In this week’s feature in the Voice Pride Issue “Does ‘Gay Inc.’ Believe in Free Speech?” we take a long look at GLAAD, the self-described “PR firm for the LGBT community.”
Since the story was published Tuesday afternoon, a few events have happened as if on cue (one nationally, the others on a much smaller scale involving us personally) which made us wonder how GLAAD would deal with satire today.
The most recent and famous incident was when Dan Savage tweeted this yesterday, in reference to the gay Republican group GOProud endorsing Mitt Romney:
What, we immediately had to think, will GLAAD have to say about this?
It’s not just that GLAAD has a 25 year history of policing what the media should and shouldn’t say, but that they’ve left little room for even the satirical use of the word faggot itself.
In 2010, South Park aired its episode “The F-Word,” a hilarious send up of the etymology of the word faggot and an exploration of the changing nature of language. As the New York Times summarized:
“[T]he children of South Park decide that they will change the meaning of the word ‘fag’ so that it will be used as a slur against burly, inconsiderate motorcyclists who ride loud Harley-Davidson bikes instead of against gay people. The children’s casual and frequent use of the word, which was broadcast unbleeped, offends adults and several gay characters on the show. But after the town learns the etymology of the word ‘faggot’ (which began use as a derisive term for old women) and gains the approval of a dictionary official, their new meaning for the word is accepted.”
GLAAD was not pleased. The organization demanded an apology from Trey Parker and Matt Stone and wrote:
“Though this seems to represent a well-intentioned effort by the creators of South Park to delegitimize a vulgar anti-gay slur, the fact is that the word is and remains a hateful slur that is often part of the harassment, bullying and violence that gay people, and gay youth in particular, experience on a daily basis in this country. It is an epithet that has real consequences for real people’s lives.”
Also, GLAAD wrote (emphasis added):
“The creators of South Park are right on one important point: more and more people are using the F-word as an all-purpose insult. However, it is irresponsible and wrong to suggest that it is a benign insult or that promoting its use has no consequences for those who are the targets of anti-gay bullying and violence. This is a slur whose meaning remains rooted in homophobia. And while many South Park viewers will understand the sophisticated satire and critique in last night’s episode, others won’t – and if even a small number of those take from this a message that using the ‘F-word’ is OK, it worsens the hostile climate that many in our community continue to face.
So. How will GLAAD react to an actual, real person — not animated Stan or Cartman for that matter, but the founder of the anti-bullying It Gets Better Campaign, no less — using the word faggot in a derogatory manner?
It was a ballsy thing for Savage in particular to make a “house negroes” analogy, but we think we know what he meant. Regardless, Savage is part of the long, not always committee approved history of free speech in the LGBT community, which was sparked so explosively 43 years ago next week. (As is GOProud’s announcement.) He’s certainly not the first gay person to say something inflammatory which we’ve printed or reprinted.
Reactions from people we interacted with yesterday regarding “house faggots” ranged from anger that, in the use of “grab their ankles,” they felt Savage was disrespecting gay bottoms and/or women, all the way to someone who said, “Well, GOProud are a bunch of house faggots!”
One of the best reactions was from Daily Kos blogger Scott Wooledge, who put things in proportion brilliantly:
But we are really curious to see how GLAAD is going to respond to this, and can’t really predict how (or even if) they will. We’ve reached out to both GLAAD and Savage and will update if we hear anything.
As for those more personal incidents which made us think of GLAAD and satire, the first was when we interviewed gay Arab-American wunderkid Mohammed Fairouz on the Michelangelo Signorile Show this week. Speaking with him, and listening to his music, it is almost impossible to realize you are with someone so young. The 26-year-old is one of the most exciting classical composers on the world stage right now, and as he discussed gay life in Europe, North America and the Middle East, he talked with extreme intelligence about the musical traditions of multiple cultures and referenced, with great analytical depth, the poetry of multiple languages.
He did this while wearing a Cartman “Respect My Authority!” t-shirt, re-iterating for us how popular South Park is even to someone who, being gay and Arab-American, could very well have felt reason to be offended by the show at one point or another.
We also were contacted by Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore, editor of Why Are Faggots So Affraid of Faggots?
We look forward to talking with her soon about the “F-word.”