In 2005, after spending 10 years on the promotional side of radio, Greg Sherrell, then a resident of Dallas, burst onto Bay Area airwaves when he called into the San Francisco morning show of longtime friend Fernando Ventura. Three weeks later, Greg sold everything that wouldn't fit into his car and drove from Texas to California to make his mark on Ventura's show as Greg the Gay Sportscaster. A short time later, he and Ventura began co-hosting Fernando and Greg in the Morning, now one of the most popular radio programs in the Bay Area.
My first experience with Fernando and Greg in the Morning came during a segment dubbed "Homo vs. Hetero," a twice-weekly contest pitting one gay player against one straight player in a trivia battle in which the gay player attempts to answer questions geared toward straight people, and vice versa. In the nearly two years since hearing them for the first time, I've come to value not only the humor Ventura and Sherrell bring to my morning, but the perspective they offer as the first openly gay co-hosts on American commercial radio.
Inspired by the energy and humor he exhibits during his morning show, I reached out to Sherrell this week to discuss what it's like to be gay on the radio, his admiration for Charles Barkley and his hope for the LGBTQ community.
CL: What are you up to these days?
GS: Professionally, I've been part of Fernando and Greg in the Morning since 2006 and we're now in our fourth year on 99.7 Now, which covers the entire Bay Area. We also record a side show podcast twice a week.
CL: What's it like to be gay on the radio?
GS: To be honest, I don't even think about it anymore. It's just Fernando and I coming in and doing the show. When we first started we were told not to be too gay. In fact, our first program director didn't want to put us on the air together at all because he thought it would turn people off, and he was a gay man. Luckily, the owner, who was straight, thought Fernando and I were great together, so he really pushed for it.
CL: How is what you're doing making a difference in the LGBTQ community?
GS: Growing up, I didn't think that there was anybody else in the world like me. All I knew was that being gay was considered wrong. Now, when a young gay kid is on their way to school and they turn on the radio, they can hear Fernando and I and know that there are other people like them out there and that they don't have to hide. I think our radio show gives us that voice in the LGBTQ community. Hopefully it gives others a positive perspective on being gay so they don't have to feel like the only gay person in the world like I did.
CL: What LGBTQ issue are you most passionate about?
GS: Like a lot of people today, I'm most passionate about issues dealing with LGBTQ youth. There's a lot of great work being done, like the It Gets Better Project, which I admire, but I think my passion goes past bullying. The worst thing for us is that we can hide our sexuality, and if you can hide a problem, there's a chance that you'll never deal with it. I know I wasn't truly happy until I was living my true life, so I hope I can inspire young people to just be themselves.
CL: Can you name the one person whose contribution to the LGBTQ community has inspired you most?
GS: I wouldn't say there's one person who I look at and say, "Oh my god, look at what they're doing." I think what inspires me today is seeing gay and straight people working in unison for the same cause. They're working for equal rights because they know it's the right thing to do.
CL: As Greg the Gay Sportscaster, can you talk a bit about homosexuality in professional sports?
GS: When Jason Collins came out of the closet, sure his story touched me, but it was really the reaction of other athletes that got me most. Charles Barkley is one of them. He has been such a force in speaking for the gay community even before it was being talked about. His response has been amazing. One of the things he said is that as an African American he can't imagine discriminating against other people because he knows what it's like. Other players like Kobe Bryant and Tony Parker have been strong advocates and have supported the cause as well.
Tim Hardaway is another strong advocate. And if you look up Tim Hardaway, you'll see that he has said some horrible things about the gay community in the past, but he recanted on his own and apologized for what he said and now he works with transgender youth who have a higher suicide rate than everybody else. For someone to realize that they did or said something wrong and actually showed that they were sorry, that's the kind of stuff that truly inspires me.
CL: If you had to recommend one book, movie or song with an LGBTQ bent, what would your recommendation be?
GS: I would recommend a pair of books called One Teenager in Ten and Two Teenagers in 20 that were put together by a couple of therapists and feature personal stories of LGBTQ youth coming out. The story that I remember most from these books was written not by the person coming out, but by the mother of a young lesbian. Her daughter had tried to come out to her many times, but the mom just couldn't understand it or deal with it and her daughter ended up committing suicide. The toll that it took on the mother realizing what she did made her share her experience as a way to help others. It's an incredible story about how people's reactions to the differences of others can impact somebody to the point of suicide.
I would also recommend anything by David Sedaris. Me Talk Pretty One Day is a must-read if you're gay and grew up in the 60s or 70s or 80s. It's so easy to connect with and it assured me that there were others out there just like me. It was like Sedaris was telling my story. While I was reading it I thought, 'Oh my god, this is my life.'
CL: What do you hope for the LGBTQ community?
GS: To be honest, the strides we've already made are amazing. I remember the first person I knew who was an advocate for gay marriage. She drove us all freaking nuts because she was so into it when nobody else cared about that issue because we didn't think we deserved it or we weren't conditioned to the idea that it was even possible. And now it's so talked about. It's incredible that it's on the lips of everybody in America, from the President of the United States on down. In a way, she and the people like her were visionaries.
To answer your question, I guess my hope is that one day it won't be a big deal to come out anymore. I remember when I was a kid and I didn't know what gay was yet, I asked my mom why everybody was making such a big deal out of Billie Jean King. My mom told me it was because she was a lesbian. Not knowing what a lesbian was at the time, I asked my mom if it was illegal and when she told me it wasn't I said, "Then what's the big deal?" So I hope that people will just feel comfortable coming out and it won't be a very big deal.
Note: A link to this post appeared on Towleroad on May 20, 2013.