It’s hard to imagine sitting in the audience while comedian Tracy Morgan unloaded a string of antigay comments from stage. But Cynthia Wagner and Katie Cleek don’t have to imagine. They were there. And the couple can’t stop reliving those tense moments. Part of them feels relieved to have made it out of the auditorium safely.
Without video of the tirade, it’s all the more difficult to understand what it must have been like to be a lesbian couple, cuddled closely in the pew-style seating of the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, caught with Wagner’s arm around Cleek when Morgan suddenly said over the microphone that there’s no such thing as women loving women. Witnesses say Morgan claimed all lesbians have “daddy issues” and just hate men.
“I wanted so badly to get up and leave but then the fear had me locked in those seats,” Wagner said. “There was no joke. Everyone was waiting with baited breath for the punch line.”
They waited as Morgan said gays should “quit being pussies” when it comes to bullying. They waited through him saying he would stab his son to death if he were gay. They waited for the punch line that should drain the tension out of the moment. But it never came, they say. Instead, much of the audience reacted with hoots and cheers to what sounded to the couple like a speech – a hate speech.
“People were more vocal upstairs but they were not around us,” Wagner said of the crowd’s reaction. “There was a kind of silence in our area because I think they knew.”
The worst part was feeling like the only two gay people, suddenly caught at an event where they weren’t welcome. It must have been like turning down an alley that you realize too late might be dangerous.
When the show was over, “we waited until almost everybody left,” Cleek said. And then they darted to the car. “We didn’t even hold hands as we walked out, and normally we do. We didn’t know what to expect at that point. Is someone going to say or do something to us now? And I’ve never felt like that – ever.”