Radio shock jock Wendy Williams, a self-proclaimed "Queen of All Media," is known for her bold fashions, big wigs, and even bigger attitude. But when it comes to her new syndicated daytime talk show, The Wendy Williams Show, that sassy sense of style appears strictly reserved for biological women.
A longtime fan of Williams, drag performer Erickatoure Aviance attended a Wednesday, August 12, taping of The Wendy Williams Show in New York with gay singer-songwriter Adam Joseph and gay entertainer Jonny McGovern, star of Logo's The Big Gay Sketch Show.
"I decided to get dressed for Wendy because I thought she'd appreciate it," says Aviance, a fixture of New York City nightlife for the last decade. "It wasn't anything outlandish: It was a black baby-doll dress, heels, tights, and standard makeup — not even anything sparkly. It was very demure, especially for me."
While standing in line outside the studio Wednesday morning, the group was approached by a female intern who noted the fact that Aviance was a drag queen. "She took my name down, so we thought we were about to get VIP treatment," Aviance recalls. "After another hour we got to the door, and there's this little white man standing there giving us the eyeball. He gets in our way to prevent us from going in, and he says, 'You're in violation of our no-costumes dress code. We usually don't do this, but we know you've been waiting out there for a while, so we're going to let you in. But you can't appear on camera, and if you get up for Hot Topics or try to ask Wendy a question, you'll be removed from the building.'
"I said, 'This is not a costume.' And he said, 'Well, it's a costume to us.' When Jonny asked him the reason behind the policy, he said, 'We don't want the show to turn into Let's Make a Deal, where everyone comes in crazy costumes.' I was like, 'So you're comparing me to a man in a gorilla suit?'
"It's not like I was wearing a big purple wig," Aviance continues. "I was wearing a ponytail piece and a bang piece. It was much less hair than Wendy was wearing and, p.s., much less hair than any of the other black women in the audience. There were big blond bouffants, lots of church makeup, party dresses, blue mohawks — and I'm made to feel like some sort of clown? No, it definitely wasn't about what I was wearing. It was because I was a man in a dress. For someone who appropriates so much gay culture, you'd think Wendy's policies would be a little more celebratory of the community."
McGovern adds, "It was shady. We all thought Wendy would get a kick out of it." He immediately complained about the incident on his Facebook page.
Aviance claims that, once seated, another staffer approached them to rearrange the seating so that Aviance was moved away from the aisle and against the perimeter of the seating area. In the row ahead, a short woman and a tall man were then asked to switch seats so that the tall man blocked Aviance.
When Advocate.com attempted to "ask Wendy" about the incident, Debmar-Mercury, syndicators of The Wendy Williams Show, released the following statement: "Producers at The Wendy Williams Show never intended to offend Erickatoure Aviance, but the fact of the matter is that the show does request that audience members dress appropriately, not in costume-like attire. We certainly support the LGBTQ community and believe that personal style is a form of self-expression, as evidenced by our host Wendy Williams each and every day. But in this case, our staff was concerned that Erickatoure's attire was over-the-top and would be distracting to fans at home."
Williams — whose co-executive producer on the show, Emmy winner Rob Dauber, is gay — specifically praised the drag community in a recent interview with Advocate.com.
"You know, as a drag queen you expect to go out in the street and hear shit — you can prepare yourself for that type of ignorance and discrimination," says Aviance. "But what's most upsetting to me about the situation is that The Wendy Williams Show was the last place on earth I ever expected something like this to happen."
Advocate.com, August 2009.