“Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me,” my Mom would say after I, as a kid, once again did something wrong (calling my brother names or talking back to my teachers) for which I’d previously said “I’m sorry.”
This saying came to mind when I learned that on Nov. 15, MSNBC suspended actor and talk show host Alec Baldwin for two weeks after he used an anti-gay slur when confronting a photographer last Thursday. “Up Late,” Baldwin’s interview show wasn’t aired on Friday and it will not be shown this week. The confrontation was posted by TMZ in a video on its website. As Baldwin exits his New York City apartment, a photographer attempts to take pictures of him, his wife and their baby. It sounds as if Baldwin is calling the paparazzi a “cocksucking faggot.” Baldwin said he had no idea that “cocksucker” was an anti-gay slur and that he didn’t say “faggot.”
Watching Baldwin spew this homophobic venom, I thought: here we go again. Last June, Baldwin was outraged when “Daily Mail” reporter George Stark wrongly reported that Baldwin’s wife tweeted about recipes during actor James Gandolfini’s funeral. The talented actor, who has supported marriage equality, vented his rage in a blast of homophobic tweets. “I’m gonna find you, George Stark, you toxic little queen, and I’m gonna fuck…you…up,” Baldwin ranted.
Baldwin apologized for his homophobic tweets, though he told Gothamist that calling Stark a “toxic queen” hadn’t been an anti-gay slur. Other than going through the embarrassment of making an apology, Baldwin didn’t take a career hit for his homophobic slurs. Capital One kept him as its spokesman, and he continued to be a charismatic TV and film presence. At the time, some of us were skeptical about the sincerity of Baldwin’s apology and wondered if he hadn’t been given a pass because of his support for same-sex marriage.
Less than six months later, Baldwin is again sending out mixed signals – apologizing for using (anti-gay language) and then denying that he was being homophobic. “Words are important. I … will choose mine with great care going forward,” Baldwin said in a statement last Friday. “What I said … as I was trying to protect my family, was offensive and unacceptable. Behavior like this undermines hard-fought rights that I vigorously support.”
Yet, a day later, Baldwin denied being homophobic on his Huffington Poet blog. “I can assure you … that a direct homophobic slur (or indirect one for that matter) is not spoken,” Baldwin wrote referring to his encounter with the photographer. “In the wake of referring to a tabloid ‘journalist’ as a toxic-queen, I would never allow myself to make that mistake again. My friends who happen to be gay are baffled by this. They see me as one who … has been a supporter of gay rights for many years.”
Really? Yes, Baldwin has endorsed marriage equality. Yet, who, gay or straight, doesn’t know that “cocksucker” is an anti-gay epithet? You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to see that anti-gay slurs are a key line of attack against LGBT rights. Homophobic language isn’t only demeaning, it can incite bullying and violence.
This time around, it looks like Baldwin isn’t getting a pass. Last week, GLAAD admonished Baldwin. “Mr. Baldwin can’t lend his support for equality on paper, while degrading gay people,” the group said. “It’s clearly time he listens to the calls of so many L.G.B.T. people and allies to end this pattern of anti-gay slurs.”
The future of Baldwin’s TV program is uncertain, according to Baldwin. “Whether the show comes back at all is at issue,” Baldwin said on his Huffington Post blog last week.
I don’t wish Baldwin or his family ill. Yet, I’m glad that he’s facing some consequences for his homophobic words, and hopeful that this will stop others from using hurtful anti-gay slurs.
Kathi Wolfe, a writer and poet, is a regular contributor to the Blade.