On Friday, Jan. 18, at 7 pm, about 15 trendy young men and women gathered in Art Bar, the bistro in the lobby of Portland Center for the Performing Arts. They sat by the ornamental glass fireplace, sipping microbrews and comparing iPhones. But unlike the other patrons of Art Bar, they did not get up to find their seats when a woman's voice announced over the PA that this evening's show—Laura Schlessinger, known to her fans as Dr. Laura—was about to begin. The reason? These were protesters.
And yet, for the entire hour during which their protest was supposed to be taking place, the 15 were indistinguishable from those who had paid to see Dr. Laura. So what gives?
“My friends said that there would be a bunch of middle-aged women in fur coats here, and that I should throw ketchup on them and say it was AIDS blood. But this is kind of a nice place, so….”
This is Jeff, the protest's organizer. He looks like a slightly better-groomed Abe Lincoln, tall and thin with a chin beard, wearing a white t-shirt covered in rainbow bubbles.
“I kept thinking, how can I get close enough to pie her? But I didn't want to get arrested on my 35th birthday.”
Apparently—to paraphrase Mao Zedong—the Revolution is not, in fact, a dinner party. It's a birthday party.
The protest—advertised in Just Out
and Blogtown PDX
—was aimed specifically at Schlessinger's repeated offensive remarks regarding gays and lesbians. And, over the years, she's given them a lot of ammo. The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation
has compiled an exhaustive online catalog of her comments about homosexuals and homosexuality, but some of Schlessinger's more memorable turns of phrase include “abnormal,” “aberrant,” “deviant,” “dysfunctional,” “disordered,” a “biological error” and a “biological faux pas.” She has often praised individuals and groups who claim to be able to “cure” homosexuals, a practice condemned by the American Psychological Association
, as well as a host of other medical authorities.
“Yeah,” says a protester, taking off his leather jacket and ordering an appetizer, “I heard that one time on her show she browbeat this girl until the girl committed suicide.”
“No, dude,” answers another, “That was Nancy Grace.”
In 2000, Schlessinger apologized twice—once on her radio show, and once in the “Gay Hollywood” issue of LA Variety
—for the poor wording of her remarks about homosexuality. She didn't, however, amend or apologize for her offensive views, and so, understandably, she got nowhere with the gay community. Two weeks after she had offered her on-air apology, a miffed Dr. Laura recanted it.
Especially because of her wide audience—her syndicated talk radio show is No. 3 nationwide
in ratings, down from No. 2 at its peak in the '90s—Schlessinger can legitimately be called one of America's leading bigots. She teaches homophobia as a family value, and worse, she throws up science as a smoke screen. (Critics have objected to her use of the self-referential term “Doctor”, since she is not a psychologist, or even a licensed therapist.) Her public appearances are frequently picketed—including, apparently, this Friday's protest.
“I don't know what the hell you people think you're doing,” snarls a newly arrived protester in white jeans and a matching jacket, “but nobody's buying me a drink.”
In a liberal town where 50 people gather for no other reason than to ride pantsless on the streetcar, one would imagine that citizens could stage a compelling protest when something worthwhile came along. But the closest the anti-Schlessinger activists came to showing dissent occurred when one of Dr. Laura's stage assistants, a woman in black leggings and edgy, wire-framed glasses, approached and asked them if they'd like any question cards.
“Uh, no?” replied a protester in a cashmere shawl-collar cardigan, who then resumed her conversation about Burning Man.
When I mentioned to friends that Dr. Laura was coming, the first question was always What is she thinking
? Turns out it wasn't that bad an idea. According to Robyn Williams at PCPA, both performances—Friday, Jan. 18 and Saturday, Jan. 19—sold 90% capacity, and tickets cost between $54.50-$76.75. That's pretty steep for the equivalent of a book reading, but apparently Portland's got that kind of conservative cash.
Exactly how the Jan. 18 event fit into the concept of protest remains unclear. First used in 1913 to describe the peaceful marches organized by M. Gandhi in India, the word itself was imported to the US for the “ban-the-bomb” movement of the ‘50s, Beginning in the ‘60s, the concept expanded to include any instrument of social change, including protest music, literature and film. Now, in 2008, we've got a new one: protest cocktails.
“Hey, guys,” asks a protester, nursing a whiskey sour, “did you hear that the Scientologists just paid five million dollars for a building downtown?”
“Man,” says another, “maybe we should go protest that.”