Last week Jay Leno welcomed Amy Poelher on his program, so she could plug her NBC sitcom Parks & Recreation. And as all guests of talk programs do, she and Tonight Show producers worked out ahead of time a few things they could chat about, for which Leno could easily guide her through in what’s basically a monologue with a sidekick. When Poehler brought up how her family gathers ’round the television to watch the New England Patriots battle for greatness, she mentions her four-year-old son Archie blows kisses at the team’s (male) coach. Cue Leno wondering whether Archie’s father, the actor Will Arnett, has a problem with his young son acting all gay, and whether he’s ever going to show signs of interest in the opposite sex. Amy laughs it off.

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So here’s the deal: Was Leno’s remark bigoted, in the true sense of the word? No, and this isn’t something for us to call up GLAAD about. But the remark was homophobic, as in: It was uttered from the standpoint of being scared a little boy might be gay, or showing signs of gayness. Does Leno hate gay children? Of course not. He doesn’t hate gay adults, either. But in uttering the “joke,” he gives one more pass to his viewers — moms and dads, some better parents than others — to look at their kids funny if they show any signs of being attracted to the same sex. That’s a far cry from telling parents they should beat the gay out of their kids, and if any parent did that, Leno wouldn’t be responsible. The same way Sarah Palin isn’t responsible for the deaths of six outside a Safeway. She is, however, responsible for creating a climate of violence-infused rhetoric. And here, then, Leno is responsible for adding his voice to the “those queer kids sure are weird” group think. He’s been here before, when he called on guest Ryan Phillipe to make his best “gay face”. It needs to stop.

I’m willing to laugh at pretty much anything. Crude humor? Bring it on. But children “acting gay” is not a punchline.

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