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A Chicago radio station that invited R&B and pop singer Jody Watley into the studio for a live interview would not allow the singer to talk about her upcoming performance at the Gay Games. Watley arrived at Chicago’s V103 radio station to do an interview not long before she was scheduled to perform at the July 15 Gay Games Opening Ceremony in Soldier Field. But before she went on the air, she was told by the interviewer that she could not discuss anything about the Gay Games. She could only talk about her "in-store" appearance at a local Virgin Record Store, they told her.

In a conversation backstage at Soldier Field and again in an interview last Friday, Watley reflected on the incident. “I was surprised but I wasn’t really surprised," she told me. The disc jockey who gave her the instructions is a friend of Watley’s family, she said, and he told her that the station manager ordered him to impose the restriction. Watley said she complied with the gag order and only talked about the music store appearance instead of her performance at the much larger venue of Soldier Field. But the experience may have left a sour taste in her mouth.

From Chicago to Superstar

A native of Chicago, Watley has been involved in the music business since she was a teenager, but she has come a long way from her early days in the windy city. She’s a Grammy Award-winning artist who has sold more than 20 million albums and singles worldwide. And she’s recorded hit singles like "Looking For A New Love," "Don’t You Want Me" and "Friends," that have made her legendary in the industry.

Despite her success, Watley was clearly excited to be a part of the performance at the Gay Games, and she was visibly moved by the experience during a rehearsal performance captured on video. Tens of thousands of tickets had been sold for the Opening Ceremony, and her performance at the Gay Games was already widely publicized in the media. So why would a radio station want her to avoid talking about such a major performance?

Homophobia At Black Radio Stations

"I had been to another station the day before — a pop station — and that’s all we talked about," she said. But V103 is an urban contemporary station catering largely to the African American community. Perhaps that explains the differing responses at the radio stations. "I think that [decision to censor the discussion] did surprise me because [the Gay Games advertisement] was all over the city. It wasn’t like it was a secret or something to be ashamed of. The city seemed to embrace the fact that the games were there."

Sadly, this is not the first time someone has tried to censor Watley’s pro-gay message. When she wrote the song "Affection" back in 1996, that song also drew some criticism for a line in the lyrics that said "it doesn’t matter if you’re straight or gay."

"Over the years it has been my experience – a unique one – because I obviously have [walked] parallel paths. One is with R&B and the other is with [pop]. And it’s always been interesting to me the differences between the two. Going back to when I did "Red, Hot and Blue" [an AIDS benefit compilation album], on the black side I would be apprehensive to talk about AIDS and HIV. On the pop side, it’s like tell us more."

Watley says she finds the attitude "disappointing." "It just sort of reaffirms a narrow mindedness and a close mindedness that I think is very unfortunate," she said in the interview.

Watley Embraces Her Gay Fans

Watley has worked with a number of leading gays and lesbians in the entertainment industry, and she has collaborated with openly gay African American film makers Deondray Gossett and Quincy LeNear ("The DL Chronicles"), who directed her in a recent music video remake of "Borderline."

When asked what led her to embrace her gay fans, she said "It’s just who I am." She traces her history back to when she was a child and didn’t really know the meaning of the word gay. "My mom had gay friends when I was a kid. I didn’t know what [the word] was but they were people." Watley’s father was a minister, but she remembers him as being supportive as well. "I don’t remember labels being put on people," she said.

Watley also spoke up about the recent incident in which a concert sponsored by LIFEbeat, an AIDS organization, was scheduled to include two anti-gay recording artists, Beenie Man and TOK. Without mentioning the artists by name, she discussed the life influences that encourage people to hate. "I think when people go out of their way to spread hatred, it’s probably a deeper issue going on there, some insecurities that they should look at. Because clearly if it has nothing to do with you."

Watley noted the irony that life-affirming gay-friendly music is sometimes banned from the airwaves but anti-gay music is embraced. "It’s interesting that radio will play a song that can spew hate but I can write a song back in 1996 [that doesn’t get played]…and it’s harder to get a song like that played even today than a song that promotes hatred."

Despite the V103 incident, Watley says she is not discouraged by the homophobia. "Everybody needs to feel love," she said. "Being an artist that has always acknowledged my gay fan base," ("A lot of artists won’t even acknowledge it," she said), "the best I can do as I continue on my journey is to continue to, from my point of view, to embrace all people," she said.