For years propaganda has had a bad reputation based on the role it has played in countless wars. When thinking about propaganda one thing that comes to mind is the Uncle Sam, “I want you for U.S. Army,” poster that was used in 1917 during World War I. Similarly, the Nazis used anti-Semitic propaganda before and during World War II. Propaganda has been a dirty word in the United States from the day it was conceived but it is not all bad. It can be used in a positive way. Think back to the countless “Click It or Ticket,” posters that line the highway, or that fill commercial spots on television. That is what good propaganda looks like.

BUT what is propaganda? How can it be defined in terms that are understandable? Propaganda is the spreading of information or ideas by a particular organization or party in order to entice a particular attitude or response. In simpler terms this means to send out a specific message with the hopes of changing a person’s mind in favor of a particular idea or to convince them to do something.

There are several ways to identify propaganda. The characteristics of propaganda are as followed: It is everywhere and on multiple channels, it typically has something memorable about it, targets a general audience, is understandable and easy to read, and lastly wants you to do something. Common propaganda devices, according to the  Institute of Propaganda Analysis, are Name-Calling, Glittering Generality, Transfer, Testimonial, Plain Folks, and Band Wagon. The Institute of Propaganda Analysis was created in 1937 in order to inform Americans about nature of political propaganda.  Name-Calling, refers to linking a person or idea to some type of negative symbol. Glittering Generality are words that mean different things to different people and they can be used in different ways. Some examples of these words are Christianity, medicine, health, and love. Transfer is when the propagandist uses the authority from one things and transfers it to something that a person respects in order for the person to accept it. Testimonial is when someone highly respected or qualified speaks for a something. This can be a celebrity or a doctor depending on the product. Plain Folk is when the propagandist attempts to make the idea seem like it came from people like them. Band Wagoning is the idea that if everyone else is doing it I should too. These devices can be explained by examining the demonization of the LGBT community in America.

Over the last century the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender community has been under fire for their lifestyle. Although same-sex marriage was deemed legal in the United States in 2015, there are many who still oppose it and do their best to turn others against them. According to psychologist Gregory M. Herek from the University of California, Davis, attitudes toward homosexuality have religious, legal, and medical origins. [1] In the middle ages homosexual acts were ignored by the Catholic Church, it was not until the latter half of the twelfth century that hostile actions began. [2]  Once the church condemned it, there was no going back. If a suspected person was caught in a homosexual act, they could be jailed, put to death, or beaten for their actions.[3] By the nineteenth century, being gay was seen as a mental illness. This shift was seen as progressive because it was hard to blame a sick person for their actions, but in reality it only pushed the LGBT community further from acceptance by themselves and their peers.

The demonization of this group had widespread effects. Propaganda against the LGBT community not only made society hate and fear them, but also made members of the community fear and hate themselves for the way that they felt. This type of thinking has led to many LGBT youths to harm themselves. According to the Trevor Project, a national organization that provides crisis and suicide prevention to LGBTQ young people, suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death among LGBT youth between the ages 10 to 24, the rate of suicide attempts is 4 times higher for LGBT youth and 2 time greater for youth questioning their sexuality, and suicide attempts by LGBT youth and their questioning peers are 4 to 6 times more likely to result in injury, poisoning, or overdosing that requires treatment compared to theirs straight peers.[4] Propaganda against the LGBT community can have huge detrimental effects on the people that it targets. Now let’s take a look at how this propaganda has taken form.

In the 1960s anti-gay propaganda dominated the television screens, warning little boys about the mentally ill men that would tempt them with good times. Figure 1 shows a screen shot from the “Boys Beware,“anti-homosexual film by Sid Davis and Davis Productions. The film was targeted at “protecting,” young boys from gay men.

screen-shot-2016-09-27-at-5-17-04-pm
Figure 1. A screenshot from the anti-homosexual film “Boys Beware,” by Sid Davis.

The video acts out strange accounts of several relationships between an older man and younger boy. The two do seemingly normal activities, like getting a ride home, fishing, and playing basketball, but in this video, these normal acts are used to explain what they thought gay agenda was in the 1960s. The video highlights how gay people can be normal, but are mentally ill. “What Jimmy didn’t know was that Ralph was sick, a sickness that was not visible like smallpox, but no less dangerous and contagious,” says the narrator in the film.  This added to the idea that being gay was a sickness that could be treated or that someone could “catch,” being gay.  It also made the LGBT community seem dangerous to children. The film constantly refers to gay men being normal, but constantly having an ulterior motive. It claims that they are ill and do not know any better, dehumanizing the community as a whole. Gay men, out or not, could not do daily acts like using the restroom, without being accused of stalking young men.

Modern propaganda is a lot more conspicuous than the “Boys Beware,” film from the 1960. In the film, the word gay is not directly said, but in modern propaganda, gay is a bad word that people use to condemn others. Some arguments made against the LGBT community is targeted at their child raising abilities. This can be seen in figure 2. The poster reads, “children need a mom and dad.” The poster of the woman at a rally in Iowa, is a  example of modern propaganda against the LGBT community. The group TFP Student Action, a nationwide network of young Americans dedicated to defending and promoting moral moral values on college campuses, argue that religious communities, believe that same-sex marriage, in other words, being homosexual, is unnatural because it is “intrinsically sterile.”[5] The basic

iowa-gay-marriage-2009-4-13-14-51-40
Figure 2. A woman holds a sign that reads “children need a “mom + Dad,” at a same-sex marriage rally in Iowa. (Source: Live Journal)

understanding is that there needs to be a woman and a man to reproduce,but it fails to look at the benefits to same-sex couple adopting children. It also gives the impression that sex is only for child rearing. Propaganda like this plays into the typical stereotypes of same sex families. Studies done by Pacific Standard Magazine and Murray Lipp from the Huffington Post identify the stereotypes as gays destroying traditional marriage,[6] and that they cannot raise healthy and happy children.[7] With this in mind, a lot of propaganda focuses on how it affects the upbringing of children and the sanctity of marriage. The Catholic Herald claims that “marriage exists to provide the stability of formalised monogamous fidelity, which not only benefits the man and woman who enter into it, but forms the best atmosphere in which the children who result from their union can best be brought up.”[8] The article in The Catholic Herald was written in attempt to show others ways of combating LGBTQ people. This type of propaganda relies on the well being of children to support its agenda. Signs like these flood LGBT parades, rallies, and gatherings in attempt to make them and others feel bad about who they are. It dehumanizes the community by claiming they will ruin the lives of the children they raise and dismantle what marriage means to a man and woman.

Aside from protests, there are anti-LGBT comics, like the one displayed in figure 4. The comic was a created by Dick Hafer who was notorious for conservative comics that typically featured his political agenda and negative views on the LGBTQ community. This comic is references sodomy; a word commonly used for anal or sex, and spins it to say that being gay is just a perverted sex addiction. The gay man in the comic is displayed femininely, which attributes to the stereotype that all gay men are feminine.[9]

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Figure 4. The comic above was taken from the comic book “Homosexuality: Legitimate, Alternative, Deathstyle” by Dick Hafer

Instead of accepting being LGBT as something out of the person’s control, it displays it as a strange sex choice. According to an Article written by Marciano-Diaz Nelson for the Thought Catalog, Those who are homophobic, or that have an irrational fear of or aversion to homosexuals, and even those who are not homophobic tend to place all in the LGBT community under a stereotyped image, this includes being gay as just a phase or a choice.[10] Propaganda like this seems funny and harmless at first, but when viewed in a mass newspaper can solidify society’s pre-conceived ideas of the LGBT community.

Another compelling example of propaganda against the LGBT community can be seen through the Westboro Baptist Church of Kansas. This church is famous for their hate speech that is typically targeted toward the LGBT  community and people of other faiths. Figure 5 is a screen shot of their website godhatesfags.com. Displayed all over their website is anti-LGBT propaganda, from videos, radio podcasts, photos, blog posts, and sermons dedicated to the dehumanization of the LGBT community.

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Figure 5. A screen grab from the website godhatesfags.com , homepage of the Westboro Baptist Church.

This is mass propaganda in the worst form. Their ideologies are sent out in every form possible. This type of propaganda is effective because of how many people it reaches and on how many different platforms it can reach them. It is extremely widespread.

In the case of the LGBT community, propaganda was used in a harmful way, but it is important to realize that there are those that use persuasive techniques to promote LGBT rights. Propaganda, when used in the correct form, can be useful in sending messages that are positive, even if we do not always agree with them. Not all propaganda has to be bad and it is important to distinguish between propaganda used to harm others, and propaganda used to better society. Now that you know what propaganda is, keep a watchful eye out for propaganda everywhere you go.

Discussion Questions:

  • How can we use what we learned about propaganda in a positive light?
  • Are there good forms of propaganda? If so, what are they and what are the benefits?
  • What do you think made the propaganda of the Westboro Church effective? What about what makes them ineffective?
  • How can you use propaganda to stop hate?

For more information please visit:

Clyde Engle, “15  Stereotypes That Limit Our Perceptions of Gay Men,” Elite Daily, December 1, 2015. 

Andrea Vale, “Is The New Normal the New Derogatory,” Huffington Post,  February 2, 2016. 

Elizabeth Plank, “19 Creative Ways the World Is Standing Up to Putin to Fight for LGBT Rights,Identities.Mic, February 13, 2014. 

Joshua Keating “The Chilling Effects of Russia’s Anti-Gay Law, One Year Later,”Slate, October 9, 2014. 

References:

[1]Facts About Homosexuality and Mental Health,” (Psychology UCDavis,1997) September 25, 2016, http://psychology.ucdavis.edu/rainbow/html/facts_mental_health.html#note1_text

-The above source was created by psychologist Gregory M. Herek who is a professor at the University of California, Davis. Herek revived his Ph. D. in psychology from the University of California, Davis in 1983 and is currently a tenured professor.

[2] “Facts About Homosexuality and Mental Health,” (Psychology UCDavis, 1997) September 25, 2016, http://psychology.ucdavis.edu/rainbow/html/facts_mental_health.html#note1_text

[3] “Facts About Homosexuality and Mental Health,” (Psychology UCDavis, 1997) September 25, 2016, http://psychology.ucdavis.edu/rainbow/html/facts_mental_health.html#note1_text

[4]Facts about Suicide,” (The Trevor Project, 2016) Sept. 26, 2016, http://www.thetrevorproject.org/pages/facts-about-suicide .

[5] “10 reasons why homosexual “marriage” is harmful and must be opposed,” (TFP Student Action, 2015) Accessed: Sept. 26, 2016, https://www.tfpstudentaction.org/blog/10-reasons-why-homosexual-marriage-is-harmful-and-must-be-opposed

[6] Jacobs, Tom, “Negative Stereotypes Drive Opposition to Gay Rights,” (Pacific Standard, 2014), Accessed: Sept. 26, 2016, https://psmag.com/negative-stereotypes-drive-opposition-to-gay-rights-eb5d6379655d#.wsd4j7dts .

[7] Murray, Lipp, “Myths and Stereotypes That Dehumanize Gay Men Must Be Challenged: Start With These 10!” (Huffington Post,2016) Accessed: Sept. 26, 2016, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/murray-lipp/gay-men-myths-stereotypes_b_3463172.html

[8] Williams D. Peter, “How to argue against same-sex marriage,” (Catholic Herald, 2012) Accessed: Sept. 26, 2016, http://www.catholicherald.co.uk/commentandblogs/2012/03/21/how-to-argue-against-same-sex-marriage/ .

[9] Murray, Lipp, “Myths and Stereotypes That Dehumanize Gay Men Must Be Challenged: Start With These 10!” (Huffington Post, 2016) Accessed: Sept. 26, 2016, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/murray-lipp/gay-men-myths-stereotypes_b_3463172.html

[10] Marcano-Diaz Nelson, “10 Stereotypes Straight People Need To Stop Believing About The LGBT Community,” (Thought Catalog, 2014) Accessed: Sept. 25, 2016, http://thoughtcatalog.com/nelson-diaz-marcano/2014/11/405735/

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