By: ANDY HUMM
"Grey's Anatomy" star Isaiah Washington finally admitted to calling co-star T.R. Knight a "faggot" and issued a statement of repentance acknowledging his "issues" under pressure from ABC-TV and the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD).
On January 22, Neil Giuliano, president of GLAAD, and Kevin Jennings, executive director of the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN)-two white gay men-met with the African-American actor and "discussed" his uses of "an anti-gay slur and laid the groundwork for an ongoing partnership to combat the prejudice and intolerance faced by the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community," GLAAD said in a release.
Washington was alleged to have called Knight a "faggot" in an on-set altercation in October with co-star Patrick Dempsey within earshot of other cast members, including Knight. This precipitated Knight coming out publicly in the pages of People magazine, but Washington for months denied using the slur.
At the Golden Globes Awards on January 15, Washington was asked about the incident in the press conference with the cast after they won for Best TV Drama Series. "No I did not call T.R. 'a faggot,'" he replied. "Never happened." He added, with what has been described as "condescension" in news reports, "I love gay. I wanted to be gay. Please let me be gay."
Washington did play a gay man in Spike Lee's "Get on the Bus," about men on their way to the Million Man March on Washington.
Two days after the Globes, Knight went on "Ellen," hosted by out lesbian Ellen Degeneres, not known for dealing with political much less gay topics on her daytime talk show. He told her, "He referred to me as a faggot. Everyone heard it."
Katherine Heigl, another "Grey's Anatomy" player, told "Access Hollywood" regarding Washington's Globes speech, "He needs to just not speak in public. Period. I'm sorry, that did not need to be said. I'm not okay with it." She added, "I don't think he means it the way it comes off. But T.R. is my best friend.... I will use every ounce of energy I have to take you down if you hurt his feelings."
GLAAD condemned Washington's Globes comments on January 17. Giuliano said "it does more than create a hostile environment for his cast mates and the crew... it also feeds a climate of hatred and intolerance that contributes to our community being put in harm's way."
ABC stepped in and laid down the law: "We are greatly dismayed that Mr. Washington chose to use such inappropriate language at the Golden Globes, language he himself deemed 'unfortunate' in his previous public apology. His actions are unacceptable and are being addressed."
Washington, after firing his publicist, issued this statement: "I apologize to T.R., my colleagues, the fans of my show, and especially the lesbian and gay community for using a word that is unacceptable in any context or circumstance. I marred what should have been a perfect night for everyone who works on 'Grey's Anatomy.' I can neither defend nor explain my behavior. I can also no longer deny to myself that there are issues I obviously need to examine within my own soul, and I've asked for help."
After the meeting with Washington arranged by ABC, Giuliano, apparently now on a first-name basis with the star, said, "Isaiah understands that he is going to be judged by more than just an apology. He knows that his future actions-including the genuine first step that today's meeting represents-will demonstrate his sincerity in becoming part of the solution to anti-gay bigotry."
Jennings noted that the meeting took place at the beginning of GLSEN's "No Name-Calling Week in schools across the country," and said, "As a parent himself, Isaiah Washington seemed to particularly appreciate the impact these words have on young people in schools" and expressed an interest in joining the campaign.
The GLAAD release said the groups intended to meet with Washington again "in the coming weeks."
Prior to the apology and meeting, out gay African-American TV producer Paris Barclay ("Frasier") told AfterElton.com, "Here's what needs to happen: ABC, from Steve McPherson [ABC's president] on down, need to condemn this kind of hate-speak, and Isaiah needs to be fired. It's just that that simple. He needs to go. He's a homophobe and a liar, and no matter how important he may appear to be, there has to be a line on what behavior is acceptable both on the set and when representing the show to the press."
African-American lesbian blogger Jasmyne Cannick, however, launched a petition to save Washington's job in response to an online petition to have him fired. "Make no mistake about it," she wrote, "the f-word is just as detrimental and derogatory as the n-word." She is concerned, however, that for "far too long, gay has been synonymous with white and power" and that "the gay mafia has done a disservice to the gay community by putting the message out there that all gays are calling for Isaiah Washington to be fired, when indeed they are not."
She accused gay whites of "hypocrisy" in not vigorously supporting protests against Charles Knipp's "Shirley Q. Liquor" blackface act as a welfare queen nor "last year's horrific hate-crime that claimed the life of 29-year old Michael Sandy," an African American in Brooklyn.
African-American gay blogger Kenyon Farrow wrote, "I am sick of the white gay community's self-righteousness, especially when it comes to dealing with black homophobia."
Just last week, GLAAD declined to make any comment on Donald Trump's repeated labeling of out lesbian Rosie O'Donnell as "a degenerate" in TV interviews about their feud.
In a list of "worst media and anti-gay voices" of 2006, GLAAD did cite MSNBC's Don Imus and Chris Matthews for "a sophomoric display of homophobia," but did not report on any pressure exerted on NBC or the offenders to sit down for an education session.
In response to concerns about the absence of African-American gay leaders from the meeting with Washington, GLAAD spokesman Marc McCarthy said that ABC did the inviting and referred Gay City News to the network for comment. ABC did not return a call by press time.
As to why GLAAD sent Giuliano rather than an African-American employee, McCarthy said, "Neil would have been the appropriate person because he's the president and he was the person who requested the apology." He added that having the president of an organization at the table "is the way it is done in corporate America."
GLSEN's Eliza Bayard said, "We didn't organize the meeting" and "didn't know" if sensitivities about the community being represented by two white gay men in an education meeting with an African American were considered before Jennings went.
On Wednesday, Life & Style magazine reported that Washington, following the example of Mel Gibson, Mark Foley, and others embroiled in humiliating episodes, checked himself into "a residential treatment facility in an effort to quell the controversy surrounding his anti-gay remarks-and save his job."
The mag cited an "insider" who said that ABC told him "he must enter a program to examine why he would say such hateful words."
(Note: Peep this.)
(Note 2: I think it is important to recognize the ways in which this has become a racialized issue, indeed, it always was. The ways in which white people are allowed to be homophobic, in public, and not held accountable for it. The way gay white people support and perpetuate racist structures while, at the same time, allowing themselves to be racist in the face of a homophobic person as if that somehow "balances things out." Also, it aids the gay white myth of a "homophobic B/black community" -- as if B/black people are a monolith, as if B/black people are all heterosexual, as if the language is always about homosexuality although still problematic. I think there are different standards about how homophobic and heterosexual language is handled according to race and class and I think it is important to bring that to the forefront. I think a lot of things, it would seem.)