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'Wilde Life' is bringing communities together

A new public access television program will explore sexuality through the eyes of several local gay men

For Dennis Vickoren and L. Scott Clay, Wilde Life is a labor of love. The public access television show produced and directed by Vickoren and hosted by Clay is the first TV program originating in Southern Oregon devoted exclusively to gay issues, and gay men in particular.

Four episodes in an interview format have been airing at 10 p.m. Wednesdays. At least two, and possibly four, new episodes will be unveiled next month starting with a live broadcast May 19.

The two men say their goals for the program are to explore gay issues, help gay people feel more comfortable with their sexuality and open lines of communication between the gay and straight communities.

It's a venue for people to come out, Vickoren says. And I wanted young people to see that being gay is not a dead end.

— Early episodes have featured local men talking about coming out, the difficulties of maintaining relationships, violence against gays ' one guest said he was beaten up by five men in Ashland ' gay people in the health care system, the legal status of gay partners and other topics.

Bigotry is implanted, Clay says. Sexuality is born.

Television is a part-time project for both men. Vickoren, 53, is a trainer at the Rogue Valley Transportation District and drives a bus part-time. Clay is a planner and historic preservation officer with the city of Jacksonville.

The two went through a video production program at Southern Oregon University and became friends. There are many gay programs on cable and satellite channels such as Free Speech TV and Link TV, but the men felt there was a need for local programming. And Vickoren had won a CAT Award, a community access version of an Emmy (It's for whoever shows up, he jokes) for his TV work.

The show is named for Oscar Wilde, the British playwright and wit.

To prepare for a program, Clay talks with each guest just before taping to explore where the interview might go. The talks are broadcast just as they occur, with no editing.

The early shows are marked by their intimacy. Travis Thompson told the story of his partner of 13 years, Jonah, dying of cancer. He felt some workers in the health care system disrespected the relationship, but one nurse, who was also gay, helped the two find a place to live.

When his partner died, the man's father joined Travis in preparing the body for cremation with cleansing and prayers.

I saw him through everything else, Thompson says on the show. I wanted to see him on his next journey.

Unlike interviewers who urge people tell all on air, Clay says he worries about subjects leaving themselves too vulnerable.

He says coming out, or openly declaring one's homosexuality, is probably more intimidating in Southern Oregon than in an urban area.

I'm pretty open, he says. But it's not the first thing people need to know. You gauge the necessity, what's relevant.

Clay's father telephoned him after seeing the show.

He said he was learning more about his son.

Clay, 52, says he did not realize he was gay until his 40s, by which time he was married and had a daughter who is now 15.

I knew I was gay the first time I saw the word 'homosexual,' says Vickoren, 53. I didn't meet my first 'out' gay person until I was in my late 20s.

He says he's worried about the incidence of suicide among young gay people. Some studies have reported that rate to be several times that of straight youth.

But other studies question those findings, and anti-gay rights activists have attacked the notion as an urban myth.

So far, the show's guests have been regular guy types. Clay says that naturally reflects Vickoren and himself. But Vickoren says he doesn't want to limit the show.

If a queen wants to come on, that's fine, he says, referring to a term used to describe effeminate gay men. I enjoy queens.

Guests Clay would like to feature include a gay Presbyterian minister who sometimes visits Southern Oregon and film director Gus Van Sant (My Own Private Idaho, Good Will Hunting), of Portland.

Vickoren and Clay would also like to produce a history of gay life in the Rogue Valley. That project would recount the contributions of gay men like Robbie Collins, a businessman who became the father of historic preservation in Jacksonville.

I think it'll continue to evolve, Clay says.

So far, Vickoren says, so good.-Wilde Life? is bringing communities together"bvarble@mailtribune.com.

Scott Clay, right, interviews a guest, Travis Thompson, on the public access TV show, 'Wilde Life,' that deals with gay issues and specifically gay men's issues in the Rogue Valley. Mail Tribune / Jim Craven - Mail Tribune Jim Craven