Logo's 'The A-List': A Symbol of Gay Apartheid?

The same-sex reality-TV show is set in New York but has no black lead characters. Not unusual in a gay world that is routinely segregated by race.

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Like many American gay men, I've got a little secret -- and it's called The A-List New York. Currently showing on Viacom's LGBT-focused network, Logo, this same-sex send-up of Bravo's hit Real Housewives franchise charts the high-drama antics of six gay New Yorkers working in fashion, media and modeling.

The A-Listers, like the real Real Housewives, engage in heavy doses of self-indulgence and -aggrandizement -- brought to life against a backdrop of bars, boutiques and fitness facilities. Brazenly touted by Logo as New York's "gay elite," this crew of homo hot messes has become the must-see TV series that everyone loves to hate.

The reasons to revile The A-List -- whose final "reunion" episode airs on Monday -- are as understandable as they are enjoyable. At this moment of crucial LGBT activism, the show's half-dozen leads indulge in some of the sorriest gay-male stereotyping ever witnessed on the small screen.

These men are venal and vain; bullying and bitchy; uncouth, uncultured and almost unanimously unsympathetic. Perhaps worst of all, they're not even particularly nice looking! That Logo would even green-light such a damaging display suggests that entertainment Armageddon may well be upon us. Or at least it will be next season, when the series expands to include Los Angeles and Dallas incarnations.

Although The A-List has received scant "mainstream" media attention, critics from major outlets such as the Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post have properly skewered its political incorrectness. But beyond the obvious clichés and caricatures, The A-List's greatest offense is its unfathomable lack of diversity. Indeed, despite taking place in a city that's 55 percent nonwhite, The A-List has few leading characters of color, and no African Americans. Of the six main protagonists, just two -- Brazilian model Rodiney Santiago and Canadian photographer Mike Ruiz -- could possibly count as ethnic minorities.

At a time when LGBT people are fighting to end "Don't ask, don't tell" and quell a quasi epidemic of teen suicides, many might ask why whitewashing on trash TV should even matter. The problem is that it's not only D-list programs like The A-List that render invisible black members of the LGBT community.

Of the 23 regular LGBT characters on shows in the 2010-2011 prime-time season, not one is African American, according to GLAAD (the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation), the leading LGBT media-watchdog group. As GLAAD President Jarrett Barrios puts it, "Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender African-American people remain largely invisible in the media today."

With issues such as photo shoots, skinny-dipping and personal training propelling The A-List's narrative, the show is clearly in a far lower league than an Emmy nominee like In the Life. But the fundamental question remains the same: How do black-free shows arrive on TV in 2010 from networks long versed in the language of diversity and inclusion?

In the Life Executive Director Michelle Kristel blames her program's omission on tight budgets and even tighter production schedules. Interviews with black LGBT leaders were sought "but did not work with the realities of our shoot time," Kristel says. "But in no way is this acceptable," she concedes. "We clearly must try harder in the future."

Fair enough -- particularly from a program with a demonstrated record of multiracial representation. Far less forthcoming, however, was Logo, which, despite repeated requests, refused to be interviewed for this story. Instead it submitted a standard PR-department statement and referred us to True Entertainment -- the company that produces The A-List -- but True never responded to our e-mails or voice messages, either.

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