On Aug. 12, 2012, another gay voice was silenced in the media when Jerry Evans, owner of KKFT 99.1 FM Talk, banned my paid radio program, House of Savoy, from the air.
Names like Steve Kmetko, Ben Patrick Johnson, and Thomas Roberts come to mind, gay men with successful national media gigs who came out in the public eye. In my case I was flat-out removed from the radio, not for being gay but for merely having a conversation about gay issues on the air. Yes, I am gay, but I wasn't out... yet.
By early August 2012 the Chick-fil-A news maelstrom was reaching a climax. As the host of a public-affairs talk show, my instinct was to discuss the issues surrounding Dan Cathy's very public opposition to same-sex marriage. Needless to say, the restaurant-chain president's comments had ignited a controversy, and debates between the traditional-family-values crowd and the LGBT community were rampant. Even John Q. Public was weighing in.
A newsworthy topic? Certainly. Appropriate to talk about it on the air? Yes, everywhere in the country but on KKFT, the FOX News Radio affiliate in northern Nevada. So much for "Fair and Balanced."
Little did I know that asking Will Kolb, an openly gay social commentator, PR man, and LGBT advocate from Dallas, Texas, to talk about marriage equality would get me kicked off the air, especially in an election year when gay-rights issues have become so polarizing.
Before the Aug. 12 call-in show with Kolb, I had not discussed LGBT themes on the air, let alone allude to my own sexual orientation. I was determined to approach the theme sensitively, especially because of my personal circumstance. I was about to address in a public forum the very issues I had never discussed openly. Now, at 40, living with a man in a committed relationship and contemplating same-sex marriage myself, I knew I was reaching the point of real exposure. But my show was certainly not going to be the venue for that. This wasn't the time to tell my story... or was it?
With all this in mind, I conducted the Kolb interview with tact and respect for my guest's experiences and point of view, as if I were asking him to reassure me that everything was going to be OK and to tell the public what I already knew: that people like us do not want to be treated as exceptions.
Production for House of Savoy was paid for in advance. Our Sunday-evening time slot had been purchased by my producers, Nevada Matters Media. There were no advertisers to appease, only the listeners and, evidently, Evans himself.
I had never heard a complaint from Evans before. Was he even tuning in? Apparently not this time. His son was, however. The younger Evans immediately called his dad and alerted him to the situation: two men -- one openly gay, the other not -- discussing gay marriage on a conservative radio station. Verboten!
As a result of Evans' son's tattling, the dominoes began to fall. What ensued was a predictable pattern of discrimination. The privately owned radio station's owner phoned the show's producer with a mandate: "Get Savoy off the air, and quick!" After all, it is FOX News. There will be no such "earthy, hippie, spacey-type" conversations on this "conservative" channel.
I was cut.
I knew there was no legitimate reason for Evans to ax my show. It was the typical knee-jerk reaction to the bigger problem: Talking about gay stuff is just too offensive to certain people's ears. A month after the show ended Evans himself admitted it to the Reno Gazette-Journal, saying that the show "just doesn't fit with a conservative talk radio station. ... It was just really odd."
By "odd," did he mean "gay"? Unfortunately, folks like Evans insist on equating being gay with strangeness, dirtiness, and sinfulness. They appoint themselves the policemen of thought and the arbiters of normalcy. They hijack words like "conservative," equating righteousness with conditional love. They spread teachings of discrimination, working to silence others by their actions. Worst of all, they hide behind the freedom of private enterprise to promote marginalization, disrespect, and bigotry.
Whether Evans knew or suspected at the time that I am gay I'll never know, but he certainly was aware of my guest's sexual orientation. He went so far as to say to the Reno Gazette-Journal that the Kolb interview was the "straw that broke the camel's back," and then, to add insult to injury, he proclaimed, "These people -- these precious people -- think that it's an affront to their something or another. They seem to think they are deserving..."
What Evans apparently doesn't understand is that in the free marketplace of ideas, all people, not just the ones he identifies with, have the right to the same consideration and enjoyment that he is entitled to. In Nevada the airwaves are a place of public accommodation. As such, radio-station owners cannot discriminate or harass based on race, color, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity or expression.
The right to own a business is one of the most precious freedoms we enjoy in America, but it is unacceptable to discriminate against and segregate voices and ideas simply because they differ from our own. Freedom is not the right to make choices without conscience. That would be to deny the other hard-won freedoms that have made America a nation of mutual respect, acceptance, and tolerance.
Fortunately, my silence didn't last. Less than a month after House of Savoy was cancelled, KJFK 1230 AM, Reno's progressive station, picked up the show, to Evans' chagrin, I imagine. As for me, I came out a winner, literally! The ordeal inspired me to speak my own truth, and I am now happily and openly able to discuss my sexuality anyplace, including in the media. In his attempt to silence me, Evans instead gave me a greater voice, and I am dedicated to using it to help others who have yet to find their own.