Roland Martin's Controversial Tweets Draw Attention To Issues Faced By LGBT Blacks, Activists Say
When CNN contributor Roland Martin fired off a series of tweets during the Super Bowl that many people considered homophobic and advocating of violence against gays, a shudder ran down Kimberley McLeod's spine.
Roland Martin, who is African-American, has a wide reach, as a result of his frequent appearances on cable television and radio news programs, his popular website and his more than 98,000 followers on Twitter. And McLeod, who is a media field strategist for the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, said the impact of Martin's words, especially among blacks, could feed such homophobia.
"A lot of people are debating the power of these tweets and the comments he posted," said McLeod, whose work includes outreach in the black community. "As a public figure who has almost 100,000 Twitter followers and who is showing up in the homes of millions of Americans, he has a responsibility to send a message that does not encourage violence toward LGBT people or people who are perceived to be gay."
"At the core of it is that anti-gay language has the power to fuel hostility that can manifest in very real ways for members of the LGBT community, especially when you look at the black LGBT community," McLeod said.
McLeod said the debate over the impact of Martin's words highlights a very complicated and charged conversation in the black community, which continues to wrestle with cultural and religious values that have been anti-gay at worst, ambivalent at best. As violence against this group, and LGBT people as a whole is rising, the phenomenon largely gone unnoticed by the media.
"You don't hear about the plight of black people," McLeod said. "Black people go missing in the mainstream media in general; then you couple that with another layer of oppression, sexual orientation or gender identity; you're even more invisible," McLeod said.
Black gays disproportionately bears the brunt of violence perpetrated against LGBT people, she said. Of all LGBT murder victims killed in anti-gay attacks in recent years, some 70 percent were people of color, McLeod said, noting that about 44 percent were transgender women. A rash of recent violent episodes, along with the Martin flap, has served as a call to arms for those fighting on behalf of LGBT people.
This week a video of Brandon White, a gay black man in Atlanta, went viral. It showed him being pummeled by a group of suspected gang members who were yelling anti-gay slurs.
And last week, Deoni Jones, a black transgender woman, was stabbed to death in Washington, D.C. According to reports, she was attacked during an altercation at a bus stop. According to the Washington Blade, police are investigating whether the murder was a hate crime.
Perhaps the incident that received the most attention was last month's hazing death of Robert Champion Jr., a gay member of the Florida A&M University marching band who was beaten by fellow bandmates not long after a football game. Some have speculated that his sexual orientation may have played a role in the severity of the beating.
The National Black Justice Coalition called these attacks "a clarion call that more deliberate action within the black community is needed now more than ever," adding that anti-gay violence is not only a civil rights issue, but most certainly a black issue.
"It is a Black issue because violence against gay and transgender individuals is disproportionately affecting our black youth," a statement released by the organization declared. "The civil rights community can no longer stand on the sidelines while our LGBT sons and daughters continue to suffer in silence."
In the same statement, Sharon Lettman-Hicks, National Black Justice Coalition's executive director, said, "Enough is enough."
"Our children are dying and they're taking each other's lives. Simply because it's anti-LGBT violence doesn't change the fact that it's Black-on-Black crime," she said. "We need to act now."
Aisha C. Moodie-Mills, an adviser for LGBT policy and racial justice at the Center for American Progress, said the impact of hate speech has an even broader effect. "It's not about taking Roland Martin and making it just about how [homophobia] develops in the black community, it's a broader conversation about our national discourse and how horrible it has gotten and what are the side effects," she said.
About Martin, she said, "I'm not advocating that anyone to be laid off, unemployment is already high enough for black people, but we absolutely need to hold everyone accountable for making harmful, hurtful crass comments."
Requests by GLAAD and others for CNN to fire Martin or address his tweets got a response from CNN three days later. CNN called the statements "offensive" and announced on Wednesday that Martin would be off the air "for the time being."
While some applauded the move, others, particularly some African-Americans, have come to the pundit's defense. A Facebook page called "Bruhs" for Roland Martin has been created. (It has 76 likes.)
There is a Twitter account called Boycott CNN, which has advocated viewers to boycott the channel until Martin is reinstated. One blogger, Gloria Dulan-Wilson, wrote, "We need to send a message" to CNN, which she says treated Martin "unfairly, stupidly and with prejudice."
Meanwhile, Martin and the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, which had initially called for CNN to terminate him, have agreed to meet.
“Fam, late last night I received word of GLAAD's invitation to meet with me, and as I have informed CNN...” Martin tweeted on Wednesday. “I look forward to meeting with GLAAD in the near future and having a productive dialogue.”
"CNN today took a strong stand against anti-LGBT violence and language that demeans any community," stated Rich Ferraro, GLAAD spokesman in a Wednesday press release. "Yesterday, Martin also spoke out against anti-LGBT violence. We look forward to hearing from CNN and Roland Martin to discuss how we can work together as allies and achieve our common goal of reducing anti-LGBT violence as well as the language that contributes to it."
GLAAD's initial calling for Martin to be fired from CNN but not TV One, a cable news channel targeted to African-Americans, in which he hosts a show, has also drawn critics.
"Could it be that since TV One is a black-owned network, somehow it is not viewed as having any value?" wrote Raynard Jackson, on The Root.
Martin could not immediately be reached for comment.