In Washington, Racism Trumped Homophobia

Lott’s antigay rants Why is it that in all of the righteous indignation about Trent Lott’s racist statements there wasn’t any discussion of this ugly old fool’s homophobic statements? He hates gays with a passion and personifies what so much of the right wing of the Republican Party believes about gays as well as blacks.

As the leader of the party, Lott has been responsible all of these years for promoting the anti-gay agenda in the Senate. He and the Republican Party court the religious right for votes just like they court Southern racists. There are some real connections here. And the Republican senators who criticized Lott are just as guilty of racism and homophobia as he is. Lott’s homophobia is relevant to the discussion of his racist remarks because bias goes hand in hand. But we don’t see anything about it in the press.

Have I missed something?

Re: Lott’s anti-gay rants

You’ve not a missed a damn thing, unfortunately. The controversy surrounding Lott reached a crescendo at the end of last week, forcing him to step down as Senate Majority Leader. But throughout the days of dredging up his past statements, most mainstream commentators didn’t mention Lott’s notorious 1998 radio interview in which he viciously lambasted gays.

Richard Cohen in the Washington Post was one of only a very few exceptions. “You still love that person and you should not try to mistreat them or treat them as outcasts,” Lott said back in June of 1998 on the Armstrong Williams Show, in response to host Williams’ leading question about homosexuality. “You should try to show them a way to deal with that problem just like alcohol or sex addiction or kleptomania.”

In retrospect, Lott’s having made that comment on a show hosted by the conservative, outspokenly anti-gay Williams is pretty laughable. Williams, a former Clarence Thomas aide, after all, has since been sued by a former male bodyguard who claimed he’d been sexually harassed by Williams. (The case was settled out of court). And former right wing hit man David Brock, who is gay, in his mea culpa book Blinded by the Right, published earlier in this year, claimed that Williams came on to him in the talk show host’s living room one night, when Williams asked Brock whether he was “dominant or submissive in bed.” Brock wrote that he ignored the question and rebuffed the advance, rather than offering an answer that might have elicited just which role Williams himself prefers. And really, knowing whether Armstrong Williams is a top or a bottom is way too much information!

But I digress. Judging from the media’s track record these days, you’re expecting an awful lot from them to think they’d actually look at the issue of bias in a complicated manner. We were lucky enough they finally picked up on Lott’s romantic yearnings for the South of yesteryear, as expressed at Senator Strom Thurmond’s 100th birthday party. The story had floated around for a whole weekend without much pick-up and would likely have died, as has now been widely reported, if not for the many Internet writers who pushed it. Things just get a little too close for comfort between the Beltway’s media and its politicians, who mingle and socialize with one another and, more importantly, have business relationships that are carefully cultivated. A reporter at a major paper might not want to finger the Senate majority leader as a possible racist if it could harm his or her access to that office and/or the offices of the rest of the Senate and Republican leadership. Once it was out there big time, however, the media turned very “on message,” so to speak, suddenly focusing on Lott and his past with fury. But it was all very narrow and one-track, looking solely at his racial record and his past racial comments––both of which had been well-known for 30 years. And, it wasn’t as if the media got much guidance on the issue of homophobia from leading gay groups either.

The Human Rights Campaign and the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation––who were both out front in criticizing Lott’s comments in 1998––sent out no press releases in the midst of the recent controversy reminding the press about Lott’s homophobia. Only after Lott stepped down, did HRC send out a release praising his decision, but still not mentioning his homophobic remarks.

Spokespeople for both groups said that they were being careful not to offend African Americans, who might not see a connection between racism and homophobia or might feel the groups were trying to one-up the discussion of racism by focusing on gay issues. Both groups offered the view that, in due time, homophobia would get its due as the controversy played out. I can understand the gay groups’ sensitivity about taking the spotlight off of a needed discussion of racism.

Still, the role of our advocacy groups should be to make the connections among broader social issues and to promote that analysis to the media, while also challenging the general public, Frankly including other minority groups. Their silence does not advance our issues. GLAAD claimed to be working with reporters behind the scenes on making these connections. But apparently working quietly didn’t help to focus much of the media on Lott’s homophobia.

Lott is now slinking into a background role in the Senate, less visible but no less anti-gay, while the opportunity to highlight his past statements on gays and link them to his racism is gone.

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