When gay West Hollywood City Councilman Steve Schulte agreed to appear on a talk show this week presented by the Rev. Pat Robertson's Christian Broadcasting Network, he didn't expect it to be fun and games.
And it wasn't.
First, he was accused by a teen-ager in the audience of having a mental disorder because he is gay. Then, a young mother railed against what she said was the evil of homosexual relationships. A rival guest on the program chided Schulte and another gay guest for living immoral lives.
The program, Scott Ross Straight Talk, was taped last week at Venice Beach. It was shown Tuesday on the CBN Family Channel, available to about 45 million cable television subscribers nationwide.
Among the First
Schulte, who has appeared on similar programs in the past, went on the show to talk about West Hollywood's domestic-partnership law, which provides gay couples and other unmarried partners with certain legally recognized benefits.
West Hollywood is among a small number of cities--including San Francisco, Berkeley and Madison, Wis.--that have such laws. The ordinances were described by host Scott Ross as "striking at the very foundation of the family structure as we know it."
The councilman took most of the criticism in stride.
"You come to expect it, but I always view these kinds of programs as the chance to reach an audience that would otherwise be unattainable," said Schulte, who has appeared on the Sally Jessy Raphael Show and twice was a guest of Orange County TV host Wally George.
However, even Schulte admitted to being taken aback by a man in the audience who claimed to be a Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy assigned to West Hollywood. The man expressed displeasure at having to deal with gays as part of his law enforcement duties, calling the gay life style "disgusting."
An estimated 35% of West Hollywood's 37,000 residents are gay, and gay activists have long accused the Sheriff's Department of insensitivity toward gays.
"I'm a deputy sheriff in the city of West Hollywood and I deal strictly on a lot of my runs with homosexuals, and I can't understand why so many people want to go to that kind of life style," the man said. "I think homosexuality is disgusting."
'You Have the Right'
Responded Schulte: "You have the right to be disgusted by whatever you want to be disgusted by. I hope you're raising your kids in a decent manner. I also hope you're telling them that not everybody is like you . . . and that it's OK to be different, whether gay or straight."
Although the man did not give his name on the program, Mark Vandervelden, an aide to Schulte who attended the taping, said he overheard the man introduce himself as Rene Jackson.
That piece of news, relayed to the Sheriff's Department by Vandervelden at Schulte's request, quickly sent sheriff's officials scurrying to find out who, if anyone, from their ranks would be so bold as to insult a city councilman on national television.
"We don't have anyone here by that name," said Capt. Rachel Burgess, who heads the West Hollywood Sheriff's Station. "As a matter of fact, I've checked with personnel, and they show no one with that name associated with the department, period."
On Tuesday, she and other officers at the West Hollywood station viewed the broadcast and concluded that the man was an imposter.
"No one here has ever seen the guy," she said.
Schulte, who characterized the man's views as "repugnant," said he never believed that the man was really a sheriff's deputy.
"I was taken aback when he said who he was," Schulte said. "My first reaction was not to believe him. I didn't think anyone from there (the Sheriff's Department) would be that undisciplined or that out-of-line on national TV.
"I kind of got the feeling that some of the people in the audience were planted by someone."
The program was taped outdoors near the Venice Boardwalk before an audience of about 75 people. Audience members who participated in the broadcast included gay-rights activists and people opposed to the gay life style.
Schulte's chief antagonist on the program was Lou Sheldon, an Orange County minister and founder of the Traditional Values Coalition.
He dismissed domestic-partnership laws as "undermining the moral fabric of society," and said that sanctioning living arrangements between unmarried couples threatens to "wipe out those things that have made this country great."
In February, West Hollywood began offering medical insurance coverage to unmarried partners of city employees, including gays and lesbians.
Yet, West Hollywood's domestic-partnership law--among the first measures championed by the gay community after the city was incorporated in 1984--remains largely symbolic.
It provides domestic partners with jail and hospital visitation rights similar to those of spouses. But the city does not have a major hospital, and the only jail is a Sheriff's Department lock-up facility where visitors are not allowed.