(This story was published in 2002).

By: John McClelland

The mainstream media jumped on the story that World Wrestling Entertainment would be holding a same sex union on its Sept. 12 program on UPN, “Smackdown.” Billy and Chuck, former tag team champions, were scheduled to be joined in a commitment ceremony, or so the storyline goes. But again, the WWE let us down with its portrayal of gay men.

Who are Billy and Chuck? These two handsome, muscular bleach-blond studs became a tag team some months ago in the WWE and have been doing quite well. The characters they had been portraying had hinted at homosexual tendencies and as being more than tag team partners in the ring. They performed such antics such as doing stretches in the locker room where they may be entered from the rear, hugging each other in a sexual manner and so on. Even their ring manager, Rico, was touted as their personal stylist, but he is more like an eccentric version of an interior designer.

Last week, in the middle of the ring, Chuck got down on one knee and proposed to Billy to become committed partners for life. This immediately garnered the attention of the New York Times, Washington Post, New York Post, TV Guide, the Howard Stern Show, and even NBC’s “Today” show, because of the potential social ramifications that a macho company such as the WWE could be portraying its characters as being openly homosexual. Scott Seomin, an official with the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, went so far as to get Billy & Chuck a gravy boat from the Pottery Barn as a wedding present.

What happened Sept. 12 on Smackdown was a sham and unworthy of any such claims at furthering the gay movement into the mainstream. For Seomin to proclaim to the Washington Post that this story line and wedding is “a hoot” and that it “reaches a lot of potential bullies and gay bashers out there, and what Billy and Chuck are saying is not only ‘We’re here,’ but they also say ‘Don’t mess with us,’ ” is absurd. (Editor’s note: GLAAD issued a statement condemning the WWE after the episode aired.)

The Billy and Chuck wedding ended abruptly when both men stopped and came out as straight and said that this was just a publicity stunt (within the story line, mind you).

To make a long story short, the rival WWE show general manager Eric Bischoff had his cronies come out in the ceremony and beat up Billy and Chuck, as well as their boss Stephanie McMahon. Is this not seen as gay bashing? GLAAD is the same organization that only a few years ago, complained about the now-defunct WCW’s version of a gay tag team, Lenny and Lodi. GLAAD stated that having a wrestler that hinted that he may be gay and then subsequently be beaten up in the ring was nothing less than gay bashing.

How are Billy and Chuck any different from Lenny and Lodi, and why is Seomin supportive? GLAAD says the Billy and Chuck episode is a step in the right direction. I say it is not and so do other people in the sports and wrestling world.

I spoke with a closeted gay independent wrestling promoter who wishes to remain anonymous. When asked if this wedding erased any stereotypes in sports about gay people he responded that all it did was reinforce them.

“To have their stylist Rico act like nothing more than a hyperactive Martin Short from “Father of the Bride,” to have pink carpet, to have three ladies sing “It’s Raining Men” as the wedding march, is all very offensive,” the promoter said. “It insulted my intelligence as a gay man.

“This did nothing to decrease the negativity surrounding gay marriage or gays in general. I think it increased it. Just listen to the amount of booing in the crowd in Minneapolis [where the episode was taped]. And when Billy and Chuck profess their heterosexuality, the crowd cheers more loudly than they did for the last two hours of the show. The whole thing was absolutely stupid.”

The WWE is all about entertainment. But it must realize that its athletic super stars have an impact on our culture and on the mainstream media, even if they are not considered sports figures. Its Billy and Chuck stunt did not change the minds of anyone. It is only playing on the fact that the sports and media world is looking for that one big story and that one person to be the gay token. The WWE is not going to be the gay sports world’s savior.

John McClelland, a pro wrestling aficionado, lives in Dallas. He wrote about pro wrestling’s closet for Outsports in May.