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TNT Tosses Gay-Bashing Spectacle Out of the Ring

By Lisa de Moraes
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 12, 1999; Page C7

   


Lenny is dead.

The pigtailed, body-glitter-adorned, ultra-fey wrestler on Ted Turner's "World Championship Wrestling" survived a scorpion death lock from Sting, a jackhammer from Goldberg and a big boot to the face by Hulk "Call Me Hollywood" Hogan.

So what did him in? A tersely worded letter from the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation.

"The character of Lenny is presented with the intention to incite the crowd to the most base homophobic behavior," GLAAD entertainment media director Scott Seomin said in the angry letter to Turner Network Television President Brad Siegel.

In response, "WCW has discontinued the Lenny and Lodi characters from any future programming," TNT said yesterday. Lodi was presented as Lenny's gay wrestling partner.

And that's all the talking they were doing for the record when contacted by The TV Column.

For those who aren't WCW aficionados, Lenny was introduced about six months ago about six months after gay college student Matthew Shepard was bludgeoned to death in Wyoming.

When Lenny entered the arena, the live audience would chant anti-gay slurs that Post editors deemed unsuitable for print. And when he got the stuffing beat out of him by an opponent, the crowd roared.

"The crowd is incited to very base homophobic behavior that's shocking but is unfortunately a reality in 1999, and the audience's reaction gives permission to viewers to do harm to gay people in a very literal way it's appalling," Seomin told The TV Column yesterday.

Seomin sent WCW President Eric Bischoff a copy of the letter to Siegel. A nice touch since, according to more than one source close to the situation, the complaint from GLAAD was what finally caused Turner bigwigs to remove Bischoff as president of the wrestling organization, whose staged battles appear on TNT and superstation TBS. He still has a job at WCW but will have no creative control over the product, insiders say. He's been replaced by Bill Busch, whose title is executive VP.

After Seomin first wrote to the network in early September, he said, a Turner Entertainment executive immediately called him, vowing that Lenny was no more and that a standards and practices executive had been hired solely to keep an eye on WCW.

But two weeks later, Lenny sashayed into the arena again. And GLAAD fired off another letter, this time to Terri Tingle, head of standards and practices at Turner.

"How many gay bashings and gay murders have to be committed in this country for you to remove such hurtful portrayals from your broadcasts?" Seomin wrote.

He acknowledged to The TV Column that there is an irony to the situation, given that one of GLAAD's stated goals is to see more gay characters in all forms of media.

"GLAAD would love to see a gay wrestler," he said. "It would be great if WCW introduced a wrestler for a given amount of time, a dozen appearances or so, and then revealed that he was gay."

Don't expect that any time soon on WCW, according to a Turner exec who asked not to be named. He claims that the folks at Turner were alarmed by the crowd reaction to Lenny and that in this climate, it's too risky to do gay characters though maybe not down the road.

"Nobody here is out to do any gay-bashing," he said.

   

© 1999 The Washington Post Company

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