San Francisco Chronicle
Friday, February 19, 1999
Take heart, Tinky Winky -- the Berkeley City Council is coming to the rescue.
The city famous for social justice crusades is plunging into the media tempest that has buffeted the purple little Teletubby ever since he was accused of being homosexual by fundamentalist preacher Jerry Falwell.
A council measure proclaiming ``Long Live Tinky Winky'' apparently would make Berkeley the first American city to back the embattled babbling TV idol beloved by preschoolers.
``As far as I know, we're on the cutting edge of the Tinky Winky issue,'' said Councilwoman Polly Armstrong, sponsor of the resolution up for adoption Tuesday.
The item is expected to win easy passage from the city that two weeks ago condemned the impeachment of President Clinton, supported same-sex marriages and decided to fly the Tibetan flag on the city flagpole in commemoration of the Tibetan national uprising.
A newcomer to the roster of causes celebres, Tinky Winky had been but one of four marginally famous, fuzzy creatures with TVs in their tummies on the imported British TV program for little kids, ``Teletubbies.''
But Falwell's attack catapulted him to the world's front pages under headlines like ``Is Tinky Winky kinky?'' and earned him roles in a new generation of comedy routines. He was even named last week as the leading candidate for grand marshal of San Francisco's annual gay and lesbian parade.
The very features that Falwell attacked as gay emblems are embraced by the Berkeley measure:
``We totally and completely endorse Teletubby Tinky Winky, and his magic purse (regardless of its contents) and his purple skin and his triangle antennae.''
Falwell pointed to Tinky Winky's ``purse'' and said that purple is ``the gay pride color'' and the triangle atop his head is ``the gay pride symbol.'' Such depictions are ``damaging to the moral lives of children,'' he said.
Ironically, the sponsor of the Berkeley measure is the only member of the nine-person council who routinely abstains from the panel's many stands on foreign affairs.
``We support everybody else in the world and every cause, so I thought Tinky Winky should join the fold,'' said Armstrong.
But her motive was not cynicism at Berkeley's liberal dispensation of moral guidance to the rest of the world, she said. ``When Jerry Falwell is so out there, there is only one way to react, and that's to laugh at the absurdity of it. . . . The larger message is that being gay is not something people should be threatened by.''
The move took the mayor and other council members by surprise.
Mayor Shirley Dean had not yet seen next week's agenda and did not know about the proposal until contacted by The Chronicle yesterday.
``I am absolutely speechless,'' she said. ``Undoubtedly I will vote yes, but I really think this is silly.''
Councilman Kriss Worthington, who also learned of the proposal from The Chronicle, said he expects it to win unanimous support.
Falwell's position ``is seemingly pretty extreme, but it symbolizes a more widespread fear and prejudice that causes lots of problems and leads to outbreaks of violence against people,'' said Worthington, who is gay. ``It's good to respond, especially in an amusing, positive way to point to the ridiculousness of what he's advocating.''
How big a ``Teletubbies'' fan is Armstrong?
``I've never watched it -- my children are 26 and 28,'' she said. ``Basically, the idea of someone with television in their tummy is a little alarming to me.''
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