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Fighting Gay Bias with a Dog that Moos

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Fighting Gay Bias with a Dog that Moos

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Fighting Gay Bias with a Dog that Moos

Fighting Gay Bias with a Dog that Moos

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Colorado Springs, Colo., has a reputation for being openly biased against homosexuals. Gay-rights activists have launched a media campaign in this conservative bastion, and even have a mascot — a dog that moos like a cow — to promote their message that some people are born gay.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Madeleine Brand.

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

And I'm Alex Chadwick. Here's another battle report from the ongoing culture war over gay rights. Many gays think of Colorado Springs as something like enemy ground. Now a gay rights group there is spending almost one million dollars on a public relations effort. And there is a counter campaign. And both groups have mascots. Here's reporter Eric Mack.

ERIC MACK reporting:

His name is Norman. He's a cute little Brittany spaniel puppy and the mascot for the Gay and Lesbian Fund of Colorado's Born Different campaign.

(Soundbite of TV commercial)

Unidentified Female: (In commercial clip) Norman was just like any other little dog, except for one tiny detail.

(Soundbite of moo)

Unidentified Female: (In commercial clip) Norman couldn't think of a single reason why he mooed instead of barked. He just always had.

(Soundbite of moo)

MACK: This summer, Norman can be seen mooing all around Colorado Springs. He's in a series of television ads and on the side of city busses. His silhouette is also on banners hanging from downtown lampposts. The Gay and Lesbian Fund's Mary Lou Makepeace says the campaign's goal is to raise questions and start a discussion about the nature of homosexuality.

Ms. MARY LOU MAKEPEACE (Gay and Lesbian Fund): This is a community that doesn't talk about a lot of things. There's a lot of harsh rhetoric oftentimes, and so Norman is this charming little dog. He, of course, is a metaphor for the message born different, and really to engage people in taking a moment to consider are people born gay or do they choose to be gay?

MACK: Colorado Springs is far from new to this debate. Fourteen years ago, a Colorado Springs based group successfully led an effort to amend the state constitution. Essentially, the measure said that gays, lesbians, and bisexuals were not a minority that could make claims of discrimination. The Supreme Court overturned the measure in 1996, but not before Colorado was dubbed the hate state by some activists groups, and the city earned a reputation for being unwelcoming to gays. Makepeace says the community now has a chance to change that reputation.

Ms. MAKEPEACE: People disagree whether it's real or an imagination, but the fact is we have to deal with it. A reputation is a reputation, and so I think it dissuades people from moving here, staying here.

MACK: This November, Colorado voters will decide whether to authorize domestic partnerships for same sex couples under state law. But Makepeace insists that Norman is not part of any political campaign.

Mr. GARY SCHNEEBERGER (Focus on the Family): This dialogue really is about-- it's about November 7th, where in Colorado, voters will decide how marriage will be defined in the state.

MACK: That's Gary Schneeberger of Focus on the Family, an influential Christian organization based in Colorado Springs. He said he finds it hard to believe that Norman's message is entirely non-political.

Mr. SCHNEEBERGER: Yeah, it's a cute dog. Yeah it's a cute commercial. But really, what we're talking about here is how marriage is going to be defined once November roles around. And we want you to be aware that through these marketing techniques, people might be trying to move you along a spectrum that you don't want to be moved along.

MACK: In a response, Focus on the Family has introduced their own canine character - a basset hound to counteract Norman.

(Soundbite of TV commercial)

Unidentified Man: This is Sherman, he's a dog. He barks.

(Soundbite of dog barking)

Unidentified Man: Why? Because that's what dogs do. But if he could talk, he'd tell you to keep your eyes and ears open between now and November to make sure you hear the truth about what marriage should mean in Colorado.

MACK: Focus on the Family has dubbed Sherman's counter-campaign No Moo Lies. It was launched with a full-page newspaper ad and a Web site that rebuts the message that people are born gay. Mary Lou Makepeace says that she sees the counter-campaign as a positive development.

Ms. MAKEPEACE: Their response is Sherman, and our response is come on into the dialogue, Sherman, we welcome you and let's have this conversation.

MACK: The Born Different campaign is scheduled to end in the coming weeks, while Focus on the Family plans to continue theirs until election day. For NPR News, I'm Eric Mack.

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