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Not-So-Funny Business

Are gays fair game for jokes on Denver radio?

That's good to know -- but it's still curious that broadcast executives who'd never let a DJ launch into a Stepin Fetchit imitation while lauding the virtues of fried chicken and watermelon seemingly take little notice when performers portray gays as lisping, effeminate-voiced cliches. And to Nan Kratohvil, Colorado chapter co-chair of Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network (GLSEN), a large and growing national organization, portrayals such as these can have serious consequences.

"We have a statewide effort to conquer the bullying in schools," Kratohvil allows. "But when adults are on the radio putting out the message that it's okay to make fun of certain people, the kids will think it's okay to make fun and harass those same kind of people at school. And the more those messages go unchallenged, the worse it becomes."

In Kratohvil's opinion, broadcasters in this area have an especially great responsibility to fight homosexual stereotypes, and not just because gay University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard was beaten to death only a few hours' drive from here back in 1998. Colorado, after all, was the birthplace of Amendment 2, a 1992 proposal intended to eliminate "special privileges" for gays; its passage precipitated a national boycott of the state prior to the law being ruled unconstitutional. "Let's face it," she says. "The rest of the world knew it was a bad idea, but the voters here voted for it. And certain people in the media probably figure that's the way everyone around here feels about gays, lesbians and the transgendered community, so they'll think jokes about them are funny."

Jean Hodges, Colorado coalition chairman of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), another nationwide association dedicated to promoting tolerance and understanding through education, echoes these worries. "Sometimes it seems it's taken for granted that it's okay to bash gays, and that's what we're trying to stop. It's discouraging work sometimes, because it's just so prevalent. But I still find it shocking that people who have access to the public would do things like this, because it seems that there should be more sensitivity than that."

In response, Martin and Goin insist they've received a grand total of zero complaints about gay humor on KOA and the Fox, respectively: no systematic campaigns, no upset individuals. Goin concedes that Lamont & Tonelli polarize audiences to a considerable degree: "We've got lots of people who love them, but at the same time, we've also gotten tons of hate mail about them. You either love them or hate them."

As such, Goin monitors all of the pair's between-song breaks prior to airing them, in order to make sure they don't abuse Colorado sensibilities, and he has sometimes pulled ones that seemed to portend trouble. That means Goin viewed the gay jokes aired to date on the Lamont & Tonelli program as appropriate, and he sees the absence of protest as confirmation of his judgment. "Of all the complaints about those guys, none of them have been about bits that deal with gay subjects," he says.

Tom Gjerdum, program director at Alice/105.9 FM, has much the same story to tell. While Greg Thunder and Bo Reynolds, the morning-drive partners on his station, focus on relationships in a frequently ribald manner, their humor is smarter and less hurtful than is common in the medium: They are past winners of a Best of Denver nod, and deservingly so. Yet when their dialogue turns to gays, Reynolds tends to take on the same flaming-queen tone that's been used to needle homosexuals for as long as anyone can remember -- and during "Chick Quiz-Dick Quiz," a daily battle-of-the-sexes competition, he reads female-skewed questions in the same voice. He's sometimes identified during this segment as "Bosaphina," but he sounds much more gay than girlish.

Like his counterparts at KOA and the Fox, Gjerdum, who's been at Alice since March, stresses that "we don't try to offend anyone." But at the same time, he says material that apparently doesn't bother anyone in Denver could well raise hackles in other markets where he has worked. "I've been in Minneapolis, Indianapolis, Los Angeles and San Diego, and I'd venture to guess that if Greg and Bo were to do their current shtick there, it might not fly. There would probably be some people there who would say they were looking down on homosexuals, which totally isn't the case. So it's nice to do things on a morning show that people find entertaining and not get any complaint calls about them."

That could change: New York-based Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) is actively seeking volunteers to staff a new "monitor and mobilize" program in Denver whose goals include the tracking of radio stations.

"Radio is one of the toughest mediums for GLAAD to monitor," acknowledges Monica Taher, media manager for the collective's northwestern region, which encompasses Colorado. "It happens so fast, and sometimes when we call stations and say so-and-so heard this, they claim not to have a tape. So we're looking for people in Denver to help us monitor activities and help us respond when there's a problem."

Taher -- who encourages Denverites interested in keeping an eye and an ear on local media to e-mail her at taher@glaad.org -- says GLAAD isn't raising its profile in Denver, because directors see the town as a nexus of hate speech. The real motivator was its size and significance in the region: Seattle and Portland are getting "monitor and mobilize" programs of their own for the same reasons. But Taher says GLAAD is unsettled by the amount of casual stereotyping of gays that's taking place on radio these days and will do what's necessary to stop it.

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