When a letter by Supervisor Eugene Delgaudio proclaiming he was "exhausted" after "a long day of fighting the Radical Homosexuals" became public on April 1, many thought it was a prank.
"The rumor was being passed around that it couldn't be real, that it had to be an April Fool's joke," said David Weintraub, president of gay advocacy group Equality Loudoun.
"I didn't think it was a joke," he said. "I had seen other writings of his. I thought if it was an April Fool's joke, it was very well done."
Delgaudio (R-Sterling) wrote the letter, which was post-dated April 11, from his position as president of Public Advocate of the United States, a conservative pro-life lobbying organization that raises $1.5 million a year. The letter asks for recipients to donate any amount to prevent "the Radical Homosexuals" from turning America into "a perverted pleasure palace."
In an interview, Delgaudio did not deny that he wrote the letter but refused to address its content.
"I can't comment on a letter that I mail," he said. "There's a lot of them. I can't comment on them."
Later, he added, "We send out a lot of letters. I sign them, I write them."
It's not the first time Delgaudio has taken aim at gay advocates. He founded Public Advocate in 1981 and has used it to fight gay rights as well as support other conservative causes.
In 1998, Delgaudio wrote a letter decrying adoption by gay couples. During his 2003 re-election campaign, Delgaudio faced a gay write-in candidate. In a letter to supporters purportedly written by Delgaudio’s wife, the candidate, a man, is referred to as "she."
Last fall, Delgaudio called anti-bullying measures in public schools part of the "gay agenda."
THE MOST RECENT LETTER first came to light when it was read aloud on Air America, the liberal talk radio network. The network claimed that the letter had been sent to the Terri Schiavo donor list. Delgaudio responded with an April 1 notice on Public Advocate's Web site calling the claim "completely false."
But it was the letter's subsequent posting in full on the left-wing Web site DailyKos.com that had people asking Weintraub if it was a joke.
"It's hard not to just collapse laughing when you read something like that," Weintraub said.
"This time we are facing an enemy who is riding high and hungry for victims," Delgaudio wrote. He also claimed that the "Radical Homosexuals" have "limousines, the plush offices, tens of millions from the Hollywood elite."
But while some could read the language of the letter as extreme to the point of comedy, it's also troubling, Weintraub said.
"What's striking is how some of the language and tone is in the flyers that were used to demonize and dehumanize Jews in Nazi Germany," he said. "I don't say that lightly. I have family members that are Holocaust survivors."
USING anti-gay rhetoric is a sure-fire way to raise money, said George Mason University professor Mark Rozell. He is the author of "Second Coming: The New Christian Right in Virginia Politics."
"Attacks on gays work for fund-raising appeals to Christian social conservatives who are frightened that gay marriage is going to be rampant in America," Rozell said.
But extremist language like what is found in Delgaudio's letter can also alienate its target population, Rozell added. Mainstream Christian conservative organizations like the Christian Coalition of America avoid "overheated rhetoric."
"When you see the more extreme rhetoric, it's from some of the smaller fledgling groups ... trying to make a desperate appeal," Rozell said.
Public Advocate is a very small organization, with only Delgaudio as a full-time employee. But Delgaudio said that's a necessity. As a 100 percent publicly supported 501c4 organization, Delgaudio said he keeps it small to cut costs.
"We are a small organization," he said. "You will not see any groups as small as we are with more going for it."
The organization accepts non-tax-deductible donations from individuals. Delgaudio said he sends out thousands of letters a day and receives donations that average out at $20 each.
Despite referring to the "Radical Homosexuals" as "serpents with apples ... in the shadows, making deals and issuing threats" in his letter, Delgaudio said he's not homophobic.
"I don't hate gay people," he said. "I hate their lobby."
DELGAUDIO is just one of several Loudoun politicians who have supported anti-gay causes in recent years. In the last General Assembly session, Del. Richard Black (R-32) supported a bill to prevent adoption by gay couples. The bill was killed in a Senate committee. Black and Del. Robert Marshall (R-13) were among several Virginia representatives who presented constitutional amendments to prevent gay marriage.
But Rozell said that it's hard for politicians who use extreme language like in Delgaudio's letter to gain enough mainstream support to land higher office.
"Where he is, it doesn't really affect him that much," Rozell said. "I think for the state, most of this stuff wouldn't pass the smell test with most Republicans and most religious conservative organizations."
While Delgaudio has committed to running for a third term representing Sterling on the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors, he has not ruled out a run for the General Assembly in 2011.
"After 2011, my options are open," he said.