GSH Radio and Rainbow411 give activism and education a platform

By : Christine Hawes
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Gregory Henchar is still shook up by what he experienced in November: the owner of a shop where he was making a sales call pointed a gun at him.

While the shop owner later claimed he was “just joking,”Henchar attributes the odd encounter to his status as the wide-open co-founder of Rainbow411, a website devoted to publicizing gay-friendly events, groups and businesses, and of GHSRadio, an internet radio station broadcast out of St. Petersburg’s Flamingo Resort.

“I never dreamed I would walk into a place of business and have someone point a gun at me,” Henchar says. “I’ve been called names before, but nothing like this.”

RainbowConnection1The incident was the first time Henchar felt his safety was threatened. But the importance of providing security in a society still littered with pockets of homophobia has been a motivation for Henchar and his partner, Victor Lopez, ever since they first moved to the Bradenton area in 2008.

“The number one keyword search on Rainbow411 is for ‘contractors,’ says Lopez, who founded the website and radio station with Henchar. “People want to know they have a safe business to call, especially when it comes to businesses they invite into their homes.”

Rainbow411, founded in 2010, mainly serves Orlando, St. Petersburg, Tampa Bay and the Sarasota/Bradenton area. But it’s about to expand to Lakeland and Jacksonville and is eyeing several key south Florida markets.

Long-term, Henchar and Lopez hope to build even stronger in less urban markets, where finding gay-friendly businesses can be a challenge.

“We’ve realized that smaller cities like Melbourne and Port Charlotte need our assistance just as much if not more,” Lopez says. “They don’t have any help in places like that.”

GSHRadio, meanwhile, is gradually building a worldwide audience but has a modest line-up today of eight shows. Also founded in 2010, the internet station has confirmed listeners in not only the United States but also Australia, the United Kingdom, Costa Rica, Peru, Germany, South Africa, China and Czechoslavakia.

Its audience is impossible to estimate, given that most listeners catch up with the shows through podcasts. The station broadcasts dance music 24 hours a day in between its talk shows, which include The Rainbow Hour hosted by Henchar, Lopez and Watermark editor Steve Blanchard. That show, and several others, focus on the LGBT nightlife, the leather community, the Flamingo Resort, current affairs and drag queens.

Henchar and Lopez both know what it’s like to be stuck in environments that are either hostile to, or suspicious of, homosexuals. Lopez spent 20 years in the Navy and was married for several years before he became open about his sexuality; Henchar worked for decades for Dunn & Bradstreet, a company he says openly disapproved of his sexuality.

The two met in 1988 at an after-hours gay bar in Virginia Beach. They felt an immediate connection but didn’t actually begin dating until eight months later. They’ve been together, and living openly as gay men, ever since.

For Henchar, serving as the sales leader for Rainbow411 and GSHRadio is a chance to both express his love of advertising and fulfill his self-vision as “another Harvey Milk,” whom he quotes frequently.

“I try to be another Harvey Milk,”Henchar says. “I’ve been called an activist, and I’m thankful for that.”

One of his pet peeves is hearing people, mostly straight ones, refer to being gay as a “lifestyle.”

“I’ve even corrected a newscaster on-air,” he says. “Being gay is not a lifestyle. It’s not an alternative. Being gay is being born this way.”

Henchar also earned a reputation for activism by creating a “$3 bill” years ago as part of a movement to object to the Salvation Army refusing gay clients.

RainbowConnection2By contrast, Lopez does not consider himself an activist and prefers to operate behind the scenes. His duties with Rainbow411 and GSHRadio are mostly gathering content and interviewing subjects.

But he joins Henchar on the air for GSHRadio’s signature talk show “The Rainbow Hour,” which airs live at 3 p.m. Wednesdays. Lopez tends to ask the more poignant questions, while Henchar’s role is more geared toward humor and sarcasm.

Recent guests included Ashley Broadway, wife of a decorated female general, who was banned from her area’s support group for spouses of officers; Gabrielle Shullruff, who is leading an effort to attract the 2018 Gay Games to Orlando; and Richard Smith, who owns a solar company in Orlando.

“By opening up and having ‘The Rainbow Hour,’ we have learned so much about our brothers and sisters in the LGBT community,” Henchar says. “And we’re always open to ideas.”

The couple is deeply involved with ALSO for Gay Youth, a support group based in Sarasota. Sue Westcott, ALSO’s director, says Henchar and Lopez have proven to be pivotal volunteers in addition to patrons.

“They are absolutely a pleasure to work with,” she says. “They give us a lot of inside advice even though they don’t have to. They’re great sponsors and down-to-earth supporters and volunteers.”

Chris Rudisill, director of LGBT Services at St. Petersburg’s Metro Wellness and Community Center, says Henchar and Lopez are providing pivotal services in today’s digitized world.

“In a time when the virality of one’s message is key, the potential to get your message out to the masses is key, and online radio provides that platform,” Rudisill says “It’s great hearing the diversity of our very own community online each week.”

To listen to “The Rainbow Hour” and other shows on GSH Radio, visit GSHRadio.com. There listeners can hear live broadcasts or download podcasts through its archive.

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