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Community or Chaos: Roland Martin, Rampant Homophobia and HIV Risk

By Khafre Abif

February 16, 2012

The homophobia in the black community runs so deep that we can't even recognize it when we hear it or read it. You may or may not have heard about the recent dialog regarding CNN's Roland Martin being under fire from gay rights groups after tweeting that people should "smack the ish out" of male fans of a steamy Super Bowl commercial starring David Beckham.

Well, the details are as follows: Martin, who has been a longtime analyst for CNN, was actively tweeting throughout the Super Bowl. After an H&M commercial featuring Beckham clad only in his underwear aired, Martin tweeted messages making fun of men who may have liked the ad. He wrote that "If a dude at your Super Bowl party is hyped about David Beckham's H&M underwear ad, smack the ish out of him! #superbowl."

Many of Martin's followers responded to this, harshly criticizing him for the comments. Martin staunchly defended his messages and claimed that he was simply mocking soccer, something he said he routinely does. I find it odd that he would attempt to defend his statement in light of a tweet Martin sent earlier in the day, in which he made fun of a New England Patriot player who arrived wearing a pink jumpsuit. "He needs a visit from #teamwhipdatass."

Unfortunately for Martin, gay rights group GLAAD picked up the baton. The group tweeted a response to Martin, saying that "advocates of gay bashing have no place at @CNN." The activist group went even further and has now called for CNN to fire Martin.

GLAAD's letter states that "Martin's tweets today advocating violence against gay people weren't an accident -- they are a part of a larger pattern for Martin. Anti-gay violence in America is a serious problem facing millions of Americans. It's no joke. CNN should fire Roland Martin."

The fact of the matter is the violence against gay men of all races continues. The message that it is alright to beat, kick, harass, spit on gay men comes from somewhere. Here in Atlanta, 20-year-old Brandon White was the most recent victim of a brutal anti-gay gang attack which was caught on tape. Brandon was beaten and even hit over the head with a car tire outside a neighborhood grocery store. A street camera video caught the beating; in addition, one of the spectators videoed the attack and then posted it to the website WordStar Hip-Hop.

Whether the attackers are on Twitter or not is not the point. The point is a person in Roland Martin's position, with nearly 95,000 Twitter followers and a national platform of millions delivering his segment, "Black Agenda" on The Tom Joyner Morning Show, should serve as a voice to educate, uplift and heal a community that is witnessing the rise of HIV among young Black men who have sex with men and Black women.

Homophobia represents a threat to public health in Black America. The bullying, rejection and resulting low self-esteem and depression continues to fuel the epidemics of drug abuse and HIV in our community. There's no point in giving HIV prevention tools to someone who doesn't believe his or her life matters. Until HIV prevention efforts and those folk with the largest public platform from Media, The Church and Hip-Hop deal head on with the rampant issue of homophobia -- both external and internal -- we will continue to see waves of young gay men becoming infected.

Stigma and homophobia increase the isolation of gays, bisexuals and transgender people making them more reluctant to come forward, be identified and get advice. There is a growing body of research that implicates internalized homophobia -- the internalization of society's anti-homosexual sentiments by gay and lesbian people -- as a factor contributing to HIV-related sexual risk behavior in gay and bisexual men. Although accumulating evidence links internalized homophobia and sexual risk behavior, no study has explored the impact of internalized homophobia on efforts to prevent these behaviors.

I agree with a February 8 statement from Gregory H. Lee Jr., President of the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ), on the recent suspension of NABJ member and CNN commentator, Roland Martin. "This is a teachable moment for all journalists. We are reminded that what we communicate in print and broadcast -- and now through social media -- has considerable power." I would add that what we all communicate in any medium and what we communicate by standing witness to without correction of such offenses has power in the fight against HIV/AIDS in the Black community.

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