Between the Lines

Voices carry

Richard Burnett
I love the alternative weeklies so popular across Canada and the United States, and not just because I work for one. I love alt-weeklies because they have strong, diverse voices who express big-ass opinions that whup you upside the head, something readers aren’t getting from their daily newspapers or even, for that matter, most gay-bar rags. The granddaddy of all alt-weeklies, of course, is New York City’s Village Voice, though these days the only queer things going for it are gossip columnist extraordinaire Michael Musto and ab-fab writer Richard Goldstein, who recently penned the awesome Voice cover story “Queer on Death Row” (March 20) wherein Goldstein charges just being gay can seal a defendant’s case.

“[Convicted murderer] Calvin Burdine is not the only queer on death row [in Texas],” Goldstein writes. “In the past few years, five capital cases involving gay or lesbian defendants have raised charges that homophobia played a role in sentencing. But no one knows how many queers await execution in America. Though extensive data exist on the race, age, and gender of such inmates, there are few statistics about their sexuality. No one knows how often gayness is raised by prosecutors as a snide implication, an unfounded assertion, or a fact that may or may not be relevant to the case. But it comes up with such frequency and in such predictable ways that the allegations of antigay bias cannot be dismissed.”

In a story that no daily or gay glossy would dare touch, or allow a reporter to spend much time or money on, Goldstein rightly and refreshingly concludes, “Assume that all these defendants are guilty. Grant that their sexuality may have had some relevance to the case. The question, then, is not whether the subject should have come up but how it was used. Homosexuality was seen as a marker of perversion or pathology, the sign of a murderous bent. In these cases, the pretense of tolerance is ripped away, and one can see monsters from the homophobic id. But one can also recognize the biases that underlie ordinary life.”

Another really good story comes from the pages of another alt-weekly, this one from New Times Los Angeles (April 5), in a story titled “Second Coming: Ex-gangsta rapper Rodney Waltrip should be headed for hip-hop superstardom, but for some reason, almost nobody will go near him. Maybe it's because he’s suddenly, openly, gay.”

“See, there’s a difference between coming out and coming out, between telling the folks close to you that you're not what they thought you were and slapping those words onto the cover of a weekly newspaper in the nation’s second-largest media market,” journalist Dan Reines writes. “And when there's more to it, when you're accusing the industry that once began to embrace you, once touted you as the Next Big Thing, of suddenly, dismissively, slapping you away, and just when you've produced a minor miracle of an album, well, that'll make you nervous.

“Because Giovanni's Son, Waltrip’s debut full-length, has those who’ve heard it calling it a revelation, a landmark collection on par with anything released in hip-hop in recent memory. And right now, when people should be talking about him as the first gay rapper within reach of mainstream superstardom, only New York’s Matador -- primarily known as an indie-pop label, of all things -- is willing to go near him. Ask Waltrip, and he'll tell you it’s cowardice, pure and simple: ‘No one wants to hear nothing from a gay brother. It’s as simple as that.’”
Reines explains that “Eminem is only the latest in a long line of critically hailed rappers — including many of the genre's legends — who have at one time or another betrayed a hostile homophobia in their rhymes. Artists ranging from Public Enemy (“Man to man, I don’t know if they can/From what I know the parts don’t fit - ahh shit!”) to Ice Cube (“Little devil wanna fuck me out my pay/But horny little devil true niggaz ain’t gay”) to Notorious B.I.G. (“Money and blood don't mix/Like two dicks and no bitch”) have helped make hip-hop a musical bogeyman for much of gay America, the schoolyard bully with an especially savage spot in his heart for the effeminate kid in the corner.”

There is no happy ending to this story, but Waltrip is determined to get signed by a record company. So the real ending has yet to be written.

Over at the daily Ottawa Citizen, though, endings sometime seem to be predetermined. How else can you explain the March 13 installment of city columnist Dave Brown’s column, subtitled, “It’s OK to be straight.”

“So successful and pervasive has the gay message become that it could be suppressing another truth. It's OK to be straight,” Brown writes, later adding, “This is an opinion column, and what follows may conflict with other opinions in this newspaper. I sense a danger in the way the media at large have become so willing to spread the gay message. I fear the danger to the adolescent suffering through the confusion created by the hormonal kickstarting of new emotions and desires.”

Well, Dave, opinions are like assholes - everybody’s got one. And let me tell ya, honey, your asshole isn’t the only thing that’s full of shit.

After stating he believes “homosexuality can be an addiction, like alcoholism, that the afflicted can't or won't shake,” the former cop breathlessly writes, “Television is not giving a complete picture of the gay scene. It shows the straight community from trailer-trash to penthouse, but it seldom shows the same range in the gay community. Where are the leather freaks who'll kick your eyebrows off if you look at them in some wrong way?”
Kind of makes me wish the gay community HAD leather freaks who’d kick off reporters’ eyebrows if they wrote about any of us in the wrong way.

Finally, just days after the merged PlanetOut and Gay.Com media empire laid off 25 per cent of their employees (March 1), PlanetOut and The Advocate’s parent company — Liberation Publications, which also publishes Out magazine and owns Alyson Books — announced their merger plans were officially terminated.

So much for America's great big, gay media empire. Although Atlanta-based Window Media — which owns the gay publications The Southern Voice and The Houston Voice — recently bought The Washington Blade and The New York Blade. The purchase was expected to be completed by March 30.

Richard Burnett’s syndicated queer-issues columnThree Dollar Bill can be read locally in Hour magazine and The Ottawa X Press, as well as on the web at or at (click on the “scene” link and scroll down to TDB).