Wendy Williams dishes about gays, same-sex marriage

by Seth Hemmelgarn

Bay Area Reporter

Tuesday January 5, 2010

Daytime talk show host Wendy Williams has a message to the LGBT community as it fights to win marriage rights: in order to reach African Americans, they need to hear from and see out black people. Otherwise there will continue to be large blocs of black voters opposed to granting marriage rights to same-sex couples, warned the brash and outspoken former radio disc jockey.

Until that happens laws like Proposition 8, the ban against same-sex marriage California voters passed in 2008, will not be defeated, predicted Williams.

"You need very visible, outspoken African American gays and lesbians, that will help convince some to support gay marriage," said Williams during an interview with the Bay Area Reporter this fall. "You need some of these closeted gay ministers, the black ones, to get out and say it. Let's all vote together and make this happen."

Williams, 45, has long had a devoted gay following throughout her broadcast career. She gained notoriety in the 1990s by talking about homosexuality among hip-hop performers on her New York City-based radio show. In 1997 the station Hot 97 FM fired her after she outed her female co-worker's relationship with rapper Q-Tip.

Yet she doesn't envision using her television show to tackle LGBT topics. She won't be shy, however, about bringing them up if it makes sense to do so with her guests.

"It is not an issues show. It is not a political show," said Williams. But when a celebrity such as Carson Kressley, formerly of the TV show Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, comes on as a guest, "the conversation may be more gay."

"The purpose of the show is not to solve the problems of the world. I want to make you happy for one hour," said Williams. "Laughter is the best medicine."

Williams received an early Christmas gift this year when her eponymously named gabfest was renewed in November by Fox stations in some of the country's largest media markets through 2012. Media-focused Broadcasting & Cable reported recently that Williams's show "is doing well among young female audiences that advertisers seek, increasing 43 percent among women 18-34, 38 percent among women 18-49, and 37 percent in women 25-54 compared to the show's first eight weeks on the air."

Williams launched her television program in the summer of 2008 as a trial run before launching nationwide this past July. The program, which airs at 3 p.m. weekdays on NBC 11 KNTV channel 3 in the Bay Area, has not been without controversy. Over the summer a New York City drag queen complained she was barred from the audience during one taping.

The producers said at first they denied the person entrance because they do not allow audience members to come decked out in costumes. The resulting blogosphere brouhaha led to the show issuing an apology. San Francisco resident Tony Haze told the Bay Area Reporter at the time that he had his doubts about Williams's sincerity when it comes to supporting the LGBT community.

"I am afraid this woman is using the gay community for her shtick but deep down she is not a friend of ours. I want people to be aware of it, keep an eye on what she is doing, and monitor what she is up to," said Haze.

In addition to the dress code kerfuffle, Haze also took offense when Williams denounced the Gossip Girl show plotline that had one of the main male characters, known to be a lothario with women, kiss a man in one episode.

"At first I thought she was fantastic. She is funny, kind of like a drag queen, and tacky. She embraces gay people on the show," said Haze. "Then this thing with the drag queen and the comment she didn't like men kissing on this show that she watches; for me it is two strikes now. We will see what happens."

Considering Williams - who clocks in at 6 feet 4 inches when she wear heels - could be mistaken for a drag queen herself, and her set is painted a mixture of loud pinks, a dress code policy for her show seems outlandish in and of itself.

Williams said she had no idea of the contretemps until after she wrapped that episode. She said she welcomes everyone to take part in her studio audience.

"We don't turn anyone away, especially the gays and blacks. They are the cornerstone of my entire operation. I have always had a large gay audience, including drag queens," she said. "And not just the high-brow gays."

Rob Dauber, the show's Emmy Award-winning executive producer, defended Williams, saying it was other staffers' fault in terms of what happened with the audience member.

"Look, I am gay and I am completely out and feel very fortunate to work for a company and host where it just doesn't matter. Three quarters of our staff are male and are gay," said Dauber. "Everybody on our staff is allowed to be who she or he is without any thought."

Dauber admitted that the show's producers "may have overreacted in this one instance" and insisted that the dress code policy was put in place because "we wanted to make sure people weren't coming in a performance outfit trying to draw attention to their performance persona."

He said the staff re-examined the policy and apologized afterward.

"We're a talk show; we love a good drag queen. Who doesn't? So does Wendy," said Dauber. "We don't want to discriminate against anybody."

The brouhaha seems to have done little to dent Williams's appeal to LGBT viewers, nor has she or her show attracted any more complaints about being anti-gay or anti-trans. Dauber said he hopes LGBT viewers will connect with Williams and see her as an ally.

"I think that the LGBT community is always drawn to somebody who speaks the truth and who also is a little bit of an underdog or had to fight their way to succeed," he said. "Also, our community always is very often drawn to people who look a little larger than life. I think Wendy fits all those bills."

Asked why she thinks LGBT people connect to her, Williams said it probably has to do with her ability to understand being an outsider. A "big, thick, meaty woman," Williams said she has never fit the mold when it comes to female beauty.

"We all come from a place of deep pain born out of being different from the rest," said Williams, who attended a nearly all-white high school in New Jersey and was ostracized by the other three black students. "They called me a white girl and said I acted white because I lived in a house and not an apartment. It was stupid, ignorant things. You can't stereotype people."

She said she is raising her son to appreciate people from all segments of society and that family no longer is limited to the traditional sense of the word.

"Family is what you make these days. I am supportive of that and my kid knows that," said Williams. "We are a very accepting family. As long as you are not hurting anybody and being respectful."

Talk show host Wendy Williams has a large gay following.

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