Most fair-minded people would agree that there is a difference between intention and perception. When you’re a public figure like Roland Martin — a regular guest on CNN and a commentator on the Tom Joyner Morning Show as well as TV One, a news network available in over 36 million homes — perception is everything.
After an underwear commercial featuring soccer player David Beckham aired during the Super Bowl, Martin tweeted to almost 95,000 followers: “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.” Earlier that day, he took to his Facebook fan page and posted: “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.”
Since the controversy began, some have insulted Martin’s personal character and race when discussing this issue. The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) strongly condemns these attacks. There is no excuse for race-based attacks or hate speech.
At a time when the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs has found that violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people is up 23 percent, we need people in the public eye to speak out against the dangers of anti-LGBT violence, not openly encourage it — even jokingly. The report also revealed that people of color and transgender women were most likely to be targets of violence. Of the victims murdered, 70 percent were people of color, and 44 percent were transgender women.
Martin’s comments come just three days after a black transgender woman was fatally stabbed in Washington, D.C. and one day before a video of a black gay man in Atlanta being brutally beaten went viral. The 30-second hard-to-watch clip shows a group of men suspected to be members of the gang Pittsburgh Jack City kicking and punching the unsuspecting young man as they repeatedly call him anti-gay slurs.
This is what ‘smacking the ish’ out of someone for appearing gay can look like.
CNN has now joined national advocacy organizations like the National Black Justice Coalition and political pundits like Dr. Boyce Watkins who took a stand against Martin’s violent messages. The outlet recently released a statement saying, “Roland Martin’s tweets were regrettable and offensive. Language that demeans is inconsistent with the values and culture of our organization, and is not tolerated. We have been giving careful consideration to this matter, and Roland will not be appearing on our air for the time being.” Because at the end of the day, people in the media are powerful change agents who can educate people to overcome prejudice — or they can perpetuate that prejudice, even if unintentionally.
Martin’s tweets advocating violence against gay people were not an isolated incident. They are a part of a larger anti-gay pattern. On Martin’s website he ignores the medical evidence about the ineffectiveness and harm associated with so-called “ex-gay” programs and instead praises his wife who he says “has counseled many men and women to walk away from the gay lifestyle.” He has compared being gay to being an alcoholic, or someone who is “hellbent on stealing.” He has used his platform to misrepresent religious views about LGBT people, inaccurately claiming that the church is uniformly anti-gay.
Last year during a stand-up routine, actor/comedian Tracy Morgan said that if his son were gay he would “stab him.” Morgan later apologized and worked with GLAAD to send positive messages to parents and LGBT youth. Although Morgan understood how his words could influence his fans and put youth in danger, Martin defended Tracy Morgan’s original remarks.
“If we are to demand an apology for every time a comedian is sexist against men or women, racist or homophobic, we might as well launch a website called www.comediansapologizedaily.com,” he wrote. “Say I’m wrong. Fine. Say I’m insensitive to gays and lesbians. Fine.”
Despite his consistent anti-gay history, and first denying that the tweets had anything to do with the LGBT community, while not even addressing his anti-gay Facebook post, Martin recently issued a public apology:
“To those who construed my comment as being anti-gay or homophobic or advancing violence, I’m truly sorry. I can certainly understand how someone could come to a different conclusion than the one I meant. I’m disheartened that my words would embolden prejudice. While public debate over social issues is healthy, no matter which side someone takes, there is no room for debate as to whether we need to be respectful of others.”
Only time and his actions will tell whether Martin’s words are sincere. For the sake of his young and impressionable Twitter/Facebook followers, viewers, and LGBT people who are targeted daily for who they are, I hope he is. Anti-gay violence is a serious problem facing millions of people, especially in our community. It’s no laughing matter.
Kimberley McLeod works as GLAAD’s communities of African descent media field strategist.