“I am not tragically colored. And I am not tragically gay.” So says Clay Cane, channeling the words of legendary author Zora Neale Hurston. “When you are black and gay there is a particular duality that you live in. In my case, that double consciousness has allowed me to be as open and cosmopolitan as possible.”
Wise words from a relatively young man, and someone you are certain to be hearing a great deal more from. Cane is the new host of New York radio’s WWRL 1600AM show, Clay Cane Live. WWRL, a progressive talk radio station with well-renowned hosts like MSNBC’s Ed Shultz and Rev. Al Sharpton, has traditionally appealed to an African-American audience.
Last month they announced a new line-up of hosts to comprise their Equality Pride Radio which aims to provide programming for the greater LGBT community in New York City.
Surprisingly, this is the first of its kind in what is arguably the world’s most famous and progressive metropolitan. In spite of the fact that gays and lesbians were afforded the right to marry in New York state earlier this year, and television programs nationally often reflect gay life of all colors and hues in NYC, their presence on the airwaves has been lacking at best, and nonexistent at worse.
Cane is the sole African-American host of the new Equality Pride line-up, and he has chosen to represent his inherent dualities with indiscriminate pride.
Clay, a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Rutgers University, has spent the past decade honing his skills as a journalist, writer and speaker. The 34-year old is currently Entertainment Editor for BET.com and is a regular contributor to BET, TV One, theGrio and the Washington Post online magazine, theRoot.
Cane has interviewed a number of African-American icons, from Beyoncé Knowles and Janet Jackson to Denzel Washington, Nicki Minaj and 50 Cent. He has also written for mainstream gay publications, Instinct magazine and The Advocate.
Though his resume is impressive and his drive and achievement speak for itself, this young man has only just begun. At a time of great social progress in the area of gay and human rights, Clay represents a face of black America often left to the sidelines or shrouded in the shadows. Gay life in the black community isn’t always a story of struggle and religious disenchantment but it is also wonderfully progressive. African-American gays and lesbians are achieving unprecedented success in life and love, representing our highest ideals: family, community and empowerment.
Clay Cane Live, debuting this week, will air every Thursday at 11pm EST on WWRL 1600AM, and stream worldwide on wwrl1600.com. Clay has chosen a relaxed and open approach, which is sure to appeal to a straight, gay and mainstream audience. His first guest was Simone Battle, X Factor contestant and singer of the LGBT-themed pop song “He Likes Boys”.
In the coming weeks Clay will interview the celebrated Jennifer Holliday, and Lalah Hathaway, daughter of Donny Hathaway and often coined the first daughter of Soul. The conversation will sway from music to pop culture, and social issues in African-American life.
I spoke with Clay Cane to learn more about his latest venture at Equality Pride Radio. He delightfully introduced me to his world: one in which being gay, being black and being a man are never at odds and always looking for a new story to tell.
theGrio: Your new radio program is impressive, largely because it is forging new ground. Given that WWRL has traditionally appealed to an older, African-American audience, how do you expect to bring LGBT issues to the forefront and reach across demographics?
Clay Cane: Hopefully, I can convey a sentiment of non-judgement while transcending all labels. My plan to do that? Being prepared, consistent and, quite simply, just being my authentic self. If I were trying to be anything or anyone else, my career would’ve stalled years ago.
When I quote Zora Neale Hurston’s “I am not tragically colored” it reflects how I feel about being both black and gay. I love being all of who I am. I see it all as a blessing. And in my career I have chosen to never lie and to never hide. With that in mind, I do my best to approach everything and everyone with a non-judgmental attitude.
When I interview someone — whether it is a celebrity, politician or even Jazmine Manolo-Blahnik, a transsexual who was once a prostitute, but eventually earned a Master’s degree from Fordham University — I do my best to listen with no judgement because that is how you get to someone’s heart. As you plan programming for an African-American gay and lesbian audience, will you have a particular angle? What will be the focus of your interviews and stories?
Overall, I am a hybrid of politics and pop culture. I can discuss Kim Kardashian and Herman Cain in the same conversation (both are equally foolish!) and engage others. I aspire to be a James Baldwin with a pop culture twist!
In your opinion what are the most important issues confronting gays and lesbians nationally? And in the African-American community in particular?
I believe for the LGBT and African-American communities the most important issue is equality — whether it is economically, health care, or civil rights. Sometimes there is a disconnect between the gay community and blacks. Some African-Americans think the gay community are all white men. Some gays think that all black people are homophobic. Then there is this ridiculous argument of who “suffers” more: which essentially amounts to”oppression Olympics”. I wish we wouldn’t fall for that.
Your first three guests are strong black women in the music industry. Is that coincidental, or do you think black woman have served a special place in gay American life and the social lexicon in particular?
I didn’t think about them being black women when I booked them for the show. But I did think about them being supportive of the gay community. Broadway icon Jennifer Holliday has been supportive of LGBT rights from the start of her career. Nowadays everyone wants a gay following.
When I interviewed Chaka Khan, Patti LaBelle and so many others, they talked about the loyalty of their gay fans. Chaka stressed it has been her most solid fanbase. The gay community will support you when there is no hit single, no record label, and your movies are bombing at the box office. Scandal-after-scandal, when you start to age, and even when you can’t hit the same notes.
Using this new radio platform, how do you hope to inspire and inform?
I can only hope that by being myself, no matter who the listeners are, they will be inspired. I have no agenda that I am trying to push down people’s throat. I don’t believe people should think like me. All I can do is tell my truth, give my point of view — with some humor of course — and let others give theirs. On my show, people can respectfully agree to disagree. And I am sure I will be the one inspired and informed — by the listeners.
Clay Cane Live will air every Thursday and can be found online (http://www.wwrl1600.com/). You can also learn more about Clay Cane at (http://www.claycane.net) and follow his work at (http://twitter.com/claycane).