Last month a hit music radio station in Southern Ontario discovered that one of its recent contests was not much of a hit with some of its gay listeners.
The morning show on HTZ FM97.7 in St Catharines held a contest called Gay Or Not Gay? on Aug 16. The contest had nothing to do with queers. Instead, it was a take on the schoolyard adage that something that’s not cool is gay, as in, “That’s so gay.”
The HTZ host threw out a pop-culture event and listeners called in with their opinion on whether it’s “gay” or “not gay.”
One example from the contest was Tommy Lee appearing on prime-time television. A caller deemed it to be gay, while the host disagreed, saying it was totally cool.
The station received between 50 and 100 complaints, says program director Bruce Gilbert. Many of the complaints were instigated by local activist Martha Hunt, who says she was “so livid” while listening to the contest on her way to her cottage that “I was practically driving off the road.
“I was so angry I turned the radio station off, I took a breath and turned the station back on,” Hunt says.
She says she turned her car around and tried contacting the station manager, both by phone and in person. Her attempts failed so she began an e-mail campaign.
Hunt, a member of OUT-niagara, an umbrella organization of queer groups in the Niagara region, e-mailed the board members and urged them to alert others to the contest and to complain to the radio station. She says her partner also contacted the Canadian Radio-television And Communications Commission (CRTC) to complain.
Hunt, a high school teacher, says she often hears her students use the word “gay” to refer to something lame, but she expected educated professionals working at a radio station to be more sensitive.
(Ironically, the usage of the word lame to describe something that is uncool has a similarly derogatory origin but has been accepted into proper English. Nelson’s Canadian Dictionary lists its first meaning to be, “Disabled so that movement, especially walking, is difficult or impossible,” while the third meaning listed is, “Weak and ineffectual; unsatisfactory.”)
“They were clueless that this was offensive,” Hunt says about the reaction she’s received.
“I don’t want to apologize for it. I’d rather plead ignorance,” says Gilbert, the program director. “It was stupid. It was never meant to be offensive.”
He says holding the contest was a last-minute decision. The station had prizes to give away so the host decided to play Gay Or Not Gay?, a game he’s played socially a few times over the past decade.
After receiving complaints, Gilbert says he listened to a tape of the broadcast and found that, other than the name, there was nothing malicious about the contest.
He says he talked to the host about the complaints, and the host was “legitimately surprised.”
Gilbert says the host told him he had consulted a couple of queers about the nature of the contest in the past, and they didn’t find it offensive.
“It was an unfortunate error in judgment that was dealt with immediately,” Gilbert says.
“To their credit,” Hunt says, “they cancelled the game right away and made an on-air apology.”