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Gary Cohan Headshot

The Rev. Rick Warren Controversy: A "Blessing" in Disguise?"

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President-Elect Obama's choice of mega-pastor and bestselling author Rev. Rick Warren to give the inaugural invocation prayer is both unfathomable and unfortunate.

It's being felt as a hard slap to the collective faces of the gay community -- ardent supporters of Obama who have pinned such high hopes on the inclusiveness of his "new and improved" administration after eight dark years of Right-wing, evangelically-controlled Republican rule. To be perfectly blunt, it appears, on it's surface, to promote an anti-civil-rights blowhard to national prominence.

Mr. Warren -- a purported "man of the cloth" -- holds and has very publicly espoused such insanely hateful and ignorant beliefs about gay people that one cannot begin to imagine what our President-Elect was thinking when he and his team chose this intolerant wingnut to deliver the invocation prayer at his historic inauguration.

In an interview just four days ago, Reverend Warren compared gay marriage to legitimizing incest, child abuse, and polygamy. Warren bleated:

"I'm opposed to redefinition of a 5,000 year definition of marriage (sic). I'm opposed to having a brother and sister being together and calling that marriage. I'm opposed to an older guy marrying a child and calling that marriage. I'm opposed to one guy having multiple wives and calling that marriage."

I have expressed my outrage at Warren's elevation to the national stage at this historic inauguration along with all of my peers in the form of letters, online petitions and phone calls to influential people close to Obama's inner circle.

However, if the gay community has the maturity and courage to take a deep breath, there's another way of looking at this particular situation.

All this brouhaha can be viewed a "blessing in disguise" (all puns intended) because it has created a huge public controversy -- albeit a rather tepid one; this ain't Prop. 8, boys and girls -- which allows us yet another opportunity to get our civil rights message out. It's always my contention that inside every challenge to our cause, there's an occasion to "turn lemons into lemonade."

If we don't have a current and public civil rights controversy going on, then we'll have to work that much harder to get our voices heard amidst all the media clutter. They're always on the prowl for fresh, raw "meat" to report.

Although Obama's team may have blown this one choice, we now can be just a tad smarter than all of the politicos and capitalize on this as an opening to make some real noise.

We must always strive to avoid the reflexive posture of portraying ourselves as "victims." We are not. We are red-blooded, flag-waving, tax-paying American citizens. We must show the world that we are strong, determined. and speaking with one voice. Our civil rights demands are not negotiable, we will not be dismissed casually by any person or group and, eventually, "we shall overcome" the hateful message that infuses all of this religious zealotry.

My strategic instinct truly believes that we were just handed this national-scale controversy as a public relations "gift" to get our civil rights cause back on the front pages of national newspapers, blogs and the nightly news. Please remember: the final decision on the constitutionality of the vile Proposition 8 is slowly making it's way through the courts and is not front page news right now.

Given our extremely short news cycles these days, it may take "catalyst events" like the Rev. Rick Warren controversy to pop up somewhat regularly to keep our gay base motivated to action and keep all of us on our toes.

This idea was confirmed by my best friend and nationally-esteemed Hollywood PR guru Howard Bragman who agrees with this ironic sentiment. Howard -- a tireless proponent of gay civil rights for almost three decades -- will be quoted in tomorrow's Los Angeles Times as saying that

"Barack Obama is a very smart student of history. He saw that Bill Clinton did damage to his early presidency by appearing to pander to the gay and lesbian community. Obama has chosen a different tack.

"What he didn't realize was how much untapped energy there was in the gay and lesbian community because of the passage of Prop. 8. After all the support he got from the gay and lesbian community, we feel betrayed right now."

Although I'm as outraged as any of us and have signed every petition that has come my way, I'm holding my serious tongue-lashing energy -- on the public front, at least -- until I see whether Obama appoints the supremely well-qualified and beloved William White to be the first openly gay Navy Secretary.

If Obama does appoint Bill White, then we can throw this redneck preacher under the bus for giving a forgettable prayer at a secular inauguration.

On the other hand, if Obama passes Mr. White over for someone less qualified for Navy Secretary, then we'll have a real problem on which to focus.

Let's all be loud, proactive and relentless in exposing and challenging these morons whenever their homophobic rants and intolerant platforms slither out from the dark and perverted places in their tortured souls from whence they emanate.

However, let's also be strategic about choosing where to direct our large reserve of gay activist "capital." We must focus our most serious energies and precious resources on fighting the big civil rights battles that will finally enshrine our long-overdue, constitutionally-guaranteed human rights into the law(s) of the land.

Happy holidays and thanks for listening. Your comments are always welcome.