Flipping through some papers I had saved from months ago, I came across a “Naked City” column by Christopher Lisotta from Frontiers Newsmagazine last January—an interview with publicist Howard Bragman, who recently wrote the book on P.R., “Where’s My Fifteen Minutes?”. There was an interesting comment:
Frontiers: “You write PR no longer means “public relations.” What does PR mean?”
Bragman: “PR stands for the concepts of perception and reality. We live in a society where perception has become more important than reality.”
No kidding? But never mind the fact that the advertising and P.R. industry has made this true. We are a nation of plastic, imitation, phoney, lights and mirrors, “truthiness.” I once read the fine print on a 0 calories soft drink can, and it admitted to “artificial imitation flavors” on the ingredients list. Not just imitation flavors, but artificial imitation flavors. How much more phoney could you want? How American!
It is true that “perception” and “reality” are the defining elements in a public world made transparent by Google, Twitter, Facebook, and IP addresses.
When it comes to LGBT people, the reality of our lives still doesn’t really matter to the public. Their perception is that we are weird, sex-crazed, pleasure-loving creatures with no ethics but huge wads of discretionary income. We are muscle-bound girlie men –both gays and lesbians. We all carry the AIDS virus, we hate heterosexual marriage, we all molest children and we are bringing God’s judgment down on America, a nation of “fag enablers.”
That’s the stereotype. That’s the perception. Never mind that we work and pay taxes, that we make decent (and tasteful) homes, raise the best kids, volunteer for everything and donate to all kinds of causes; that we serve our nation both in uniform and in every kind of job and profession. Never mind that we are often care-givers for the elderly and those with HIV.
And never mind that millions of us go to church, for God’s sake. (If it weren’t for gay organists, choir directors and florists, the church would be a dreary and silent box of self-righteous people.)
But the perception is that we shake our naked boobs and butts on pride parade floats, and secretly want to sodomize our neighbor’s pre-teen children.
So how do we change the public’s idiotic perception and derail the lying machine which cranks out hateful speech and packages it as truth? In my view, probably not by hiring P.R. firms. They did that the fight Proposition 8 a year ago, and gay/lesbian coupledom was so sanitized for the public that we ceased to exist.
The best thing any of us can do is to come out—because unlike Hollywood’s movie stars and publicity seekers, we won’t get photos in People magazine. Most of us just come out to friends, families and close neighbors. Since the already know us, we have enormous influence over their perception of other lesbian/gay people and will actually change their perception by bringing it into line with the reality of what they know in our lives.
Bragman talks about clients who come to his firm because they believe their reality is better than the public perception, so they want to improve the perception. There is, in my words, a perception deficit which good publicity and solid integrity can correct.
Not so with “truthiness,” a word minted by friends of the Bush administration. All something needs is the “look and feel” of truth whether or not it is true. In short, public perception is more important than deception of the public. This month’s Advocate, for example, questions whether the LGBT community has been deceived by the Obama administration. Our perception before last November was that he was our hope for solid, systemic change. But have we been deceived, because we’re now seven months into Obama’s 48 months and we have nothing to show for it: not DOMA, not the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, and only a gutted Hate Crimes legislation. Of course, Congress is only concerned with the public’s perception, not with systemic change, not with a new reality.
What about people who have a public perception which is better than the reality? You mean like many heterosexuals? Like family values? Bragman calls this “hype.” Like anybody or anything that claims to be the biggest, best, hottest, or most important in the world, for example. Like everybody on Facebook or in those chat rooms and personals.
Frontiers: “What was your perspective as a PR guy on the No on 8 campaign?”
Bragman: “My number one mantra in PR is if you do not define yourself somebody else is going to define you. And you’re not going to be as happy about them defining you as you are about defining yourself. So I think we committed the PR sin of letting our opponents define us. . . ”
My take on being Christian, of course, is that Jesus used to have good PR, good perception. But many of his followers, who puffed themselves up on hype (I would call it hyp-ocrisy), their reality has nearly destroyed his perception by the public.
And my take on being LGBT/Christian is that since countless other (heterosexual) Christians don’t worry too much about integrity and truth (they tell facile lies about us with no qualms), or bringing disgrace on the name of Jesus (think televangelists), it may well be up to us to restore the public perception of what a follower of Jesus Christ is like with traits like: honesty (come out), integrity (not a patchwork, but made of whole cloth), generosity, sacrifice, and the readiness to “turn the other cheek” to false perceptions. For example, Matthew 5:11 from the Beatitudes: “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.” In other words, walk the walk, don’t just talk the talk.
— Pastor Dan Hooper, Los Angeles