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Static, then familiar voices
At 5:55 p.m. on a Thursdayfive minutes before they have their weekly hour on the air at SUNY Stony Brook's WUSB-90.1FM for Lavender WimminGail Polivy and Den Amato, both of Sayville, dart into the cramped and tiny studio, their faces just beginning to flush with panic. But within minutes, the pile of fan mail and promo announcements is flipped through, the Ani DiFranco and Crystal Waters CDs are out and ready, their headphones are on and, once again, lesbians on the Island are treated to an hour of self-reflection over the airwaves.
Just like ethnic radio shows that treat listeners to talk and music and humor from their native community, Lavender Wimmin gives lesbians the all-too-rare chance to hear about themselves on the radio. And today, the day after the final broadcast of Ellen, Polivy and Amato sit face-to-face in the studio to talk about the show and why it ended, throwing back and forth the question of whether the show failed because it had gotten "too gay."
Polivy, 37, a sales account executive of office supplies from Queens, says she joined the station because she "found nothing positive about gays and lesbians anywhere" after returning home from college at SUNY Buffalo. She and Amato have heard from listeners who are as young as 13 and those who are "considerably older," and have attracted an eager volunteerHeather Caminitti, 22, a Suffolk Community College student from Central Islip, who answers phones and calls Polivy and Amato "strong role models." They've gotten countless letters from fans all over the Island, spoken at public events, marched in Huntington's pride march and even collected a solid heterosexual fan base.
"I want to make the show appealing enough to educate rather than alienate the straight community," says Polivy, a 37-year-old account executive in Bohemia. "I would rather chip away at the homophobia."
Amato, who is from Lake Grove and met Polivy by volunteering at the Gay and Lesbian Switchboard of LI, joined the show four years ago. She says that her experience of being gay in the suburbs has brought her a definite "sense of community" and that she finds that the straight population's tolerance levels have risen. "I've turned a lot of heads, that's for sure. But I haven't gotten any insults."
Just last week, in fact, she and her girlfriend were holding hands while waiting for a table at a restaurant in Massapequa.
"People were cool with it," she says. "I think people are coming around."
Caminitti came home from college in Ohio after grappling with her emerging identity. She says she was losing so much sleep that she failed out. Now that she's back home, she's found support at Long Island Gay and Lesbian Youth and says the only time she's ever been harassed was in Greenwich Village, where she and her girlfriend got gawked at by a leering man when they were holding hands. For now, the Island is a more attractive home than the city.
"I feel like Long Island offers similar things on a smaller scale," she says. Even the LI Pride Parade in Huntingtonscheduled this year for Sunday, June 14is "a little more personable," she says.
Excitement builds in her voice as she talks about going back this year"You don't ever see so many gay people in one place!"for the event that draws hundreds of gay women from across the Island, one that's become an annual pilgrimage similar to the one that leads to East End tea dances, luring women into a rare turn in the suburban spotlight.
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