Q on the tube: Hate TV

Majority America gets their news and ideas from TV. This has been true for decades. Americans want products because of TV, adopt certain styles because of TV, are interested in celebrity gossip because of TV, decide who to vote for because of TV — or at least they have since the debate between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon in 1960 where JFK looked young and virile and Nixon’s flop sweat and five-o’clock shadow turned viewers off. Most people get their cues from TV. This is why it’s so necessary to have positive and varied depictions of LGBT characters on the tube in series and sitcoms and why it’s vital to have LGBT people on talk shows and the news. Millions watch “Ellen” every day. Ellen DeGeneres has used her position as comedian and talk-show host to raise issues of LGBT civil rights. She discussed her own wedding to Portia de Rossi on her show. She invited Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and John McCain on the show — and they came — and discussed LGBT issues with all of them. She’s done programs on bullying of LGBT youth and made it clear to her varied — but largely middle-class straight — audience that homophobia kills. Rachel Maddow is the other out lesbian with a TV talk show, but hers reaches a different audience in prime time, on cable (MSNBC) with the focus on politics. Maddow hasn’t shied away from LGBT topics, either. Last week she took on the subject of Rick Warren. The outrage over President-elect Obama’s choice of a known hatemonger to give the invocation at what will no doubt be the most-watched presidential inaugural in history has been growing. But that outrage which is all over the blogosphere and in the queer media has been largely unreported in the mainstream media and ignored by prime-time network and cable TV with very few exceptions (Maddow, Keith Olbermann, Jon Stewart). Yet it has been through TV that Rick Warren has garnered such a vast audience for his perspective on queers and women, which include equating homosexuality with bestiality, incest and pedophilia and calling women who have abortions — legal under the law — Nazi perpetrators of a Holocaust against unborn children. It seems unlikely that Obama will re-think his terrible choice for the invocation. Like most politicians, Obama is intransigent on issues once he’s decided he’s right. Even when he’s dead wrong, as he is for having this hatemonger lead the nation in prayer, implicitly giving Warren’s hate message his blessing. TV has allowed Warren the edge — he has gone on talk show after talk show (in addition to being a regular speaker on Christian cable and network programs) and repeats the same outrageous hate speech about LGBT people and women. There is no opposing voice to speak for our side on what is being called an “issue” but which is actually our lives. Warren used TV to promulgate his message on Proposition 8 that same-sex marriage would weaken heterosexual marriage and also damage the First Amendment rights of Christians. Since he was chosen to give Obama’s invocation, Warren has used TV to spread more of his hatemongering views. But where is the LGBT voice in all of this? Chris Matthews’ “Hardball” is one of the shows most likely to make the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end. During the primary, his non-stop sexist assault on Hillary Clinton was so egregious the network forced him to apologize — not once, but twice. Last week, the even slimier and aptly named Mark Barnicle was filling in for the vacationing (and possibly prepping for a run for Sen. Arlen Specter’s seat) Matthews. Barnicle reduced the Warren controversy to a queeny tempest in a handful of “gay cities.” His guests were the Rev. Eugene Rivers for homophobia and Capitol Hill Democratic gay activist Mike Rogers for the defense of queer lives. Rivers declared that the outrage of tens of millions of Americans over the Warren choice was a “pseudo controversy,” which is like saying outrage over slavery and lynching was a pseudo-controversy, since the controversy is about the denial of civil rights for millions. Rogers, as he so often does on his BlogActive Web site, knocked it out of the park. No hysteria, no name-calling, no viciousness. Just the facts and a twist on the way the argument was supposed to go. (Check out the interview at MSNBC.com.) Rogers declared victory — something neither Rivers nor Barnicle was expecting. Rogers noted that Warren’s Saddleback Church Web site had taken down its stipulation that homosexuals could not be members of the church unless they repented their sin of being queer. Obviously, asserted Rogers, the “angry gay protesters” had impacted Warren. Rivers could only sputter in response. Rogers also demanded a sit-down between Warren and LGBT leaders. Rivers again protested, to which the very cool and calm Rogers simply said leader to leader they should talk, if Warren wanted to defend his perspective. No defensible protest to that. The exchange between Rogers and Rivers delineates why the voices of LGBT people must be heard on TV. When we get to speak, we get heard; our “lifestyle” is no longer an “issue” — it’s our lives on the line. We become real people, like Ellen and Maddow — not the faceless statistic of one in 10 Americans. In the new year, the LGBT community must make one of its goals getting our faces and voices on the tube. It’s how America learns about difference. It’s increasing clear that it’s how we ourselves can make a difference.

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Victoria A. Brownworth is a Pulitzer Prize-nominated award-winning journalist whose work has appeared in The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Baltimore Sun, DAME, The Advocate, Bay Area Reporter and Curve among other publications. She was among the OUT 100 and is the author and editor of more than 20 books, including the Lambda Award-winning Coming Out of Cancer: Writings from the Lesbian Cancer Epidemic and Ordinary Mayhem: A Novel, and the award-winning From Where They Sit: Black Writers Write Black Youth and Too Queer: Essays from a Radical Life.