Take one for the team: Bill Richardson, homophobia, and media silence

(Crossposted from The Bilerico Project, by Karen Ocamb, editor of In Los Angeles magazine)

What caught me off guard when I watched the Media Matters clip of New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson on the Don Imus Show last year was how casually and easily the word "maricón" fell from Richardson's lips. "Maricón," as you probably know, means "faggot" in Spanish.

It was not an easy story to write, but as my co-author Chris Crain explains on his blog, it's a legitimate one that ultimately calls Richardson's judgment into question.

I met Richardson after he officially announced his candidacy for the Democratic nomination for president. During the press conference that followed, I asked him why he didn't support full marriage equality for gay couples. He dodged the question, citing his good record on LGBT issues before scanning reporters' faces for another question. He dodged my attempt at a follow-up, too.

To his credit, Richardson later sent his communications director to get me for a personal interview.  That resulted in my story "Richardson Pledges to be an `Activist' President," which is posted on his campaign site , with a link to my publication, IN Los Angeles magazine.

Richardson was incredibly amiable, jokingly asking me why I asked him the marriage question in front of the national media. "I'm your guy," he said (or words to that effect.) "Why do you want to embarrass me like that?"
"Because I`m a reporter and this is California," I replied, thinking about how our state Legislature passed a marriage equality bill - vetoed by Gov. Arnold.

What I really wanted to say was - you may be a nice guy, but it's not my job to promote or embarrass you.  

I shouldn't have been all that surprised by his chiding. Time and again politicos who are good on LGBT issues are shocked when the LGBT press writes anything inconsistent with their agenda. Sometimes there is a subtle hint that support might be withdrawn or dampened if the story is too critical.

Call me old fashioned, but I never agreed to give anyone a pass on anything. And there have definitely been times when I've had to alert my publishers that they might get an angry call. Luckily, I have publishers who might ask questions but stick by me.  

Don't get me wrong. There are times when I have pulled my punches if it appears my probing might do harm. Case in point: when openly gay L.A. Assemblymember Jackie Goldberg was pushing the expanded domestic partnership bill, I asked her why she didn't call the legislation a civil unions bill because that was what it was. She said that it was a strategic move to get support from stressed conservative/moderate legislators who could tell their constituents that they were only supporting an expansion of the existing domestic partnership registry bill. A civil unions bill - well, that was a whole other thing because it had a different name and was perceived as too close to marriage.

I wrote the story but I didn't call the legislators struggling with the vote and ask them what the hell was wrong with them, anyway.  I imagine LGBT journalists in states other than California, Massachusetts and New York face similar quandaries.

So I understand why Equality New Mexico asked GLAAD not to "go after" Richardson after he uttered the remark and called EQNM to apologize.  Not that he would have withdrawn his support - he does appear to be a man of principle.

But ironically, that's exactly the problem. First of all, it's an issue today because neither Richardson, nor EQNM, nor GLAAD handled it properly at the time - and since then we've had an explosion of controversy over "faggot" and the "n-word." In that context, the argument to "let it go" as ancient history and potentially harmful to a good guy doesn't fly.

But more importantly, after the experience with Bill Clinton - the man who said, "I have a dream and you're a part of it" - and then threw us to the military wolves - it is imperative that we scrutinize even our friends closely. And if a pro-gay candidate can so easily do the "boys-will-be-boys" banter and joke around with the word "maricón," what does it say about his secret mind-set? Would he have so easily and casually spouted back the n-word?

I am a journalist, not a psychoanalyst. But since the days of Richard Nixon's Watergate and Bill Clinton's "it depends on what the definition of `is' is," we need to parse the words that fall from the mouths of the candidates who could make our lives heaven or hell.

[Text story of Richardson's comments here]

Tags: Bill Richardson, gay, glbt, journalism, LGBT, Politics (all tags)

Comments

3 Comments

I don't want a bigot

as president.  If that is the language he uses, it reflects something ugly.  

by littafi 2007-07-12 10:41AM | 0 recs
Richardson has a great record on LGBT issues

Richardson apologized now and last year after it occurred.  I think he was set up by Imus but he shouldn't gone down that path.

In the end, I judge candidates on their records.  What have the other Democratic Presidential candidates done to advance LGBT rights, aside from giving speeches?  

With Ricardson, it's a different story.  In Congress, he voted against the Pentagon's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, and will reverse it when President.  

In New Mexico as Governor, Richardson

*  expanded anti-discrimination laws to include sexual orientation and gender identity.

  •  provided state health insurance for domestic partnerships,
  •  signed into law the state's first hate crimes legislation for crimes based on sexual orientation and gender identity,
  •  transformed health services in the state for AIDS patients.

And if the few state senators hadn't block it, the state would have now a Domestic Partner Rights Act.  Richardson fought hard for the legislation.  Has Edwards called for the North Carolina legislature to enact a Domestic Partner Rights Act?  

Recently, the Bay Area Reporter, the leading LGBT paper for the San Francisco Bay Area, profiled Richardson:

"B.A.R. publisher Thomas E. Horn, who was born and raised in New Mexico and whose family has been involved in the state's politics - an uncle served as a state legislator and then the state's Democratic Party chair in the 1950s and 1960s - first met Richardson when he served as a congressman.

"I really think he is the most qualified Democrat in the race for president," Horn wrote in an e-mail. "His track record is exceptional. He's done a fine job as governor ... and was re-elected with around 70 percent of the vote."

Horn, who said he expects to make an endorsement in the primary but has yet to back a candidate, said winning the southwest will be key to the Democrats taking back the White House. Not only does he see Richardson having an advantage in the West, but Horn also praised his gay rights track record.

"If a Democrat carries New Mexico, Colorado, and Nevada, we don't need Ohio or Florida to win. Richardson is very popular throughout the southwest and stands the best chance of being able to do that," wrote Horn. "His record of LGBT issues has always been stellar."

Richardson has also been the only candidate that I'm aware of who has criticized Bush on his threat to veto Washington, DC appropriations bill because of the domestic partner registry.  Richardson stated:  

"I was disappointed to hear about the President's threat to veto the Washington, DC appropriations bill because of the Domestic Partner Registry. Let's be clear: this threatened veto is a veto of human rights and basic civil protections.

"The President says that he is the "decider." With this veto threat, he has once again decided to support the forces of intolerance. This bill is not radical and should not be controversial. It simply extends basic rights that most Americans already enjoy -- like hospital visitation, medical decision, and inheritance rights -- to committed domestic partnerships."

Finally, let me tell you one story I know from a friend who dealt directly with Richardson's campaign.  Richardson likes staying at the homes of supporters on his trips - it helps him gain a much better understanding of the views of people across the nation than he would obtain if he checked into hotels.  Plus, I think Richardson is a very social person and enjoys meeting new people.  

In a visit either to San Francisco earlier this year, the supporter (my friend) who Richardson was going to stay with is gay, and lives in the Castro District of SF with his partner and children.  Richardson didn't know in advance the supporter was gay.  My friend didn't want to surprise Richardson and checked with the campaign as to whether Richardson would have any problem spending the night as his house.  Richardson's response was absolutely not.  

As it turned out Richardson's plans got shifted, he came into San Francisco the morning of the fundraiser - not the night before so he didn't need lodging.  But the point is Richardson in his personal life is comfortable and welcoming of gays and does not practice discrimination

by Stephen Cassidy 2007-07-12 12:46PM | 0 recs
Re:

He's been pro-gay on many issues so I can forgive him for a slip-up- we should not make a "pariah" out of those who make a mistake now and then if their record is pretty clear-cut they stand for gay issues.  And I do think we should differentiate between someone actually joking about it and it being said out of "hatred" like some others who seem to say it to really hurt someone, not to get a quick laugh.  Both are obviously not acceptable but you can't weigh them the same because it's not the same.  One is much worse than the other.

At any rate, I can forgive him for a slip-up but can't forgive him for his terrible debate performances- the way he went over the time limit at the last PBS debate and even said to Tavis "I'm almost through" was just rude and arrogant and a total turn-off.  And in the second debate, he was asked the first thing he would do as President and just ignored the question and started going on about education, which didn't seem to answer the question at all- he decided he was going to get in what he wanted to say regardless of having to answer the question.  And the way he gives his answers, it's like he is talking to us as if we are "children" or something- or Mr. Brady giving one of his lectures to the Brady Bunch kids.  It borders on being insulting.  He's trying to play the part of being Presidential but it's not natural and comes off as an "act."

by reasonwarrior 2007-07-12 02:23PM | 0 recs

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