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Charlotte's Very Own Gay Soap Opera

Southern Disclosure, a homegrown answer to All My Children, gets ready to crank up again

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A handsome young investment banker sits uncomfortably as he receives a blustering pep talk from his overbearing boss. "All you have to do is keep your nose clean, and that corner office is yours. You know what I'm talking about? Whitman, are you listening to me?"

Unremarked by the boss, the young exec's gray flannel slacks metamorphose into a frilly pink tutu, showing his boxer briefs and bare legs.

"That nickname they call you," the boss continues, "Steele? Lose it! You sound like an XFL football player. I'm sure it served you well with the ladies, but you're not a kid anymore." The boss pauses and jabs his pipe in Steele's face. "Now, get out there and make me some money!"

Steele nods. They clasp hands in a manly fashion.

As they shake hands, the boss turns into a policeman in dark shades. He roughly shoves the tutu'd Steele and handcuffs him as Steele freezes in fear.

A phone begins to ring. Steele wakes and picks it up.

Mitchell "Steele" Whitman, a closeted gay corporate exec and one of the characters in Charlotte's first gay soap opera, Southern Disclosure, has just had a very strange dream.

Spam consumption and banking aren't the only areas where Charlotte outdoes the rest of the US -- it seems the Queen City also leads the nation in gay soap operas. Our city has football, baseball, basketball and hockey teams, the headquarters of several banking empires, and a couple of outstanding annual literary festivals. Of course, we also harbor the kind of people who tried to stop a production of Angels In America because of the play's homosexual content. Charlotte seems to specialize in this sort of Old South/New South paradox, and here's another one: the city that took until 2001 to organize its first large-scale, city-centered "Pride" event is home to what is, as far as we can tell, America's first televised gay soap. You might expect a gay soap in a city like LA, where gay Angelenos can take lesbian yoga classes, go to gay traffic school, and choose from a variety of gay-centered places of worship. But Charlotte? Apparently, the city's gay community has enough clout, sass, and solidarity to create a homegrown gay-affirmative soap opera, premiere it at the Mint Museum, air it on local access cable, and show it in gay bars around town. New Orleans may have our Hornets, but do they have their own gay soap? I don't think so.

Southern Disclosure, Charlotte's homegrown answer to All My Children, is the brainchild of OutMedia, a privately funded media outreach branch of OutCharlotte, a nonprofit dedicated to giving "positive voice and visibility" to Charlotte's LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) community. OutCharlotte sponsors gay-themed arts, entertainment, and learning opportunities like the yearly OutCharlotte cultural festival in October, the annual Gay & Lesbian Film Series, and an annual garden tour formerly called Better Homos and Gardens (really), and now known as Out In the Garden.

In the late 90s, longtime OutCharlotte member/local activist Pam Pompey helped convince the organization to purchase video equipment that would let OutMedia produce a weekly cable-access news show aimed at an LGBT audience. The show, OutMedia Presents: Tales of the Queen City, focused on LGBT issues like gay marriage, gay parenting, gay weddings, and the like. But the show was hobbled by limited resources and staffed solely by volunteers and, slowly, interest in continuing it began to fizzle.

Facing the show's decline, Pompey and OutMedia appealed to Charlotte's gay community, asking what they wanted OutMedia to do with the expensive video equipment and the slot on local cable. In August 2000, a dozen or so people responded to notices in local papers and gathered to help OutMedia decide its next step.

They were unhappy with the way the LGBT community is represented on television. Relationships were too sexualized. Shows were produced on the West Coast or in New York, and distinctly Southern issues were thin on the ground. The small committee decided to discard the news format and create something more fun, something that would reveal the unique identity of Southern gays. Interest grew, and at a workshop a couple of months later, Southern Disclosure was born.

The group decided to create a show that would address race, class, economics, and being gay as uniquely played out in the Bible Belt. Mainstream TV showed "male couples having sex in clubs and female couples having babies," says Pompey, "and that was it." Tired of stereotypical depictions of gay life, the group wanted OutMedia's next project to offer alternatives to enduring TV stereotypes (the nutty gay friend, the flaming hairdresser, the hustler, the drag queen, etc.).

"I think [TV] skews things," says Southern Disclosure's current producer, OutMedia's David Lari. "It certainly doesn't represent the everyday, typical gay person. It doesn't do a good job of showing the diversity of gay and lesbian people. Queer As Folk [a Showtime series focusing mostly on white, gay party boys in Pittsburgh] focuses on a very narrow segment of the gay community, and not a very flattering one at that. We wanted to show a mixture, to show diversity."

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