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Gay activist Wayne Besen discusses Leno 'gayest look' controversy with Bill O'Reilly

by PageOneQ

Fox News' Bill O'Reilly sat down with activist, public speaker and Truth Wins Out executive director Wayne Besen to discuss "politically correct speech," particularly in regards to a recent exchange between Tonight Show host Jay Leno and actor Ryan Phillippe.

"Can you show me your 'gayest look,'" Leno asked Phillippe on his March 19 broadcast. The two were discussing Phillippe's history-making 1992 role as a gay teen in the soap opera "One Life to Live," which he also recently discussed with Ellen DeGeneres.

"That is so something I don't want to do," protested Phillippe.

After ire from activists and the blogosphere, Leno has apologized.

"We understand that comedians are always trying to take it to the edge, and we shouldn't always be too critical," says Besen, "but I think there's a line that was crossed here.

First of all, he told [Phillippe] to give 'your gayest look.' I'm also Jewish. actor's first role was of a Jewish person and Jay Leno said 'give me your best look as a Jew -- look Jewish for us' -- I don't think anybody would be laughing."

Television is rife with gay jokes, Besen says, and it can especially negatively impact young people under pressure to change, up to the point of suicide.

"It's one thing to be funny," Besen continues, "but there's another thing to go over the line. I think we're people, not punchlines, and they have to remember this."

Leno's audience thought the "gayest look" request was funny, O'Reilly contends, then bringing up fey chracter stereotypes and drag shows as examples of "cheap laughs."

"And then people mock the way they behave--or mimic the way they behave," he continues. "Is that going over the line?"

"I think it's going over the line when the very act of just being a gay person is something that's seen to be ridiculed and scorned," Besen responds. "When just being gay is the punchline...I think that's where the line is crossed."

"These writers," Besen goes on, "had a long time on strike; they need to get new jokes or new jobs already. Enough!"

"It looks to me in America," says O'Reilly, "that you can't ever make fun of any minority group, ever, in any way, anymore in this country. I think that's where we are, really."

The entire interview, as broadcast on Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor on April 2, 2008, is available to view below.


Originally published on Thursday April 3, 2008.

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