I was also pleased to learn that the press took issue with actor Isaiah Washington's “I'm not your little faggot!” snort to co-star Patrick Dempsey during a fight on the set of Grey's Anatomy on Oct. 9. Washington 's tantrum prompted T.R. Knight, who plays Dr. George O'Malley on Grey's Anatomy, to reveal to People magazine that he is gay. “I'd like to quiet any unnecessary rumors that may be out there,” he said on Oct. 19.
One week later, a remorseful Washington showed up in People as well. “I sincerely regret my actions and the unfortunate use of words during the recent incident on-set,” he said. “I have nothing but respect for my coworkers … and have apologized personally to everyone involved.”
Not long after that story appeared, Survivor: Cook Islands contestant Nate Gonzalez reached into his own repository of repugnance. On the Nov. 2 episode, his lisp-laced “ nancy boy” comment, in reference to now-ousted gay teammate Brad Virata, reinforced what some of us who watch the show regularly had already surmised: Nate is a bully. He has since apologized to Brad and will no doubt come away from the show declaring that his aggressive behavior and demeaning language was harmless and all part of “outwitting” the other contestants.
And then there's Brian Kinchen, who proved on the afternoon of Oct. 28 that you can take a tight end off the football field, but you can't take the gay out of football.
While commenting on an incomplete pass during a Northern Illinois-Iowa football game, Kinchen described on air how the receiver should have attempted to “caress” the ball with his “tender” hands, instead of trying to catch it with his body. Kinchen's critique of his own analysis: “That's kinda gay, but hey …”
Kinchen quickly and gracefully apologized for his remarks. “They were completely inappropriate and not at all a reflection of who I am or the way I perform my work. I have learned from my mistake,” he said. Nonetheless, he was suspended for a weekend and, at the time, according to ESPN's vice president of public relations Josh Krulewitz, his future appearances were “in question.”
I suppose Krulewitz was being safe in an effort to avoid having to be sorry. He'd probably aced ESPN's diversity training session, having learned a valuable lesson – that the gay community is somewhat fickle when it comes to passing judgment on those who pass judgment on us.
The official word from the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation – the organization we go to for guidance when it comes to identifying what might be anti-gay comments – is that ESPN acted appropriately. Cindi Creager, GLAAD's director of national news, said, “We applaud Kinchen's apology and are pleased that ESPN recognized the importance of addressing the situation publicly.”
But in the realm of public opinion, feelings about the suspension were mixed. Some folks, like respected gay blogger Andy Towle of Towleroad.com, agreed with GLAAD's assessment. “ESPN absolutely did the right thing in expressing their unwillingness to tolerate the use of the word gay as derogatory in any sense,” he wrote.
Others, like OutSports.com's Cyd Zeigler Jr., disagreed. “What [Kinchen] said … just doesn't seem to be something someone should be suspended, let alone terminated, for,” he wrote. “ Kinchen was making a joke, the same joke I hear in my football league from gay guys every week. Hell, he was saying his own comment was gay!”
These differences of opinion should stimulate a larger conversation in and out of the gay community about the possible verbal side effects of gained acceptance. And, more importantly, they should raise the consciousness of organizations such as GLAAD.
Language doesn't exist in a vacuum, detached from factors such as context, tone and intent, so those in charge of monitoring it must be extremely cautious and reasonable, especially when acting on behalf of an entire community. But with Kinchen, GLAAD failed to be prudent.
A search of GLAAD's website reveals that Kinchen's remarks weren't worth a mention before ESPN announced his suspension – no “GLAAD Alert”; no “Call to Action.” Is it possible that no one at GLAAD was initially offended? Yes. In fact, it's not only possible but probable, given the various reactions to Kinchen's words in the gay community. So what happened that made GLAAD comment?
That's a good question, but there doesn't appear to be a good – as in benevolent – answer.