Dr. Laura atones — but not enough for some

Using the Day of Atonement as a springboard, talk show host Dr. Laura Schlessinger issued a public statement on Wednesday to address her past condemnations of the gay and lesbian community.

Calling "some" of her critical words about gays and lesbians "poorly chosen," Schlessinger, an Orthodox Jew, wrote: "On the Day of Atonement, Jews are commanded to seek forgiveness from people we have hurt. I deeply regret the hurt this situation has caused the gay and lesbian community."

Entitled "A heartfelt message from Dr. Laura Schlessinger," the statement also pointed out that her opinions — which include a belief that homosexuality is a "biological error" — were expressed from the perspective of her religion and her role as a "staunch defender of the traditional family."

She wrote: "Many people perceive [my words] as hate speech. This fact has been personally and professionally devastating to me…Ugly words have been relentlessly repeated and distorted for far too long."

But critics of Dr. Laura — such as San Francisco Supervisor Mark Leno, who recently helped lead a demonstration at TV station KPIX in San Francisco, to protest its airing of Schlessinger's new television show — remain unimpressed.

"I have learned from traditional Jewish teachings that on Yom Kippur one is to seek or offer an apology to anyone they have harmed by asking three times," said Leno, who is gay and Jewish. "I don't think her first apology sounded that sincere, so she needs to come back again."

If Schlessinger was truly apologetic, he added, she would atone for her "malicious words," admit she was wrong and change her beliefs — not just express regret for the reactions that stemmed from her words.

Otherwise, he said: "this was just her own self-indulgent Yom Kippur exercise. As someone who has been slandered by her, I refuse to be used for that purpose."

John Aravosis, a founder of the Web site StopDr.Laura.com, called the timing of Schlessinger's statement "a bit suspect."

"I think it's a bit more than a coincidence considering that not more than five days ago, Canadian television stations announced they would no longer be airing her show," said Aravosis from his Washington, D.C., office.

Under the pressure of protesters, more than 50 American advertisers and 80 Canadian advertisers — including Proctor and Gamble, Chef Boyardee, Blue Cross, Blue Shield, Pillsbury, Mattress Discounter and Torso Track — dropped support for her television and radio shows, he said.

Schlessinger's show made its debut in the Bay Area last month.

Stephanie Portman, a San Francisco resident and high school history teacher, thinks the loss of advertising makes a significant statement against the talk show host, and does not have a change of heart since learning of Schlessinger's apology.

"Yeah, she's got chutzpah thinking she can regret her diction but not her real intention," said Portman, who was raised in an Orthodox household.

"I just think it's funny that her show is flopping and Procter and Gamble refuse to sponsor it. We 'biological errors' sure have some pull," she added.

In addition to losing advertisers, in August Schlessinger was uninvited to the International Conference on Jewish Medical Ethics, where she was supposed to speak in February 2001. Reportedly, Rabbi Pinchas Lipner, dean of the Hebrew Academy of San Francisco, withdrew her invitation to the Burlingame conference because of all the controversy surrounding her.

Locally, Leno, S.F. Supervisor Tom Ammiano, the Horizons Foundation, Children of Lesbians and Gays Everywhere, Parents for Lesbians and Gays and several other organizations have sponsored Stop Dr. Laura of the San Francisco Bay Area, a web service of the East Bay GLBTQQ Action Network.

"After all this, it has taken her six months to understand the need to apologize?" asked Aravosis. Noting her timing, he added: "She seems to be wearing the Jewish thing on her sleeve."

Leno agreed.

"If Dr. Laura had really seen the light on Yom Kippur she would say, 'I was wrong,'" said Leno. "I think that would help her soul and I suspect it would help her ratings."

Amir Forester, the media manager for Schlessinger, was more positive. "We will continue to hope [the apology] will be received in the spirit it was given. We believe the message speaks for itself."

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