""Dancing With the Stars" executive producer Conrad Green says despite controversy over the casting of its first transgender contestant, "Dancing" remains a family show and viewers should check out the new season before passing judgment.
Chaz Bono, who was born female but underwent surgery to become a man, is among the cast of 12 celebrities set to appear on the ABC hit when it premieres later this month — a decision that's drawn ire from some "Dancing" fans and conservative media groups.
Dan Gainor of the Culture and Media Institute calls Bono's casting "a ridiculous, agenda-driven move by 'Dancing With the Stars.'"
"This is the latest example of the networks trying to push a sexual agenda on American families," he said Thursday.
The organization is not calling for a boycott of the show, but online group OneMillionMoms.com is. It says on its website that the casting of Bono and openly-gay reality star Carson Kressley "is completely unacceptable and Christians should not watch the show, no excuses!"
Besides Bono and Kressley, the new cast includes basketball star Ron Artest; World Cup soccer player Hope Solo; reality stars Robert Kardashian and Kristin Cavallari; TV personalities Nancy Grace and Ricki Lake; singer-actress Chynna Phillips; actors David Arquette and J.R. Martinez; and Italian actress Elisabetta Canalis, who may be better known in the United States for being George Clooney's ex-girlfriend.
Green says the show has no agenda other than entertainment and always seeks to represent a range of people.
"I think we've had three gay or transgender contestants out of about 120 on the show, so what we're really doing is reflecting some of the makeup of this vast array of people that make up American society," he said in an interview Thursday.
The show remains family friendly, he said, adding that he has young children of his own.
"We're not going to be dwelling on Chaz's sexuality any more than we dwell on anyone's sexuality on the show," he said. "We're not going to be going into things that are going to make it difficult for you to watch with your children at all."
Bono wasn't cast to stir controversy, but because he's "a great guy and he's got a really interesting story," Green said. "He comes from Hollywood royalty as a family and is familiar to loads of our audience throughout his life."
Green said no sponsors of the show have expressed concern over Bono's casting and he doesn't expect that any will. He noted that Bono has been "on every talk show in the country," including "Oprah," without backlash.
Bono is the only child of Cher and Sonny Bono.
Cher has taken to Twitter this week to blast the "stupid bigots" who she says have "viciously attacked" her son since the "Dancing" cast was announced on Monday. She praised his courage for appearing on the show and wrote: "bet VAST MAJORITY of People will LOVE CHAZ on DWTS !"
The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation praised the network and "Dancing" producers for casting Bono. Spokeswoman Sharda Sekaran said that despite some negative response, his appearance on the show may help foster better understanding about transgender people.
"This community faces a lot of misunderstanding, fear and hatred, and all too often, violence," she said. "But these are people just like anybody else, who are part of everyday things as normal as entertaining audiences on a dancing show.
"Even with the negative reaction, it gives people exposure and access to the story of a real-life transgender person."
Bono said on his Twitter page Thursday that he is "overwhelmed by the outpouring of support I received from everyone."
"I don't listen to the haters, but embrace the love," he wrote.
Green said Bono's casting and the resulting conversation has boosted awareness of the show, but he hopes dancing supplants controversy when the show premieres on Sept. 19: "I hope that a lot of the people who appear to be upset at the moment will give him a chance and maybe realize it's not quite as bad as they think."
ABC is owned by The Walt Disney Co.
AP Entertainment Writer Sandy Cohen can be reached at www.twitter.com/APSandy .