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While it is commendable for anyone to apologize for making a
mistake -- something that we all are prone to do at some point in our lives -- a
simple apology does not always mend broken fences or undo the horrific damage
done to others.
Four years ago, Grey's Anatomy star Isaiah Washington was fired from the hit ABC series after using a homophobic slur during an off-camera altercation with costar Patrick Dempsey. A few months ago, Kobe Bryant hurled a gay slur at NBA referee Bennie Adams without conscience or remorse because he wanted to strike an emotional chord that would reverberate through the man's psyche. It was crystal clear that the Lakers star meant to hurt the referee in the worst possible way, and that was to assassinate his character publicly and demean his manhood.
Then, in an almost nightmarish scene captured on instant replay (and unfortunately viewed by millions), another NBA player, Bulls center Joakim Noah, catapulted the same gay slur with the same intent at a fan heckling him from the stands, calling him what he surmised was the worst thing any man could ever be called: a "fucking faggot!" Noah still succumbed to his homophobic preconditioning, even in the aftermath of Kobe's stupid mistake, costing both players collectively more than $150,000 in penalties, to the dismay of team owners.
Now, even before the dust could settle on the NBA courts from both of these unfortunate incidents, Tracy Morgan, a renowned comedian and actor, did what I consider the ultimate while performing a monologue in Nashville at the Ryman Auditorium. He stated that if his son was gay, he would "pull out a knife and stab that little [n word] to death." Other serious and inflammatory remarks followed.
In fact, the monologue was so offensive and riddled with such extreme language about gays and lesbians that some people in the audience got up and left. He responded to their disapproval by stating that he didn't care if gay people were offended because "if they can take a fucking dick up their ass ... they can take a fucking joke.." Please, someone remind Mr. Morgan that it's these kinds of harmful jokes that result in the suicides of countless LGBT youths annually. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control issued a report this month warning that gay youths are at increased risk for suicide, drug use, and other negative outcomes because of the unaccepting environments they must endure.
Thankfully, there is no video of Morgan making these derogatory comments, but there are plenty of eyewitnesses whom have boldly come forth to confirm Morgan's comments, while expressing their outrage and vehement disapproval.
Now, like Bryant and Noah, the embattled 30 Rock star and his publicist are doing everything humanly possible to erase the hate and rescue his public persona by crafting a tear-jerking, heart-wrenching apology similar to Bryant's and Noah's. In penance, Morgan met with parents of young LGBT adults who committed suicide, with some LGBT people who were seriously hurt and physically abused by homophobic offenders, and with teens who have been rejected by parents because of their sexual orientation.
In the wake of the tragic teen suicides resulting from intolerance of same-gender-loving people in the political and religious arenas, it is becoming fashionable by Hollywood publicists, campaign managers, actors, and renowned athletes to mend fences quickly as a survival tactic. But as a student of the Bible, I have come to understand that true repentance is more than expressing what appears to be a heartfelt apology. True repentance is also taking full responsibility for the damage, adopting a new attitude and new behavior, and even being willing to pay restitution to the victim.
"I didn't know; I didn't mean it," Morgan said in his official apology before cameras Tuesday, in a news conference arranged by the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. "I don't have a hateful bone in my body. I don't believe that anyone should be bullied or just made to feel bad about who they are. I totally feel that in my heart."
Morgan has apologized and is going to all of these meetings and jumping through whatever hoops are held out by GLAAD and other gay rights groups, all to demonstrate his sincere remorse. But the meetings were arranged and agreed to only after Morgan was told that his apology was not enough to undo his catastrophic actions.
Friends, here is the question that we all need to be asking ourselves: Would Morgan, Bryant, or Noah have come to the realization on their own that they had grossly offended so many people and possibly placed the lives of countless LGBT youths in jeopardy all over the world had not organizations like GLAAD, Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, the Human Rights Campaign, and many others condemned and reprimanded them publicly for making such statements? Would they have so willingly yielded to the powers that be if the possibility of boycotts and loss of jobs and loss of support or revenue had not loomed over their heads?
All three of these megastars have consented to work with gay rights organizations in various ways, with some creating public service announcements or doing other community service that will paint them in a more positive light. If these tasks are done from the heart, then I am somewhat relieved. But if they are done simply because these individuals fear losing their prominence, position, or lucrative paychecks, then I must call it what it is -- a media-orchestrated farce.
Simply to say "I'm sorry" because celebrities fear losing high-paying positions that garner them fame and fortune, allowing them to live "the good life" and keeping them in the good graces of the public's eye, is hypocritical (at best) if the person still harbors deep-rooted homophobia and hatred.
Those who impress me are not the athletes or actors who initiate damage control to save their careers, but the ones who do the "damage control" to make sure these unfortunate incidents never happen. If anyone is to be commended and praised, it is the NBA athletes like Grant Hill and Jared Dudley of the Phoenix Suns, who have never uttered any of these homophobic slurs and have teamed up with organizations like the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network to discourage bullying and homophobia in sports and in our communities.
Black men were once marginalized politically, physically, and emotionally by racist people and racist political institutions. To endure and persevere, black men taught and conditioned themselves not to show any kind of weakness. Black men had to portray themselves as strong as steel and hard as granite. Anything less was "soft," "weak," or "womanish." Thus began the practice of demeaning and insulting a black man's manhood with the use of homophobic slurs. To be called a "faggot" or any similar slur meant that not only were you a failure as a man but you were a failure to your race as well.
Black men will never be free until we realize that true masculine strength is defined as a set of values that recognizes and honors diversity in others -- including sexual expression. Real men like Hill and Dudley hold these values and are not afraid to express them.
Terry Angel Mason is a gay HIV/AIDS activist and author. His book Love Won't Let Me Be Silent speaks about homosexuality and homophobia in the black community.
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