As I watched yet another news commentary on the three-month-old obsession with the misguided and unfortunate use of the word "faggot," by Isaiah Washington, Dr. Preston Burke on the ABC series Grey’s Anatomy, I became incensed. I had had enough. I had had enough of the hypocrisy of the broader lgbt community and I have certainly had enough of gay rights organizations such as GLAAD (Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) and their selective preoccupation with what I believe to be a racially motivated public scourging of an African American man.
I am disappointed and angered by the fact that Mr. Washington, an African American man with an extensive and exceptional acting career would resort to the use of such an inflammatory and degrading word against anyone, regardless of their sexuality. I am equally disappointed and angered by this overzealous reaction and the demands placed on Mr. Washington’s future and career. When Michael Richards, Kramer on the television series Seinfeld, repeatedly used the word "Nigger" at a public comedy show, where was your outrage expressed and who did you mobilize? Where was your disgust and righteous indignation, shouts of condemnation, petitions and “partnerships?” Mum was the word from you and most other white dominated organizations that purport to speak and advocate for the entire gay community. In case you did not know, human rights advocacy is pluralistic, not monolithic.
But then there’s more. As I continued to watch, I began to recall another embarrassing moment that bears witness to how hypocritical, self-involved and monolithically focused the gay community can be. One recent debacle was the death and burial (or lack thereof) of Mr. Tyrone Garner. Tyrone Garner was the African American man and co-plaintiff in the 2003 Lawrence v. Texas Supreme Court case "that overruled a Texas sodomy law in the broadest possible terms, effectively making homosexual relations a basic civil right." For months, he and Mr. John Lawrence, the other co-plaintiff, were exploited and dragged around the country to appear on talk shows, news programs and the like to advance the gay cause – that is until their representatives from the Lambda Legal Defense Fund decided that they were too "inarticulate" to continue to be the mouthpiece for their own lives.
Well, as fate would have it, Mr. Garner died and his family, his brother in particular, had to deal with the fact that they were unable to provide him with a proper burial. And although this man, who, by his courageous action, played a critical role in setting an historic legal precedent in the fight for gay rights, his body was left in a morgue for an unreasonable amount of time before he was cremated.
Organizations with multi-million dollar budgets such as GLAAD, the Lambda Legal Defense Fund, the Human Rights Campaign Fund and I’m sad to say the National Black Justice Coalition, could not or would not raise enough money to help Mr. Garner’s family give him a decent burial. Where was your humanity then? Where was your debt of gratitude and act of redemption?
I wonder if Isaiah Washington and the cast of Grey’s Anatomy, including T.R. Knight and ABC for that matter, knew the lack of regard you had for or have shown toward African American same-and-both-gender-loving people if your partnership to combat “prejudice and intolerance faced by the lgbt community," would also include combating the prejudice, racism, sexism and classism that is pervasive in the lgbt community?
Ending where I began, as I came back to myself, from out the corner of my eye, I caught a glimpse of a painting by African American artist Gilbert Young, entitled "He Ain’t Heavy." I believe it to be the artist’s interpretation of the 1921 Boys Town motto. It depicts two strong arms reaching toward one another, one arm reaching up and the other reaching down. The sentiment behind the piece, and I simplify, is that the weight of our brothers and sisters is never and should never be too heavy for us bear or to carry. Isaiah Washington’s use of the word "faggot," while insensitive, wrong, hurtful and inexcusable – it is not fatal. I can still embrace him. I can still hold him. I can still defend, protect and carry him.
No, he ain’t heavy, for he is still my brother!
© 2007, Dorinda G. Henry