02.15.12

Roland Martin Made Mistakes in Tweets Deemed Antigay but Is No Homophobe

Martin’s online posts about a David Beckham Super Bowl ad were offensive and homophobic, but the CNN commentator opposed 'don’t ask, don’t tell,' supports gay marriage, and should not be condemned, says Phill Wilson, who is black, gay, runs an HIV/AIDS think tank—and is a friend of Martin’s.

Being both black and gay can be, well, interesting. But rarely has this dual identity manifested itself for me 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 some 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. “If a dude at your Super Bowl party is hyped about David Beckham’s H&M underwear ad, smack the ish out of him!” Martin said in one tweet to his almost 95,000 followers. He also posted this on his Facebook page: “Who the hell was that New England Patriot they just showed in a head to toe pink suit? Oh, he needs a visit from #teamwhipdatass.”

When I called Roland, he told me his intent was to mock soccer as inferior to American football in order to rile his friend and fellow CNN personality Piers Morgan. He seemed very sincere to me, and I believe him, but that hardly excuses using antigay 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. Implying that certain people are not manly enough, or commenting about men in pink suits who need visits from #teamwhipdatass, feeds 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 that 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 to talk with him before they called for his head. I spoke with a GLAAD representative who confirmed that no one had called Roland to have a private conversation and that their only communications with him were through the Twitter exchange on Super Bowl Sunday.

Roland’s tweets remind many LGBT people of humiliating insults they’ve suffered in the past.

Our society has a tendency to escalate conflict and immediately go into destroy mode. Too few people seem to care to create real resolutions. Nowhere is this more apparent than in our politics. We often are 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 collateral damage is to make enemies out of those who could be allies.

Many of us pray for a day when 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 toolbox beyond confrontation. Black communities are up in arms over the possible removal of one of the few black commentators in 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, who has now been suspended by CNN, 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.”