Radio’s Anti-Gay Voice Edges into LGBTQ Giving

An iHeartMedia promotional poster for Sean Hannity’s radio show. | IHEART.COM

An iHeartMedia promotional poster for Sean Hannity’s radio show. | IHEART.COM

The company that distributes leading anti-LGBTQ voices to radio stations across the country is sponsoring fundraisers that will benefit GLAAD, the Harvey Milk Foundation, and the Pride Center at Equality Park in Florida.

“They are the biggest, and they are nasty,” said Angelo Carusone, president of Media Matters, a left-leaning media watchdog group, referring to iHeartMedia. “They are responsible for the worst and most extreme conservative talk radio.”

iHeartMedia, formerly Clear Channel Broadcasting, syndicates Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, and other conservative radio talk show hosts through its Premiere Networks subsidiary, which handles a range of content. It also syndicates the Fox Radio News Network. iHeartMedia owns and operates 858 radio stations in the US. The syndicated content is heard on more than 5,000 stations.

iHeartMedia, syndicator of Limbaugh, Hannity, sponsors GLAAD, Harvey Milk Foundation galas

The company is among the sponsors of the May 6 Diversity Honors Gala, which will be held at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Florida. The event will benefit the Harvey Milk Foundation, which was founded by Stuart Milk, the nephew of the civil rights icon who was assassinated in 1978, and the Pride Center at Equality Park, an LGBTQ health clinic and community center in Wilton Manors, Florida. This is the third year for the gala and the first year that iHeartMedia is a sponsor.

iHeartMedia is also among roughly 40 sponsors of the 28th Annual GLAAD Media Awards, which will also take place on May 6 in New York City. GLAAD has had a relationship with iHeartMedia since 2014, and the company has participated in GLAAD’s Spirit Day, an annual anti-bullying campaign.

“iHeartMedia is not a financial sponsor of GLAAD or the GLAAD Media Awards,” GLAAD said in a statement. “They are listed as a sponsor of the GLAAD Media Awards because of their donation of airtime, which will be used for pro-LGBTQ PSAs that GLAAD will produce. iHeartMedia has a long history of donating airtime to LGBTQ organizations for culture-changing messages that reach listeners who may not often hear about LGBTQ issues.”

Carusone said that it was a net positive that iHeartMedia was contributing to LGBTQ groups despite the company’s long history of profiting from the distribution of anti-LGBTQ vitriol. The “inconsistency,” as he put it, of maintaining pro- and anti-LGBTQ positions might prompt iHeartMedia to limit or drop its anti-LGBTQ radio hosts.

“It’s hard to say what the line is,” Carusone said. “Sometimes an investment in a community can create a decision point… The more that they have to build these relationships with not just the LGBT community, but with other communities, the harder it is to maintain that inconsistency.”

Carusone readily conceded that such an argument could apply to any company and so the question becomes is there any company that is so far over the line that accepting cash or in-kind services from them is going too far. iHeartMedia was not over that line, in his view.

“I think that’s a good thing,” Carusone said. “I think it’s good when marginalized groups get money… They’re not just building up these communities, but they’re strengthening those communities.”

In an email statement, iHeartMedia wrote that the company “sponsored and promoted numerous local and national LGBTQ events,” adding, “We participate in local Pride celebrations nationwide every year, and have used our airwaves, and our digital and social platforms to promote LGBTQ History Month, National Coming Out Day, the annual anti-bullying campaign #SpiritDay, and more on-air and online.”

The company has “owned and operated LGBTQ stations, including Pride Radio — which has broadcast stations in Minneapolis and Austin, as well as a popular digital station on iHeartRadio. The statement added, “It’s also important to note that we do continuously work to educate our on-air talent and programming teams, and have a best practice reference guide for our talent to speak about LGBTQ topics in an informed way. Many of iHeartMedia’s on-air talent also publicly support LGBTQ equality and use their platforms to speak and educate listeners on LGBTQ issues.”

iHeartMedia is struggling financially. Bain Capital and Thomas H. Lee Partners, two investment firms, took the company private in a 2007 leveraged buyout and larded its balance sheet with debt. iHeartMedia now carries nearly $21 billion in debt. The speculation in the financial press and local papers in San Antonio, where the company is headquartered, is that it will soon enter bankruptcy or be forced into bankruptcy by its creditors.

Most recently, iHeartMedia has been trying to negotiate with bondholders, offering to swap its debt for shares in Clear Channel Outdoor, the billboard sector of the company that is still publicly traded. Bondholders have generally not taken the offer.

“They tried to build a business model on top of these talkers who are abusing already marginalized communities in our society,” Carusone said. “It feels to me that this talk side is increasingly a diminished part of it, in fact, it’s a liability.”

The Harvey Milk Foundation and the Pride Center at Equality Park did not respond to emails seeking comment.