The last bastions of the old boys network—where homophobia is not only allowed, but encouraged—have dwindled to a few stubborn holdouts: The Vatican, pro sports locker rooms, boot camps, and the broadcast booths of our nation's top radio stations.
Sure, you might find the occasional queer character on our local airwaves, but generally they're the butt-end of Jammin' 95.5's endlessly cruel pranks. No, if listeners want to catch a real queer on air, they have to pay for satellite radio or try to catch Rosie or Ellen on the boob tube.
Or they did, until Wednesday, Jan. 31.
That's the day the new co-host of 105.1's The Buzz's "Daria and Mitch Show" did the unthinkable. Mitch Elliott told listeners he was gay—ON THE AIR. By confirming that yes, he has a boyfriend, Elliott did the one thing no one else has ever dared do in a top radio market.
"I want to slam that door wide open," Elliott told me over drinks at the Driftwood Room. A dark downtown bar was a good place to discuss what led the straight-looking, football-loving Elliott to make a decision that some consider nothing short of career suicide, as it has been for years in most forms of popular entertainment.
"The hardest thing I ever had to do was come out, at a reunion, to my family," said Elliott. "It was the right decision to do when I was 15. And it's the right decision to do now at the age of 42."
It hasn't been easy for Elliott to lead a double life. In radio for 20 years, he's been a broadcaster almost as long as he's been gay, and always in top markets like Atlanta and Seattle. In Seattle, he had one of the city's top morning shows. Though he was out to co-workers and friends, it was verboten for him to acknowledge his gayness in public. Even in the days of shock talk radio, it just isn't done.
Elliott confessed his fears about working in a format driven by the private lives of its personalities: "Our show's based on our lives. If something was going on in my relationship, I couldn't talk about it. I always worried I'd screw up and get my pronouns wrong."
Elliott's life changed for the better, even though he didn't know it, after his Seattle station replaced its DJs with robots. "I wasn't sure where I'd end up," said Elliott. "But I knew I didn't want to be in the closet anymore."
A more open job pursuit led him to Portland, The Buzz and one of Portland's most popular DJs, Daria O'Neill. Rather than downplay his gayness, it was Daria who, once they decided they'd work together, insisted Elliott come out on the show.
"She wouldn't have it any other way," said Elliot.
And although it's been only days since he broadcast he's queer out over the airwaves, Elliott has let out a huge sigh of relief. "I'm not trying to be 'Big Gay Mitch,'" said Elliott. "I'm just trying to be myself."
Now, who else wants to fess up on the mic?