To call gay and lesbian objections to the anti-art crusade spearheaded by Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) "melodramatic," "a trifle hysterical" and "self-pitying" revealed not only Jonathan Yardley's lack of political acuity but his inability to comprehend the discrimination gay and lesbians confront daily {"The Difference Between the 'Right' and a Privilege," Style, Aug. 27}.

Yardley failed to point out that Helms's campaign against an unfettered National Endowment for the Arts is an integral part of his broad attempt to sabotage every bill including gay rights that has come before Congress. From AIDS discrimination and funding measures to the Hate Crimes Statistics Act, Helms has argued bitterly that gays and lesbians have no right to the legal protections afforded straight society.

In his Pollyanna characterization of the acceptance gays and lesbians enjoy in the United States, Yardley also ignored the experience of countless men and women, myself included, who have suffered insults and physical attacks because of their perceived sexual orientation.

Yardley even blamed us and our "very nature" for arousing the ire of our attackers. By his view, if only we didn't swish or create challenging art, we'd need not fear bashings at the hands of Jesse Helms and his friends.

We are not "self-pitying"; we are outraged. Yardley's words were an unfortunate reminder of the need for action.

-- George F. Kimmerling

Jonathan Yardley, esteemed critic though he may be, eloquently missed the point. The reason that Holly Hughes and David Leavitt -- and people like myself -- will never understand a conviction that "government has no business underwriting sexually explicit and politically biased 'art' -- whatever its sexuality, whatever its bias" is that we find government subsidy of any art with those omissions unacceptable. To us, a program that excludes those categories by definition runs the risk of such blandness and reinforcement of the status quo that it is more offensive intellectually than the content it excludes. Worse, such a program risks becoming nothing more than thinly disguised government propaganda through the imprimatur of grant awards.

I would rather see NEA dismantled than turned into the exercise in intellectual castration that Yardley seems to support.

-- Mary K. Chelton

Jonathan Yardley's column on the National Endowment for the Arts, performance artist Holly Hughes and related issues was right on the mark.

As a gay man, I resent Hughes's presumption to speak for me or to declaim generally on the subject of homosexuality. Alan Kriegsman's enthusiastic review notwithstanding {Style, Aug. 27}, Hughes's angry, self-absorbed polemics don't reflect my -- or most of my gay brothers' -- experience.

In focusing on herself as the subject of discrimination because of her sexual orientation, Hughes fails to note that the NEA properly took as much heat for funding Andres Serrano, who went the disgusting distance of photographing a crucifix sitting in his urine, as it did for funding her work. The outrage about Serrano's travesty of art had nothing to do with sexual preference and everything to do with the wasting of precious federal arts dollars. Likewise Hughes's severe limitations as an artist are an equally good reason for denying her my tax dollars. -- David Frydman

Yes, gay America, we need to take Jonathan Yardley's advice and lighten up. All he wants us to do is tolerate the intolerant and accept the notion that large numbers of Americans find our behavior "unnatural and repugnant." We can still feel good about ourselves -- as long as we keep it our little secret.

Certainly we shouldn't listen to the "hysterical" David Leavitt and Holly Hughes, but to Yardley, who speaks with an objective voice. Yardley certainly must know better than Leavitt and Hughes what it is like to be gay in America -- after all, he says "the burden {of being gay} has gotten somewhat lighter in recent years" because good people like himself express "calm acceptance ... of homosexual couples in permanent living arrangements."

No doubt Yardley understands the price of accommodation. I'm sure he has stifled an impulse to take his partner's hand while on a movie date because he feared being pummeled by a group of teenagers standing nearby. I'm sure he has been the recipient of a department store sales clerk's poisonous glare as he and his partner shopped for bed sheets at the spring white sale. I'm sure he has contemplated the alienation of family, friends and business colleagues by revealing his love for his partner.

Yardley knows that life is tough. How? I'm sure he'd tell you that some of his best friends are gay. -- J. Douglas Hanson