looking for this way. For one thing, Americans — gay or straight — are generally not that sexually adventurous, and these surveys tend to back that up. And for another, because of the expense of mounting these surveys, they typically don’t get enough gay men and women for making valid comparisons. Because the margins of error for these smaller subgroups are just too high, it only takes a few screwballs to throw the averages off.

But if you can use these more reliable surveys to your advantage then go right ahead. Be sure to brag that you’re using a nationally representative study – this is something you don’t want to hide.

You can also use official governmental reports to back up your arguments. While these reports aren’t necessarily representative studies, they have the advantage of being official, which presumes a lack of bias. Whether this is really true or not is a matter of debate, but that’s okay. The only people debating it are academics and activists, not your average reader.

When you cite governmental statistics, you are, as far as your readers are concerned, staking your claim to the full faith and credit of the United States of America. It’s hard to get any more authoritative than that.

Step 5: Slip in other less reliable “random” surveys. As I said before, Americans aren’t generally that adventurous, so it’s difficult to find the really scary stuff if you stick with probability-sampled surveys. But that’s okay because there are many more wide-ranging surveys to choose from which are not probably-sampled. Some are representative of selected cities or regions which may not represent everyone nationally; others are hampered by methodological limitations which prevent them from being representative altogether.

When it’s time to switch to a less reliable survey, just quietly slip it in. Nobody will notice that you didn’t describe it as “probability-sampled.” And here’s a bonus trick: you can call some surveys a “national survey” even when it’s not probability sampled. If your readers just assume that it is, it’s not your fault. You didn’t say it was. Sins of omission don’t count in culture wars.

Step 6: Cite casual surveys. Anti-gay writers often cite casual sex surveys published by gay magazines such as The Advocate or Genre. When you’re ready for the really scary stuff, casual surveys like these can be an excellent source for salacious statistics even though they are utterly unreliable for providing valid statistics.

To learn more about the problems inherent with casual surveys, see our review of The Gay Report, a book based on a casual survey from the 1970’s that has long been a favorite source among anti-gay writers.

Not only do these surveys omit the views of non-readers, they many not even reflect the views of that magazine’s readership. At best, they only reflect the views of those who are motivated to fill out intimate and detailed questionnaires on sexuality. That’s why casual surveys tend to reflect the views of the more sexually adventurous, which makes them a favorite among anti-gay activists.

One classic misuse of an STD study is the case of the so-called “Dutch Study,” which supposedly proved that gay unions last only eighteen months and that gay couples average an additional eight partners per year outside. To learn exactly how they came up with this, see our report, Straight From The Source: What The “Dutch Study” Really Says About Gay Couples.

Step 7: Add behavioral statistics using convenience samples from clinical research, especially STD/AIDS and other medical studies. As with casual surveys, the pay-off here can be huge. But you need to be sneaky about it. For example, if you’re using a study based on people being treated for STDs, you cannot make that too obvious. (Well, you have to put the study’s title in your footnotes, but don’t worry. Like I said, nobody actually reads footnote.)

People who engage in risky sexual behavior are far more likely to contract an STD. This means that studies based on people recruited from STD clinics are far more likely to provide juicy statistics for sexual behavior. You can also find interesting statistics from studies of drug users or economically-stressed urban populations.

Step 8: Manipulate the data. This is where you can put your analytical skills to the test. As you delve into all of these studies, you’ll find that there is often more then one way to present the data. Of course, you’ll want to choose the method that depicts your targets in the worst possible light. There are many ways to do this.

Here is one popular trick: Notice how sometimes you might find some writers using awkward phrases like “those who behave homosexually” instead of simply saying “homosexuals.” Why do you suppose that is?

It turns out there is a very important difference. For anti-gay writers, one great opportunity for manipulation comes in deciding how to deal with bisexuals. Because bisexuals behave heterosexually as well as homosexually, you get to put them on whichever side that gives you the best outcome. All you have to do is work the numbers to see what works best for you.

Sometimes you can combine bisexuals with homosexuals (i.e., “those who behave homosexually“), and other times, you can combine them with heterosexuals (in which case, they usually just become “heterosexuals”). Or you can leave them out altogether. It’s all up to you. And you don’t have to be consistent about this – nobody else is. You can decide this on a case-by-case basis and adjust your descriptions accordingly.

Another opportunity arises when surveys over-sample smaller populations in order to get a better snapshot of these smaller groups. The overall survey can be statistically adjusted to become a representative sample, but the smaller subset by itself is not. But that doesn’t mean you can’t use data from that smaller subset. When it comes to statistics, there are many ways to skin the onion.

Step 9: Use your opponents’ words and actions against them. This is where you really get to have fun. In any crowd, there is always a radical somewhere who is on a special mission to reform the world and enlighten the ignorant masses. Fortunately, this person is usually not shy about annoying everyone else with his proclamations. Thanks to people like this, you can always find that especially scary quote anytime you want. It saves you from having to make stuff up yourself.

But the way you use the quote is important: make sure you quote him as though he speaks for everyone. No matter who he is or how unpopular he may be, treat his opinions as though everyone you’re trying to marginalize unanimously agrees. And if you can pretend that the quote reveals a hidden agenda, you get extra bonus points.

Step 10: Get really kinky. After wading through all of this sex talk, your reader may have gotten a little desensitized after a while. That’s when you will need to kick it up a notch. Drugs, orgies, bondage, bestiality, polyamory — throw it all in there. Remember, this is all about fear. Don’t hold back now.

This is where the sensational nature of the popular press works in your favor. You can include lots of stories ripped from the headlines to make it hit home. And as you did with the nut-job extremists, make sure your readers are led to believe that everyone is doing it and this is where it all leads. With enough imagination, the slippery slope can slide in all sorts of directions.

Step 11: Cite a threat to marriage and the family. Now it’s time to make your readers afraid of the dangers posed by all of this sexual activity you’ve been describing. Threatening the institution of marriage and the family will be one of your most reliable themes.

Social conservatives have been decrying the breakdown of the traditional American family for decades. They cite gay marriage and adoptions as a threat to marriage and the family, despite the fact that the dramatic increase in the divorce rate was well underway long before Stonewall, the elimination of anti-sodomy laws, or marriage equality in Massachusetts.

But every problem has a bogeyman, and gays and lesbians who seek to enter the profoundly conservative domain of marriage and family are the ones who are portrayed as making straight marriages a thing of the past.

Step 12: Cite a threat to health. Medical doctors are nothing if not meticulous note-takers, and you will find just about anything you could ever want if you go combing through the medical journals long enough.

Describing a disliked minority as disease-laden is practically mandatory when writing any decent anti-anybody tract, whether that tract is anti-Jewish (see The Protocols of Zion), anti-Black, anti-foreigner, or, of course, anti-gay. Who are you to snub such a time-honored tradition?

Gays and lesbians are often accused of being far more likely to molest children than straight people. But research simply does not back that up that charge. You can learn more about this in our report, Testing The Premise: Are Gays A Threat To Our Children?

Step 13: Cite a threat to children. Innocent children are vulnerable to all sorts of predators. Just make sure you readers are worrying about the right ones. This is another favorite claim against disliked minorities.

Step 14: Cite a threat of a societal breakdown. Everybody yearns for a return to the “good old days,” when everyone supposedly exhibited as strong moral fiber (a moral fiber that tolerated official racism and mob violence, but that is another matter). But we’re not living in the “good old days” anymore. And there is so much to choose from to prove it: public sex, nudity, murder, domestic violence, political intrigue, violent oppression, general mayhem — you name it.

Nothing exemplifies this breakdown better than images of rowdy, intoxicated, and uninhibited mobs in various stages of undress at sexually-charged festivals and parades. Think of how anti-gay writers invoke a minority of participants at gay pride festivals in a few select cities. You get the idea.

But for other topics like violence, murder and so forth, you only need to sketch a picture. Remember, we’re really talking about sex here, and these other examples, while interesting, are not your main point. Just provide some simple examples — a few statistics and a brief mention of news items will do the trick. By this time your audience is already plenty frightened, so you can afford to keep it short and sweet.

Step 15: Close on a compassionate note. You don’t hate anyone. Honestly, you don’t. The Biblical message is all about compassion, about loving your neighbor and all that. You love homosexuals. You really do. You just don’t like their same-sex-lusting, public-fornicating, disease-spreading, marriage-ruining, child-molesting, society-endangering ways. And really now, where’s the hate in that?

And that is how you can write an anti-gay tract in fifteen easy steps.

Oh sure, there is so much more you can do once you put your imagination to work. There are rhetorical flourishes to explore, strawman arguments to knock down, red herrings to catch and release. You can add guilt by association, urban myths (gerbils anyone?), religious condemnations — these and more, depending on the audience you’re trying to reach. With a little work and creativity, you too can become an “authority” on just about anything.

But be sure you follow step 3 and use lots of footnotes. That way I can keep an eye on you.