Chris Crain, former editor of The Washington Blade and current editor of GayNewsWatch, sent me an alert earlier today about a story he authored along with IN Los Angeles news editor Karen Ocamb ("Richardson sorry for 'maricon' moment") in which they dissect a single on-air live radio utterance of the Spanish word for "faggot" (maricon) by New Mexico governor and presidential candidate Bill Richardson in - drum roll please! - the now canceled "Imus in the Morning" radio show! (Don Imus, of course, was the first in a number of firings and reprimands handed down at radio and television personalities this spring and summer following what could be construed as racist or homophobic language).
The utterance came more than a year ago on March 29, 2006, and, to be fair, Richardson was goaded into it by Imus who was trying to get Richardson to say that an "Imus in the Morning" producer sitting next to him in the studio was a "maricon" for implying that Richardson was not a Latino (video capture here, courtesy of Media Matters).
Here's a transcript of the brief exchange:
Imus: "How the hell are ya, governor, listen sir, I apologize for this but Bernard [has been claiming that you're not really Hispanic, that you're just claiming that, so, for some advantage or something, so... ah, you can just answer this 'yes' or 'no' - ah - and that... this will answer that question. Would you agree that Bernard is a maricon"Bill Richardson, who could be argued has the best record on LGBT issues among all the presidential candidates, reportedly apologized in private to people that questioned his comments then and has released an public apology now that the matter is gaining more attention.
Governor Bill Richardson on the phone speaking in Spanish: "I believe that Bernardo is indeed a maricon if he says I am not Hispanic...." [laughter in the studio]
Richardson speaking in English: "Was that good enough or what?"
Imus: "Pretty good enough for me"
Imus: "Governor Bill Richardson on the phone."
Today, a few influential gay bloggers across the political spectrum have been linking up to the GayNewsWatch article and some are offering commentary. They include Andy at Towleroad, Steve Rothaus of the Miami Herald, Andrew Sullivan, Lane Hudson at Bilerico and at the Huffington Post and Pam at Pam's Houseblend. Chris Crain also has additional thoughts over on his personal blog.
A general consensus emerges:
On the right, Sullivan calls it "a Coulter" moment referring to Ann Coulter's own faggot outbreaks and says that the only reason that Richardson escaped scrutiny from gay groups was the fact that he was a Democrat.
On the left, Hudson calls it "incredibly disappointing" and says "There is no room in this race for any Democrat who harbors any kind of homophobic ideas."
Pam asks "Does going on air with a bigot who eggs on pols to say equally bigoted things means something?" and answers her own question with a "Yes, it does."
I guess closest to my feelings about the whole thing is Chris Crain himself who acknowledges admiration for the governor's track record on LGBT issues as he takes him to task for the various semi-apologies Richardson has given in private and in public.
One caveat: I was among the few in the gay blogosphere who was willing to give Isaiah Washington a pass (that is, until he went on Larry King and, like Richardson, claimed that where he grew up the word "faggot" meant "weakness," not necessarily being gay, and that he had no idea that saying it to a cast member would be interpreted as an insult towards gays).
Yes, I get context: There are indeed specific contexts in which the word "maricon" could be used and not be meant as an epithet or insult. But it's clear in this specific context the whole joke was Imus getting Richardson to use "maricon" - a word that most English-speakers would probably immediately recognize as the Spanish language word for "faggot" - specifically as an on-air insult, even if it was in jest. In short, even if has yet to show he is a homophobic man, Richardson did not only engage Imus's very real homophobia but also tacitly let Imus get away with it.
Does it rise to the level of Ann Coulter's viciousness? That's laughable, of course not. Is Richards a homophobe? His track record speaks louder than his brief appearance on Imus.
But I want anyone who gets caught in these sort of thing to show the guts to face up to it, to apologize without "If I offended anybody, I'm sorry" disclaimers or a bullshit line such as "In the Spanish I grew up speaking, the term means simply 'gay,' not positive or negative" and adding the clincher "It has been brought to my attention that the word has a hurtful connotation."
Ask any Mexican-American what the word "maricon" means to them and I am pretty sure they don't need anyone to bring it up to their attention that the word has a hurtful connotation. If Richardson had used the English word "faggot" and said the same thing about it, I'd wonder if he'd been raised in the same building as Isaiah Washington.
As I told Crain, the fact that Richardson said the word is not at all surprising to me. Most Hispanic men have used it at one point or another as ingrained as it is in our culture. Nor does it disappoint me or upsets me. I am a grown man and can hear these kind of words without falling to pieces or tearing my eyes out screaming "WHY OH WHYYYYY!"
If it has legs, people will use the story to raise questions about Richardson's commitment to the LGBT community. I have a feeling people are so burnt-out about these "faggot" flare-ups that there's little room for yet another Isaiah Washington / Ann Coulter / Don Imus moment in English language media or Luis Jimenez / Luisa Fernanda moment in Spanish language media for that matter.
Me? I still think that on LGBT issues, Richardson is among the best of all the current presidential nominees, which is saying a lot when most people's perceptions are that Latinos are generally homophobic.
I wish he had used the "moment" to raise awareness about homophobia in the community instead of giving the usual half-assed apologies that everyone has given as of late. He might do well by forming an LGBT advisory committee, if he doesn't have one. Heck, I might be interested in being part of it.
I do wonder what other gay Latinos might think of the whole thing. If you care to comment, please do.
Update: Karen Ocamb has additional comments at Bilerico.