February 22, 2012
Being both black and gay can be, well, interesting. But rarely has this dual identity manifested itself as dramatically as during the current controversy between the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) and the Black TV and radio commentator Roland Martin.
A week ago, to commemorate Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, I appeared on a segment of the Tom Joyner morning show about AIDS that included the rates of HIV among young Black gay men, which was produced and hosted by Roland Martin. That same day I also partnered with GLAAD to publish an HIV/AIDS editorial.
Unbeknownst to me at the time, Roland had sent out during the Super Bowl a number of tweets that GLAAD and others believe advocated violence against gay men. Roland denies this was his intent.
Roland's tweets were offensive and homophobic. For me that's not debatable. When I called Roland, he told me his intent was to mock soccer as inferior to American football in order to rile his friend Piers Morgan. He seemed very sincere to me and I believe him, but that hardly excuses using anti-gay rhetoric to make his point. We live in a world where Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) people -- and those perceived to be -- are bullied and victimized every day, and sometimes even killed. Roland's tweets remind many LGBT people of humiliating insults they've suffered in the past. By implying that certain people are not manly enough or commenting about men in pink suits who need visits from #teamwhipdatass feed right into rhetoric that degrades gay people, at best, and evokes violence against us at worst. Context matters.
What is also not debatable for me is Roland Martin is not a homophobe. I've spent time with him and his wife. I've had both public and private conversations with him about his opposition to Don't ask, don't tell, his support of gay marriage and our individual personal lives and relationships. He is not the kind of person to advocate violence against LGBT people, or anyone else for that matter. Context matters.
So, what is the appropriate response? When Roland and I spoke, he told me no one from GLAAD had called him to talk with him before they called for his head. I spoke with a GLAAD representative who confirmed that no one called Roland to have a private conversation with him and that their only communications with him were through the Twitter exchange on Super Bowl Sunday.
Our society has a tendency to escalate conflict and immediately go to destroy mode. Too few people seem to care to create real resolutions. Nowhere is this more apparent than in our politics. We are often more interested in making points than finding solutions. Too often we focus on one-upmanship and demonization of those whose points of view are different from our own.
I think that we walk a very dangerous road when we turn the volume and the heat up so high and -- in this day of Twitter and facebook -- so quickly that the only possible outcome is war. Often, the casualty is to make enemies out of those who could be allies.
Many of us pray for a day homophobia and racism and HIV/AIDS are things of the past and when marginalizing people on the basis of identity no longer happens. So I wonder if we might benefit by expanding our tool box beyond confrontation. Black communities are up in arms over the possible removal of one of the few Black commentators from television news. Might we consider strategies that won't pit Black people against gay people with some of us stuck in the middle?
Roland Martin is a friend. I have lots of friends who say and do things that I find stupid or offensive. And I'm reminded every day that God is not done with me yet, either. I am grateful every time someone takes the time to help me work on my stuff.
Few would argue that homophobia still exists in Black communities and that racism and other kinds of stigma are alive and well in LGBT communities. But I hope we can all agree that while much work is left to be done, we are not where we used to be, and that sometimes it is better to turn toward one another rather than on one another.
Martin Luther King Jr. said, The old law of an eye for an eye leaves everybody blind. It is immoral because it seeks to humiliate the opponent rather than win his understanding. It seeks to annihilate rather than to convert.
Yours in the struggle,