Gay-rights groups team up for response to Santorum

LOS ANGELES: Gay-rights groups reacted with a cohesive and powerful media relations response last week to Sen. Rick Santorum's (R-PA) anti-gay remarks, highlighting their evolving strategic PR capabilities both across and within several organizations.

LOS ANGELES: Gay-rights groups reacted with a cohesive and powerful media relations response last week to Sen. Rick Santorum's (R-PA) anti-gay remarks, highlighting their evolving strategic PR capabilities both across and within several organizations.

Santorum, the number-three Republican in the Senate leadership, told the Associated Press, "If the Supreme Court says that you have the right to consensual (gay) sex within your home, then you have the right to bigamy, you have the right to polygamy, you have the right to incest, you have the right to adultery." Santorum said Tuesday that his comments pertained to the future of state privacy laws, and "should not be misconstrued in any way as a statement on individual lifestyles." As of press time, he was facing calls for his resignation from the Senate.

"There is an increasing sophistication in the way we respond to theses situations, and it shows because there is more and better media coverage," said Cathy Renna, national news media director for the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD).

Gay-rights groups, especially large national organizations such as GLAAD and the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), have honed their reactions to maximize the breadth and duration of press coverage of such incidents by adding on-staff media specialists, and improving their tactics.

Each group has a specific role to play in the overall response, although it has never been formalized. GLAAD, for instance, acts behind the scenes to provide background and interview subjects, while the HRC takes a visible role, granting interviews and releasing statements.

In Santorum's case, the HRC began by issuing a press release to select media, including political, TV, and Pennsylvania press.

GLAAD concentrated on bringing a human face to the story by finding constituents of Santorum's to speak out. It also contacted reporters to remind them of a similar recent incident with Trent Lott, where the media reacted slowly.

"If you compare this to how the story unfolded regarding Lott, it took several days for (Lott's story) to even get on anyone's radar screen," said Renna. "This was a little bit of a kick in the pants, saying, 'You missed the boat last time.'"

HRC communications director and senior strategist David Smith added that his group will work to keep the story in the press by asking other civil-rights organizations to speak out.

"If there are others that step forward, then the coverage will continue," he said. "If it continues to be gay-rights groups and Democratic members of Congress and Presidential candidates, then it will die down quickly."

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