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by Rex Wockner
Radio personality and writer Garrison Keillor, of “Prairie Home Companion” fame, has apologized to gays upset by the March 14 installment of his syndicated newspaper column, saying he was just teasing.
In the column, Keillor said: “Gay marriage will produce a whole new string of hyphenated relatives. In addition to the ex-stepson and ex-in-laws and your wife’s first husband’s second wife, there now will be Bruce and Kevin’s in-laws and Bruce’s ex, Mark, and Mark’s current partner, and I suppose we’ll get used to it.
“The country has come to accept stereotypical gay men — sardonic fellows with fussy hair who live in over-decorated apartments with a striped sofa and a small weird dog and who worship campy performers and go in for flamboyance now and then themselves. If they want to be accepted as couples and daddies, however, the flamboyance may have to be brought under control. Parents are supposed to stand in back and not wear chartreuse pants and black polka-dot shirts. That’s for the kids. It’s their show.”
Syndicated gay columnist Dan Savage and New York City activist Andy Humm, among others, took exception to Keillor’s piece.
Savage called “Keillor’s attack on gay parents” “offensive,” “damaging” and “misinformed.”
Humm called it “viciously homophobic,” and staged a one-man picket of a March 17 live broadcast of “Prairie Home Companion” in Manhattan.
“Keillor is so repelled by the idea of gay parents and same-sex marriage that he needs to employ trivializing stereotypes to put them down,” Humm said. “Bigotry like this is shameful and we hope the NPR audience will tell Keillor what they think of his prejudices.”
Keillor got wind of the discontent, and posted a defense and apology on his web site.
“The column was done tongue-in-cheek, always a risky thing, and was meant to be funny, another risky thing these days, and two sentences about gay people lit a fire in some readers and sent them racing to their computers to fire off some jagged e-mails,” Keillor said.
“I live in a small world — the world of entertainment, musicians, writers — in which gayness is as common as having brown eyes,” he explained. “Ever since I was in college, gay men and women have been friends, associates, heroes, adversaries, and in that small world, we talk openly and we kid each other and think nothing of it.
“But in the larger world, gayness is controversial. In almost every state, gay marriage would be voted down if put on a ballot. Gay men and women have been targeted by the right wing as a hot-button issue. And so gay people out in the larger world feel besieged to some degree.
“In the small world I live in, they feel accepted and cherished as individuals. … My column spoke as we would speak in my small world and it was read by people in the larger world and thus the misunderstanding. And for that, I am sorry. Gay people who set out to be parents can be just as good parents as anybody else, and they know that, and so do I.”
Was Dan Savage satisfied with the apology? “Sure. [But] does it mean the column he wrote wasn’t bigoted and offensive? No.”
“He claims the column was ‘misunderstood,’ and that it was meant to be satirical,” Savage said in an interview. “But satirical of what exactly? And is there another way to understand the column? [Keillor says] gay men — the swishy ones, at least — have been accepted … but if we’re going to be accepted as parents we need to give up our loud trousers and flashy shirts? Excuse me, but what?
“Also, his column pines … for the days when life was simpler — when people stayed married for life, and when kids were in the foreground, and, clearly, when they didn’t have to keep track of their gay relatives’ currents, exes, etcetera. He is pining for the days when, if you had a ‘confirmed bachelor’ in the family, he wasn’t so rude as to bring his ‘roommate’ around.
“The emotional violence that is/was the closet — and the old order, one that required gay people to commit to social and emotional death or risk losing everything — is nothing anyone should pine for,” Savage said. “And, yeah, I’m sure Keillor knows lots of homos. … That makes his column less excusable, not more.”
Andy Humm wasn’t placated by Keillor’s “disingenuous … semi-apology” either.
“I like apologies better when people recognize the damage they have done instead of throwing in all kinds of qualifiers like ‘I was just trying to be funny and you’re too dim to appreciate it,’ as he basically does,” Humm said in an interview.