Film and TV

John Oliver: Mike Pence's Homophobia Has a Colorado Flavor

John Oliver focusing on Colorado's Focus on the Family during the March 18 broadcast of Last Week Tonight.
John Oliver focusing on Colorado's Focus on the Family during the March 18 broadcast of Last Week Tonight. HBO via YouTube
On the March 18 edition of Last Week Tonight, host John Oliver delivered a segment that excoriated Vice President Mike Pence, with a particular concentration on policies he's supported that are widely seen as homophobic. Pence has attempted to refute at least some of his critics by insisting, for instance, that he is not in favor of gay conversion therapy, which supporters believe is capable of ridding homosexuals of their same-sex proclivities. But Oliver undermines such statements by offering as evidence Pence's close association with Colorado Springs' Focus on the Family and its divisive founder, Dr. James Dobson.

Oliver certainly doesn't parse words in regard to Dobson, whom he calls a "notorious homophobe" prior to playing a clip in which Dobson introduces himself to an audience like so: "I represent an organization called Focus on the Family that a three-year-old one time called 'Poke Us in the Fanny.' You know, that's not far off from what we're trying to do in some ways."

At that point, Oliver offers a cutting impression of Dobson. "I guess you could say we're thrustin' ourselves into the hole of American spiritual life and reachin' around to grab the tent poles of secular decadence, because that's what Focus on the Family is all about: halfin' gay sex," Oliver's Dobson character maintains. "That's right. Reducin' the amount of gay sex by at least half."

Here's the segment. The material about Focus on the Family begins at around the 10:20 mark.

After mimicking Dobson, Oliver gets serious again, albeit with his usual mix of facts and satirical provocation. As he points out, "The organization that Dobson founded, Focus on the Family, has a history of promoting conversion therapy. For a decade, it promoted a 'conference addressing, understanding and preventing homosexuality' called Love Won Out, which could not sound any more like a euphemism for masturbating. As in 'All of this talk about being poked in the fanny really makes me want to love one out.'"

Additionally, Oliver continues, Dobson "also wrote a book called Marriage Under Fire in which he stated that 'Focus on the Family promotes the truth that homosexuality is treatable and preventable.' And he produced a video series in which he elaborated on that theme."

Dobson then appears on screen in a passage from the 2002 video Bringing Up Boys, saying, "We want to talk about the prevention and treatment of homosexuality in boys. ... There are more than a thousand that are being treated at any given time for homosexuality. They don't all change. It's not easy to change. I don't want to imply that it's a simple thing — that you're just going to decide you're not going to be homosexual anymore. No, there are deeply rooted factors that account for this, and they are tough to whip."

"Now, obviously, there's no such thing as the 'homosexual agenda,' but if there were, whipping bad boys by the thousands wouldn't not be on it," Oliver suggests.

Dobson announced his departure from Focus on the Family in 2010, as Oliver conceded, "and they have since claimed they have softened their message. But if you go to their website right now, you will find articles like 'When a Loved One Says 'I'm Gay,' The Stages of Grief' and 'Why We Support Sexual Orientation Change Efforts.'"

He's right: Both of these articles remain online at this writing.

click to enlarge
Vice President Mike Pence in Colorado late last year, to mark Focus on the Family's fortieth anniversary.
HBO via YouTube
"While Pence may claim that he did not and does not support gay conversion therapy, he very much supports those who support it," Oliver goes on. "Because just last year, as vice president, he was in Colorado saying this."

Cut to video of Pence in Colorado Springs, saying, "It is great to be here on the fortieth anniversary of Focus on the Family. ... Allow me to acknowledge the founder of this ministry — a man who has become the author of an enormous body of work that has inspired millions. And he's been a friend and a mentor to me: Dr. James Dobson."

In Oliver's view, "Saying you don't support conversion therapy and then calling Dobson your mentor is like saying you're a staunch vegetarian and law-abiding citizen, and by the way, please meet my longtime friend and mentor, the Hamburglar." He considers Pence's decision to present Dobson with an award last June, when he was vice president, to be "appalling."

We've reached out to Focus on the Family about the Last Week Tonight episode. When and if the folks there get back to us, we'll share their thoughts in this space.
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts