Talk radio is not known for being especially culturally sensitive. Last week, I participated in a radio show called "Diverse LA" broadcast on KTLK AM 1150 talk radio in Los Angeles. The show focused on issues of importance to the LGBTQ community [mp3] and broadly addressed marriage, bullying and suicide. Today, I want reflect on that experience and discuss both the importance of discussing our issues on AM radio, known for conservative talk shows, and of creating radio and podcasts from diverse points of view.
(Pictured: "Diverse LA" newsroom crew and participants focusing on the LGBT Community on March 22, 2012. From left, David McFarland, Morris O'Kelly (Mo Kelly), Michelle Marzullo, Jorge Valencia, Jacob Rostovsky, Armando Hernandez, Mikael Miller and Oscar Ramirez, Mo's co-host. Not pictured is Jenny Pizer.)
The show featured myself as well as two other Point Foundation Scholars, Mikael Miller and Jacob Rostovsky, and Jorge Valencia, executive director of the Point Foundation, which is the nation's largest scholarship and mentoring organization for LGBTQ and ally students of merit. Also participating were Jennifer C. Pizer, Legal Director and Arnold D. Kassoy Senior Scholar of Law at the UCLA's Williams Institute and David McFarland, interim executive director of the Trevor Project, which is the nation's leading organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning youth.
"Diverse LA" is a three week series hosted by Mo Kelly, "longtime radio producer and political commentator. O'Kelly reports, 'This is about Los Angeles hearing voices and viewpoints less often heard while also addressing communities historically underserved. 'Diverse LA' will highlight new personalities and newsmakers for the KTLK audience, but more importantly provide a platform for inclusive, substantive dialogue in the public square'" reports the blog Urban Insite. As his website reflects, the purpose of Mr. O'Kelly's discussions are, "to inform, infuse and incite meaningful discourse...as well as entertain." His "inimitable" personality fosters open, honest communication with light-hearted sparring through tough issues.
In short, Mo Kelly is the antidote for the woes that have recently beset Clear Channel.
Embattled Clear Channel Media and Entertainment offers "Diverse LA" in the face of intense criticism over two recent discriminatory incidents by their radio personalities.
Rush Limbaugh's derogatory comments regarding Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke's congressional testimony in support of contraceptive use happened on his 3/2/2012 radio show. Mr. Limbaugh called Ms. Fluke "a slut" and "a prostitute" and suggested that her support of contraceptive use means that she should essentially allow him and others to watch her having sex by posting videos online. Though advertisers have withdrawn and Mr. Limbaugh has apologized, Clear Channel CEO Bob Pittman remains committed to his show.
Preceding Limbaugh's sexist comments by a few weeks, another popular Clear Channel hit "The John and Ken Show" attracted controversy over their racist disparagement of Whitney Houston as a "crack ho" a few days after her death. Though the duo was suspended, the discriminatory comments have drawn protests at Clear Channel offices in Burbank.
City Council members in Los Angeles have responded with the passage of a resolution that takes aim at the use of discriminatory speech on radio airwaves in the metropolis. The resolution underlines the fundamental problem of only allowing a narrow perspective to dominate the airwaves, as the Multi-American blog hosted by Southern California Public Radio reports, "the diversity discussion among L.A. city leaders is an interesting one, echoing what professional minority journalists' organizations have long held to: That a lack of diversity in the newsroom can lead to a lack of cultural sensitivity in the content produced, not only in overt ways but in subtle ones, most often inadvertently."
Enter Mo Kelly's "Diverse LA" show which is only slated for three weeks but we would hope that given the intense controversy, Clear Channel will see the benefit of extending the show indefinitely. The show I participated was refreshing as it made a concerted attempt to include gay, lesbian and transgender voices in the broadcast.
As Kelly repeated on air, "When we started Diverse LA eight shows ago, I promised there would be some uncomfortable moments, we'd have some serious discussions and we would push the boundaries of your comfort. This is going to be one of those days. And I encourage everyone out there listening, you're not going to have another program like this on radio, so participate in this special discussion."
So, why did I choose to participate in this discussion? I have always enjoyed discussing LGBTQ issues with conservative audiences, which are found on Clear Channel stations. As an avid radio and podcast listener, I know that audio as a medium without distracting, flashy pictures or news crawls is the most intimate form of mass communication. As Mo was advising me during my first few nervous moments on the show, "This is a conversation Michelle, between you and me."
Though I can anticipate critiques of such a show as "pinkwashing" -- or using LGBTQ issues and people to cover discrimination of other types -- I would counter that doing a show in a format that reaches conservative audiences is among the most important kinds of work LGBTQ advocates can engage.
I have always held and continue to hold that difficult conversations happening face-to-face, or as a clear second voice-to-voice, are where the most progress is realized on LGBTQ issues. The "Diverse LA" show was really a dream to participate in, as topics of importance to LGBTQ communities were discussed over a three hour period with the diverse newsroom crew of Oscar Ramirez and Armando Hernandez led by Mo Kelly creating a genuine, comfortable conversation that was wide-ranging but not shallow - it pushed us all to reach deep into ourselves, to communicate about the topics at hand with an honesty and openness that in the final analysis is the only way towards greater understanding among all of our communities--in Los Angeles and, of course, nationwide.
I hope you will listen and enjoy [mp3].