Protesters denounced the debut of the new Laura Schlessinger talk show yesterday at demonstrations in Baltimore and across the country, saying the tough-love counselor has offered her radio listeners a steady diet of hatred toward gays.
For an hour yesterday morning, more than 45 picketers waved homemade signs yesterday at the York Road offices of WMAR (Channel 2) to decry the station's decision to air the program.
"Dr. Laura is broadcasting misinformation about gay people in general, and that does a lot of damage," said Tim Hurley, president of the Gay & Lesbian Community Center of Baltimore.
But along with the jeers, WMAR also received scores of telephone calls in support of the talk show host, who opposes homosexuality because she believes it undermines the strength of the family. Local listeners to her advice show on WCBM (680 AM) have been particularly outspoken, WMAR officials said.
"If I cater to the anti-Dr. Laura crowd, I've got another crowd breathing down my neck," said Drew Berry, the ABC affiliate's general manager. "They're pretty vocal, too."
Among the things gay activists find galling is the very name of her program: "Dr. Laura." Schlessinger's doctorate from Columbia University is in physiology, the study of the functioning of a living organism, not psychiatry or psychology.
That she calls herself "Dr. Laura," her detractors say, lends seeming academic credentials to a conservative world view that condemns sexuality outside marriage - including gay relationships.
"This [protest] really isn't about censorship," said David Baker, a spokesman for the Baltimore Activist Coalition. "This is about stopping someone who represents herself as an authority when she's really not."
Schlessinger's Web site states that she received a post-doctoral certification in counseling from the University of Southern California and was in private practice for 12 years. She cites her conversion to Orthodox Judaism for much of her cultural beliefs, including her opposition to homosexuality. But she uniformly rejects claims that her views constitute hatred or discrimination toward gays.
"I've never called a person a biological error," Schlessinger said last month on her radio show, in defending her views. "I've called an orientation an error."
Paramount Television, which syndicates Schlessinger's show, did not respond to a reporter's call seeking comment.
The first taped episode, broadcast yesterday, centered on parents confronting the drug use of their children.
"Ultimately, the viewers are going to decide whether Dr. Laura survives on television," WMAR's Berry said. The show is being carried by seven stations owned by Scripps Howard, the parent company of WMAR, and on dozens of other stations across the country.