FAR RIGHT ATTACKS LOSING OUT TO $$

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Mark DeMoss, longtime aide to the Rev. Jerry Falwell, has bad news for those who want homosexuals back in the closet.

"There's a pretty apparent trend in media and in entertainment and even in government towards greater acknowledgement of gays and lesbians as a legitimate minority, and I think the tide has certainly gone in that direction," says Mr. DeMoss, president of an Atlanta PR company bearing his name and which works for Rev. Falwell and other conservative Christian interests.

To date, the Far Right has made only a limited-and, it appears, mostly unsuccessful-attack on national advertisers and media that have been friendly to gays.

Homosexuality is just one of the causes under fire from the Far Right, of course, and not the most pressing when conservatives lobby advertisers and media. This year, the Rev. Donald Wildmon's American Family Association is using its $3 million media budget to convince advertisers to steer clear of "NYPD Blue," an ABC-TV police drama that carries viewer-discretion warnings.

However, "The gay issue is a fund-raising issue" for the Far Right, says Torie Osborn, a lesbian activist and former National Gay and Lesbian Task Force executive director. "It's replaced abortion as their front-line, hot-button issue."

Ms. Osborn says polls show the American public doesn't want gays and lesbians to face discrimination, but "they don't want us in their face, and they don't see us as equal."

Mr. DeMoss says marketers are missing the mark by selling to the gay minority and turning off a base of evangelical Christians he numbers at 40 million to 60 million people in the U.S.

Nonetheless, a boycott last year against Levi Strauss & Co. organized by Rev. Wildmon occurred during a year of record sales and earnings for the jeans maker. Levi's says the boycott, which included more than 100,000 complaints on preprinted postcards, had no measurable negative effect.

Rev. Wildmon organized that boycott after Levi's halted support to the Boy Scouts of America because the group's policies against gays and atheists violated corporate anti-discrimination guidelines.

Robert Knight, director of cultural studies at Family Research Council, a conservative think tank, says mainstream marketers who embrace gays through advertising, marketing or corporate practices do so at their own risk.

Advertisers, he says, should "stay out of the cultural wars. You will alienate one side or the other, and even if you switch back, there will be animosity."

But Robert Bray, an organizer of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force's "Fight the Right" project, says companies should embrace gays for some of the same social reasons that they have reached out to women and minorities.

"American business, whether or not it likes it, is a powerful force for cultural change," he says.

But both he and Ms. Osborn say money is probably the best motivator.

"Capitalist America is not dumb," Ms. Osborn says. "There's a market here; there's a buck to be made."

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