John Schlafly, the son of Republican family values crusader Phyllis Schlafly, acknowledged yesterday that he is a homosexual. But he came out swinging at gay leaders rather than at the GOP, which has been accused of vilifying homosexuals.

"I think there has been a hysterical overreaction in the gay community" to the Republican platform, said John Schlafly, a 41-year-old attorney who lives and works with his mother in Alton, Ill. "We have a band of screechy gay activists and Washington-based pressure groups who get all the attention. The truth is: Family values people, of which my mother is a part, are not out to bash gay people."

He embraces his mother's views, including her opposition to same-sex marriages and to extending civil rights protection to gays and lesbians, which he said would be a burden to employers. He said these views are not anti-gay and are endorsed by a majority of Americans.

The statements come at a time when the presidential candidates are expressing sharply different views on gay rights and the subject of homosexuals has emerged as a wedge issue in the campaign.

"I feel sorry for him," said Avis LaVelle, a spokeswoman for the Clinton campaign. "He must be an anguished young man to carry that secret in the midst of his intolerant mother."

Gay leaders say that the Bush team has been scapegoating gays and lesbians to distract voters from the moribund economy.

"I couldn't disagree with John Schlafly more," said Urvashi Vaid, president of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. "He is living at home with Phyllis Schlafly, one of the most virulently anti-gay people in this country. It's hard for him to break the tie there."

Phyllis Schlafly, the founder of the conservative Eagle Forum, was a Republican delegate at the convention and a behind-the-scenes architect of the party platform. She is an outspoken critic of sex education in schools and "alternative lifestyles." She opposed the Equal Rights Amendment, arguing that the amendment would permit homosexuals to get married. When Surgeon General C. Everett Koop tried to introduce AIDS education to public school curricula in the 1980s, she likened it to "the teaching of safe sodomy."

At the convention in Houston, television evangelist Pat Robertson introduced Phyllis Schlafly, saying: "If it were not for this lady, we would have had homosexual rights written into the Constitution. She defeated ERA."

John Schafly said that QW, a New York gay weekly, "outed" him in a story two weeks ago in an attempt to embarrass his mother and brand her a hypocrite. He said he has never tried to hide the fact that he was gay, but since he is not a public figure, he considered it an invasion of privacy to publish his sexual orientation. Ensuing interview requests, he said, were just one more example that "the national media has lost all pretense to fairness." The coverage of the Republican convention was "unbelievably biased" and the Newsweek cover story, "Gays Under Fire," was so slanted it was "a joke."

"They're trying to use him to hit at me," Phyllis Schlafly said. "I am baffled by all this hypocrisy stuff. I don't see any contradiction in my behavior. I am the most tolerant person in the world. And anybody who's saying I'm anti-gay is hysterical and paranoid."

Asked if she approved of her son's orientation, Schlafly said: "I love my son. But all my children are adults and lead their own lives."

John Schlafly declined to discuss his romantic life. He serves as his mother's financial adviser and counts the Eagle Forum among his clients. He characterized his relationship with his five siblings and parents as "close and loving."

"My mother is not a 'monster' -- that word was just used to describe her in a gay publication," he said. "My life points to the fact that family values people are not hostile to gays and lesbians. The media too often portrays them as bigots or buffoons. In fact, they're well-meaning

people who are trying to create a better world."

John Schlafly extends the same praise to Pat Buchanan, who declared a "cultural war" on homosexuals in a speech at Houston.

"As far as I know Pat Buchanan is perfectly willing to let gays and lesbians live in peace in their private life," John Schlafly said. He said that when he heard Buchanan's crack about cross-dressing at the Democratic convention, "I thought it was funny."

Gay leaders aren't laughing. At first they reacted positively to the news of John Schlafly's coming out. But when they heard he was declaring the GOP tolerant of gays, comments turned ironic.

"This comes from people who for three years said there's no recession. At least they're consistent," said Gregory King, spokesman for the Human Rights Campaign Fund, the country's largest gay lobby.

Particularly galling to gays was Vice President Quayle's references to homosexuality as a "lifestyle choice" that is "wrong." Gay leaders do not see homosexuality as a matter of choice. John Schlafly said sexual orientation is "a deeply rooted inclination."

"The inclination is not a choice," he said. "But we all have a choice to make in what we do with the inclination."

John Schlafly said he believes that existing state sodomy laws and anti-gay employment policies were "archaic" and should be repealed. John Schlafly's views on the Republicans are in marked contrast to those of Diane Mosbacher, the lesbian daughter of Bush campaign finance chairman Robert Mosbacher. She has spoken out against what she perceives as the party's demonization of homosexuals. "I couldn't see it more differently," said Mosbacher. "Poor guy, my heart goes out to him."