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INTERNET Locals discuss politics, pop culture in 'The Gay Agenda'
by Sammy Caiola

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Bowties and martinis pepper the set of new LGBT talk show "The Gay Agenda," suggesting a tone of both humor and sophistication, which is just what it delivers. The online series, in which four Chicago-based activists discuss pertinent social issues, is gaining traction on social media and may even be making its way toward network television.

Mary Morten—a women's- and LGBT-rights activist as well as the show's director—said she and friend Jim Bennett have been talking for years about how to create "something like The View, only gayer." While the show simmered on the backburner, Morten and Bennett searched for "the right combination of people" and finally found it in far-left organizer Tony Alvarado-Rivera and media guru Shannon Downey. The four-member dream team aired its first segment Oct. 11, tackling the show Orange is the New Black, Facebook selfies and Grindr in just eight minutes.

The main goal of the show is to offer four different perspectives from members of the LGBT "community," a term that Morten said is not always representative of the subcultures within it.

"All of us represent different communities," she said. "We wanted to, early on, acknowledge that we're not monolithic. We wanted to make sure that we, at the very beginning, laid the groundwork to talk about these different perspectives that don't get pushed to the top because they might not be as popular. "

This, she explained on air, is what it means to 'set the agenda'. Morten referenced a similar show for women of color called The Real, but noted that The Gay Agenda, so far as she knows, is the first talk show to cater specifically to LGBT interest.

Chicagoans are excited about the show, Morten said, because it is one of the first talk shows to come out of Chicago, with regular references to Chicago neighborhoods. But the content, which expands as far as the Russian Olympics, will appeal to viewers far and wide.

Jim Bennett, Chicago-based co-host and graduate of The Second City improv comedy enterprise, said he has been pushing to bring religion to the table but has faced resistance from the rest of the team.

"We've been beaten up by the Bible so much that we turn away from it which makes complete sense and I understand," said Bennett, who is also Midwest regional director for Lambda Legal. "But it's an argument that we no longer need to be afraid to discuss. Religion and politics are the two things that are not taboo for us any longer—that's what I keep pushing for."

The Gay Agenda is filmed in front of a live studio audience and can be viewed on YouTube or on the show's website. Since its release on National Coming Out Day it has received positive feedback, Morten said, and has more than 2,000 followers on Facebook and Twitter.

The newest episode will also feature a discussion about the Obama administration and a look into the "nature versus nurture" argument, during which hosts will talk about their childhoods and coming out stories. Morten emphasizes that the show will not only focus on issues that affect LGBT people.

"We're gonna talk about race, we're gonna talk about class, we're gonna talk about the intersection of those issues around sexual orientation and gender identity," she said. "We're gonna put our spin on this, and our spin is, in some cases informed because we are members of LGBTQ community. Sometimes that may not be the case, but more often than not it will be. They're issues that anybody might be interested in talking about."

Morten, a documentary filmmaker and producer, has worked with the cast, publicists and editors to create an aesthetically pleasing set with a high production value. One of the benefits to being online is that quirky touches like thought bubbles can be inserted in the editing process. The only downside is that the lag between shooting the episode and getting it online can limit the show's frequency and content.

"The thing that's most frustrating for us is that we would love to be able to do it all the time and a lot of the things that we are not able to talk about are things that are so current that they come and go within a week," said Bennett.

The next episode will be released the week of Dec. 9. Find out more at

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