Dr Laura's anti-gay TV show stirs liberal anger

On the US talk-radio circuit, she is more popular than the liberal-bashing Rush Limbaugh. More popular than Howard Stern, the "shock-jock" who has been described as the pornography industry's best friend on the airwaves.

The popular psychologist Dr Laura Schlessinger, known to her fans as "Dr Laura", is so revered, in fact, that she has just been promised her own daytime television show by Paramount Studios. And some of Hollywood's most famous liberal names, alarmed by her inflammatory, anti-gay rhetoric, are rising up in revolt.

Dr Schlessinger doesn't simply dislike homosexuality. She has called it deviant. She has called homosexuals "biological errors"and accused them of preying, en masse, on young boys. She has strong opinions, too, on mixed-race marriages (she doesn't approve of them) and feminists ("they nauseate and sicken me").

Asked to comment on a Connecticut schoolgirl who had won a prize for advocating free speech on the internet, Dr Schlessinger said that if the girl was her daughter she would put her up for adoption, or sacrifice her, Inca-style. Appalled by the idea that such sentiments should find a slot on network television, Hollywood liberals, including the actress Susan Sarandon, have thrown their energy into stopping her at all costs.

A website called Stop Dr Laura has received more than seven million hits since its debut at the beginning of March. Several producers at Paramount, including the man behind Frasier, David Lee, have said they are ashamed of the outfit they work for.

On Tuesday, several hundred protesters gathered outside the Paramount gates, easily outnumbering a counter-demonstration across the street. Mr Lee said: "It is outrageous that Paramount chooses to be in business with a woman who is literally dangerous to the gay community. She may not have a club in her hand but she encourages an atmosphere where those who do wield weapons feel free to use them."

Ms Sarandon, a political crusader of long standing, sent a strong message saying Dr Schlessinger was "clearly in dire need of compassion, education, and a good shrink herself" and urging Paramount, at the very least, to give equal air time to someone who could challenge the incendiary opinions.

Dr Schlessinger's three-hour daily radio show, heard on 400 stations across the country, dispenses advice and no-nonsense admonitions in equal measure, as do her books Ten Stupid Things Women Do To Mess Up Their Lives and How Could You Do That?! The Abdication of Character, Courage and Conscience.

She was one of the most prominent advocates of Proposition 22, a Californian ballot measure against the recognition of gay marriage which passed easily on Super Tuesday two weeks ago. And she has become the lightning-rod of choice for the US gay community, whose advocacy groups now regularly reprint her more outrageous statements and counter them in their newsletters and websites. Dr Schlessinger actually claims to have gay friends who agree with her point of view that homosexuality is aberrant behaviour that can be corrected by psychotherapy. Pushed into a corner by groups like Glaad (the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation), she recently pleaded that she "never intended to hurt anyone or contribute in any way to an atmosphere of hurt or intolerance"and apologised for any damage caused.

A few days later, however, she told a Boston newspaper that she had not apologised at all, merely issued a "clarification". The protesters at Paramount said that they did not take issue with Dr Schlessinger's right to free speech, but were angry with the studio. "Paramount would never give a TV show to a host that called any other minority 'biological errors'," said Robin Tyler, the California organiser for the StopDrLaura.com website.