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Peter Shalit

Peter Shalit


One gay man upset after Gene Shalit's review of Brokeback Mountain on NBC's Today show on January 5 was his gay son, Peter--only Peter was upset not because he disagreed (he's used to that) but because he felt other gay people were misunderstanding his father. When the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation issued an alert demanding an apology for the review's characterization of the Jack character as a "sexual predator," Peter and his five straight siblings went to work to clear their dad's name. An author and a physician with a mostly LGBT practice, Peter spoke from his office in Seattle.

You don't often see the Today show, so when did you see the review? Somebody e-mailed me the GLAAD alert, and I went to the [GLAAD] site and saw the review on the Web. I think probably a lot more people saw it there than on TV.

What did you think? I was sorry that he didn't like the movie. I completely disagreed, and I didn't like some of the words he used; I thought it was extreme. But that's like him, to just say what he feels. I loved Brokeback Mountain--it was an amazing, almost painfully emotional experience. I went with my partner and we cried; we couldn't stop crying. When we left the theater, we were still crying. When I saw my father's review--he obviously did not connect at all with it emotionally. I've talked to him about it, and I can understand [his point of view]. He didn't like the character of Jack. But you can't argue with somebody about their reaction to a work of art.

What did you think of the GLAAD alert? They were describing someone who wasn't my dad. If you look at the review knowing [my dad], you can see that it's not homophobia, he just didn't like the movie. You can pan a movie and criticize a character that belongs to a certain group without being prejudiced against that group. But I think that as gay people, when people are critical, we're used to it coming from people that are homophobic.

How did your family come together to handle the crisis? I called my father, and he was not aware of [the protest]. My first reaction was, "You should just call these people and tell them you're not homophobic. Do whatever you need to do to make it right." Part of [GLAAD's] frustration was that by his and NBC's not commenting, it seemed like they were stonewalling. You need to have communication so people know that we're on the same side. [Then my siblings and I] talked about it a lot, and we decided it would be better to do it in writing. [We all agreed that the phrase] "sexual predator" was unfortunate, and that was what he focused on and the thing that he ended up writing [in his statement of clarification].

Did you help your father craft his statement? Yes, I did. We were up late that night. He doesn't do e-mail--he does fax. [But] I really wanted to be part of that, because I really wanted to make sure he expressed himself in a way that people would understand. And it didn't take much--I just had to help him understand what it was that people were upset about and why. He got it.

Is it possible that even though your father loves you, his review reflects his deep-seated disgust with gay sex? I don't know. What does any straight person think of gay sex?

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