From the Washington Blade

Stuck on a plane ride from an airline in bankruptcy, I had expected to see a lousy movie, and "The Longest Yard" didn’t disappoint. What did surprise was the dated, cheapshot homophobia that pervaded the film, starring Adam Sandler and Chris Rock. This was, after all, the 2005 remake, not the 1974 original.

   
It’s all swish and stereotypes for Tracy Moran (right) and company in ‘The Longest Yard.’

But no, there was Tracy Morgan, like Sandler and Rock a "Saturday Night Live" alum, leading a harem of swishy convicts who happily make themselves sexually available to the "real men" behind bars. These "ladies" — yes, that’s what they were called — were decked out in full make-up, girly do-rags, and even spangled cheerleader outfits. Together, they sashayed their way through the gay equivalent of black-face relief.

Sure, a movie audience ought to check their hyper-sensitivities at the door, especially for a low-brow comedy about a football team of abusive guards taking on their maligned prisoners. But this flick went so far over the line that not 15 minutes passed without some low blow about gay sex and effeminacy, always portraying gay men as women.

When Tracy Morgan seduced one of the "real men" prisoners, the previously butch object of her affections giddily applies lipstick. When one of the guard players was slipped estrogen to replace his steroids, he not only became sensitive and feminine, but developed homosexual tendencies as well.

Even Patrick Bristow, the openly gay actor from the groundbreaking "Ellen" sitcom, pitched in for some old-school caricatures before Sandler’s character winds up in jail, vamping about in an ascot and managing to be pitiful, offensive and not even funny all at the same time. No last-ditch effort to revive a sagging career so deserved to bomb.

It’s bad enough that the swishy stereotypes of "The Longest Yard" offer a depressing reminder of how far Hollywood hasn’t gone in portraying gay people fairly, especially in the action comedies that straight men flock to see. But these campy convicts eager to service their masculine cellmates play into a much more vicious, real-life reality.

This month in Wichita Falls, Texas, the same state where "The Longest Yard" takes place, a real gay inmate by the name of Roderick Johnson is in federal court, suing prison guards for doing nothing to stop an inmate gang from selling him as a sex slave, offering him up to be raped for as little as $3 to $7. Gang members nicknamed Johnson "Coco," and at times forced him to wear make-up, according to trial testimony.

Over and over for 18 months, Johnson filed paperwork begging to be placed in a special unit for openly gay prisoners and other vulnerable inmates. Prison officials, who admit being aware of the abuse, rebuffed those requests.

The guards’ real defense is — you guessed it — that slightly-built Johnson, who is openly gay, enjoyed the sexual interest of these multiple men. Where in the world would prison officials get such a crazy notion? It wouldn’t be from popular culture, would it? Movies like "The Longest Yard"?

That swishy, come-hither routine by Tracy Morgan doesn’t seem so funny now.

So how does Hollywood blow it so badly, trivializing a horribly violent situation for a few cheap laughs? Don’t expect much of an answer, or even any sympathy, from Paramount Pictures, the movie studio behind "The Longest Yard" remake. These are, after all, the same suits who launched "Dr. Laura" Schlessinger in a TV talk show.

What’s truly sad is that the politics surrounding the "Dr. Laura" controversy are getting their own remake here, too. When Paramount launched "Dr. Laura" in 2000, many gays were furious that a self-proclaimed doctor who had called gays biological mistakes would now have a nationwide TV audience.

But the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, ostensibly created for just this sort of outrage, was caught flat-footed. Joan Garry, the group’s executive director, had built her career with Viacom, Paramount’s parent company, through stints at MTV and Showtime. She was embarrassingly gun shy about taking on her old employer, preferring a strategy of private meetings and insider influence that accomplished nothing.

Things started happening only when grassroots activists launched StopDrLaura.com and started targeting Paramount and the show’s advertisers. Within a matter of weeks, "Dr. Laura" was banished to late night and ultimately off of television.

Apparently, Garry didn’t learn her lesson. "The Longest Yard" was in post-production, marketed and released all while Garry was winding up eight years at the helm of GLAAD. But Garry was apparently too busy penning tearful goodbye e-mails than to (finally) fight a public battle against her former employers.

But why would we expect Garry to take on Paramount, especially now that parent company Viacom has come out with Logo, the gay cable channel?

Why? Because it’s hypocritical for an entertainment giant like Viacom to make money off of gay sensibilities with Logo and then rush into theaters a big-time comedy like "The Longest Yard" that gets cheap laughs at the expense of the worst sort of tired, offensive stereotypes about gay men and prison.

Why? Because Roderick Johnson and others like him have enough to deal with just staying alive and safe, not to mention preserving some shred of human dignity, and don’t deserve portrayals that mock and even encourage their violent abuse in a Paramount-produced movie.

Just a few days before my flight featuring "The Longest Yard," my cable company finally added Logo. In the middle of a "gay history marathon" featuring "Cabaret" with Liza Minelli, a Logo news report featured a gay prison activist talking about Johnson’s case. The activist said that Johnson and others are treated as property, as sex slaves, because they are viewed as less than human, and because underneath all those caricatures is pure hate.

Someone at Logo needs to run that tape over to the suits at sister-company Paramount, and while they’re at it make a copy for the folks who’ve replaced Garry at GLAAD.

by Chris Crain