Chaz Bono’s ’Dancing’ Turn Assailed
Anti-gay groups are already assailing Chaz Bono’s inclusion on the upcoming season of "Dancing With the Stars."
Bono’s inclusion in the reality program’s 13th season was announced on Aug. 29. Foes of GLBT equality were quick to attack the decision. The simple inclusion of Bono was seen by some as a political statement, and vilification followed.
"OneMillionMoms.com, which says its goal is to ’stop the exploitation of our children, especially by the entertainment media,’ says "Dancing with the Stars" has ’gone too far’ by casting Bono and the openly gay Carson Kressley," ABC News reported on Sept. 1. "The organization is asking people who visit the site to email ABC and ’let them know that we will not tolerate’ lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues ’being forced into our homes.’ "
OneMillionMoms.com also announced a faith-based boycott of the program, declaring Bono’s presence on the small screen "completely unacceptable and Christians should not watch the show, no excuses!"
"We will not be able to watch the show with Chaz on there," the group’s leader, Monica Cole, said during an appearance on the Aug. 31 episode of "Inside Edition."
"This is going to be very confusing for children, and should not be included in their cast," added Cole, according to a Sept. 2 ABC News.
Howard Bragman, Bono’s publicist, noted on a Sept. 2 "Good Morning America" appearance that OneMillionMoms.com is affiliated with the American Family Association, which Bragman said is widely viewed as a hate group.
Indeed, the Southern Poverty Law Center, a watchdog group that tracks extremist organizations, added the AFA to its list of hate groups last year due to the AFA’s promotion of what the SPLC said was untrue and damaging claims about GLBTs.
OneMillionMoms.com has sent out "action alerts" targeting other celebrities. In 2009, the group warned its followers about Miley Cyrus after the young singer tweeted her support for marriage rights for gay and lesbian families.
Bragman said that Bono had no plans to drop out of the program in the face of vociferous criticism from anti-gay groups.
"No way he’s going to back down," the publicist stated. "This has really reinforced his decision to be on the show."
Those who feared that the program might no longer be "safe" for their children need not worry, Bragman said.
"Watching Chaz Bono dance is not going to make your kid transgender," Bragman told "Good Morning America" host George Stephanopoulos. "But what it can do is possibly save your kid’s life because young transgender kids, kids with gender identity issues, have a huge suicide rate and if they see one positive influence, one positive role model, this can save lives and that’s why Chaz is here."
"It’s made me realize I’m really glad I’m doing this, because America really needs to see this," Bono said. He has been partnered with Lacey Schwimmer for the show’s dance performances.
The assumption of a sinister "agenda" being the reason for Bono’s inclusion extended to other anti-gay groups as well.
"This is the latest example of the networks trying to push a sexual agenda on American families," declared the Culture and Media Institute’s Dan Gainor, the Associated Press reported on Sept. 2.
In the furor, right-wing groups overlooked the fact that CNN host and true crime guru Nancy Grace is also scheduled to appear in the show’s new season. For her part, Grace said that she had no problem with Bono, and for that matter, "unless it’s got crime tape around it," she was not concerned with such issues.
Chaz Bono, 42, was born Chastity Bono to pop icons Sonny and Cher, and transitioned to male in 2010. Following his transition, Bono wrote a memoir, "Becoming Chaz," on being transgender and deciding to transition. Bono also worked for the Human Rights Campaign as a spokesperson, and for The Advocate as a contributor. Bono also worked for GLAAD as that group’s Entertainment Media Director.
The program’s producers have not backed away from their selection, which also includes openly gay celebrity Carson Kressley of "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" fame.
"I’ve been accused of having a right-wing agenda when I had Bristol Palin on the show, and we’ve been accused all kinds of agendas in the past and I genuinely don’t think we have one," said executive producer Conrad Green, ABC News reported.
"I think we’ve had three gay or transgender contestants out of about 120 on the show, so what we’re really doing is reflecting some of the makeup of this vast array of people that make up American society," Green noted, the AP article said. As for questions regarding the show’s suitability for family viewing, Green dismissed rhetoric that attempted to characterize the mere presence of Bono as an attack on anyone’s values.
"We’re not going to be dwelling on Chaz’s sexuality any more than we dwell on anyone’s sexuality on the show," Green pointed out. "We’re not going to be going into things that are going to make it difficult for you to watch with your children at all."
Superstar mom Cher was equally quick to defend Chaz, sending out a tweet that went after those who had "viciously attacked" her son.
"[B]et VAST MAJORITY of People will LOVE CHAZ on DWTS !" Cher sent out.
If Bono’s inclusion poses any sort of threat, it’s to the myths about transgender people, suggested Sharda Sekaran of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD).
"This community faces a lot of misunderstanding, fear and hatred, and all too often, violence," Sekaran told the press. "But these are people just like anybody else, who are part of everyday things as normal as entertaining audiences on a dancing show.
"Even with the negative reaction, it gives people exposure and access to the story of a real-life transgender person," added Sekaran.
But the exchange of volleys in the culture war over GLBT visibility and full participation in American institutions may scarcely register on the show’s audience. For those who are interested in "Dancing With the Stars" as a television offering, rather than a new front in the battle of social questions, the proof is in the entertainment value.
"Reality TV producers love pushing our buttons," the New York Reality TV School’s Robert Galinsky told MSNBC. "This is a great button to push." But only if viewers are clued in to begin with. One message board contributor wondered, "Why do you need to explain anything to your children if they never even knew Chaz used to be female?"
"As it turns out, Bono is not the first transgender person to appear on a reality TV show -- and is not even the only one on a reality show this season," MSNBC noted in a Sept. 1 posting.
"Isis King appeared on The CW’s ’America’s Next Top Model’ in 2008, and is slated to appear in the upcoming cycle of ’ANTM’s’ all-stars edition. ’Top Model’s’ inclusiveness, along with having Kressley and Bono on ’DWTS,’ makes this a banner season for organizations such as the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation."
GLAAD’s director of communications, Rich Ferrarro, addressed the controversy in remarks made to MSNBC.
"It underlines the fact that the majority of Americans are moving toward acceptance of gay and transgender people," Ferraro said. "Americans are expecting to see the diversity of our country represented on TV."
"Dancing With the Stars" senior producer Deena Katz told MSNBC, "I get that (Chaz is) transgender and we’ve never done this before. He knows this is tough, and there are people who are afraid, but we can show there’s nothing to be afraid of."
The new season of "Dancing With the Stars" premieres Sept. 19 on ABC.
Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor, writing about film, theater, food and drink, and travel, as well as contributing a column. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.