When Hot 97’s DJ Mister Cee was arrested and charged with public lewdness and exposure, many commentators on the Internet and over the airwaves felt they had license to use anti-gay and anti-trans language.
Mister Cee, the radio personality who is credited for discovering The Notorious B.I.G., was caught engaging in a sex act with a 20-year-old identified by police as Lawrence Campbell in a parked car in New York City. Soon Campbell’s mug shot and Facebook photos were all over the Web. Speculation that Campbell is transgender as well as attacks on Mister Cee’s orientation quickly followed.
GLAAD contacted numerous media outlets asking that they remove offensive language and that they clarify that reports that the co-defendant identifies as transgender were unconfirmed. At the time, Campbell had not spoken publicly about the incident. A video recently surfaced online where Campbell self-identifies as a drag queen. It is inaccurate and poor journalism for reporters and bloggers alike to presume the co-defendant’s gender identity, especially without noting that reports vary and informing their audiences that they are making assumptions. Moreover, Campbell’s gender identity is irrelevant to the alleged crime.
Some websites immediately removed the problematic language when we asked; others refused. Meanwhile, unexpected voices of reason emerged, like rapper 50 Cent, who said that homophobia is bad for business and tweeted to his followers that he doesn’t want a particular anti-gay phrase used on his Twitter timeline. Last September, GLAAD called out 50 Cent for a joke he made about violence against gay people in his Twitter feed.
GLAAD takes a look at who else got it right and who got it wrong. Our criteria were language, accuracy and whether the piece addressed homophobia and/or transphobia.
Racialicious – Correspondent Andrea Plaid addressed transphobia, gender identity, and gender policing in a thought-provoking way. She was critical of the misuse of transgender-specific terminology and placed the incident in the larger context of the decriminalization of sex work. The writer cited a study from the National Center for Transgender Equality as well as well-noted trans figure Monica Roberts to give her argument validity. She initially assumed that Campbell identified as transgender, which had not been confirmed, but explained that this was an assumption based on aspects of the public information in the case. When Campbell spoke out publicly about self-identification, the writer issued an apology for misgendering Campbell.
The Root – The Root looked at the conversation Mister Cee’s arrest restarted regarding Black men and the so-called “down low,” what writer Mason Jamal called “an urban exaggeration.” The piece worked to dispel this myth. “Stories like his [Mister Cee’s] always seem to dredge up discussions about the down low and all the misplaced blame…” he explained. Jamal then asked readers to be critical of the over-sensationalized coverage.
BET – dream hampton, co-author of Jay Z’s book Decoded, argued that the conversation should be about decriminalizing sex work rather than DJ Mister Cee’s orientation. She also called out straight Black women for not offering “safe spaces for bisexual men.” dream hampton lost points for referring to the co-defendant as a “transgendered 20-year-old male.” Not only was it still unconfirmed that the individual identified as transgender, but a person who identifies as female after being assigned male at birth is a “transgender woman.” In a follow up piece, hampton criticized people “digging in hip hop’s closet as a pitiful sport.”
Colorlines – Writers Kenyon Farrow, Jamilah King and Akiba Solomon tackled the topic. Farrow looked at 50 Cent’s surprising position on homophobia being bad for business, citing how hip hop artists like Nicki Minaj and Wale have learned that there is money to be made from LGBT fans. King summarized hampton’s stance that we should be talking about decriminalizing sex work. Solomon examined online homophobia and also interviewed hip hop scholars like Davey D. on how they approach the topic of homophobia in the classroom. Although, the Colorlines writers referred to Campbell as a “transgender woman” there was no confirmation at the time that Campbell self-identified as transgender. Campbell’s video later indicated that Campbell identified as a drag queen. In a separate Colorlines article, Solomon later noted the error and discussed the importance of self-identification.
Essence – Relationship editor Demetria Lucas addressed the anti-gay rhetoric in the Mister Cee coverage. She called for men and women to “stop with all the bashing” and also criticized “silent condoners” for not becoming part of the solution. Lucas, however, mentioned the “stereotypical down-low man,” and perpetrated this stereotype. Overall, she expressed how absurd it is to try to change a person's orientation or suppress who they really are.
Planet Ill – Editor in chief Odeisel examined an underlying part of the problem of homophobia in hip hop: hypermasculinity and the limiting definition of manhood for Black men. GLAAD reached out to Planet Ill about some offensive terminology used and changes were made to the story. Editors removed offensive and outdated terms used to reference gay men and women.
The Source – The hip hop outlet avoided direct use of anti-trans and anti-gay language. The site was critical of how Mister Cee's personal life was now under public scrunity. In a follow up piece, The Source called to "put a moratorium on homophobia in hip hop."
Women’s Wear Daily – Writer Zeke Turner examined homophobia in hip hop and the “corporate strategy” radio stations take on to emulate the kind of cultural rivalry that exists in hip hop culture. The article covered both pro- and anti-gay comments radio personalities and listeners made regarding the Hot 97 DJ’s arrest. Turner ended with a quote from former XXL magazine editor in chief Elliott Wilson: “Sorry kids, I don’t care how Calvin gets down in his personal life.”
Media Bistro – GLAAD contacted the media outlet asking that it remove the problematic language on their website and action was taken immediately. The writer, Jerry Barmash, also noted that reports on the co-defendant’s gender identity were unconfirmed.
Bossip – The gossip site reported the story without using offensive language. While it did not condone homophobia, it didn’t address or challenge the anti-gay and anti-trans frenzy surrounding Mister Cee’s arrest.
Concrete Loop – The gossip site reported the story without using offensive language. While it did not condone homophobia, it didn’t address or challenge the anti-gay and anti-trans coverage of Mister Cee’s arrest.
Hip Hop Wired – At the request of GLAAD, the hip hop news source removed an anti-trans slur from their website. While the hip hop news source did not speak against the homophobia and transphobia present in the Mister Cee discourse, the site’s coverage did not condone it either.
MTV – MTV’s Rap Fix reported Mister Cee’s arrest without the use of any anti-trans or anti-gay language. The website did not address or challenge the homophobia and transphobia present in the coverage of the arrest, but it did not contribute to it.
New York Daily News – The New York-based newspaper reported the story without using offensive language. While it did not condone homophobia, it didn’t address or challenge the anti-gay and anti-trans coverage of Mister Cee’s arrest.
XXL Magazine – At GLAAD’s request, XXL magazine removed derogatory transgender-specific terminology. While the website did not contribute to the homophobia and transphobia surrounding the Mister Cee coverage, it did not address or challenge it.
The Grio – “Instead of addressing how we can make hip hop more welcoming and inclusive, people are content to debate the nitty gritty details of the situation,” Kia Miakka Natisse wrote. While the article challenged homophobia in hip hop, it still contained some problematic language. Natisse, like many other writers, assumed that Campbell was transgender when at the time there was no confirmation that Campbell self-identified that way. She also used offensive, outdated terminology to refer to gay men and women.
The YBF – While creator Natasha Eubanks addressed some of the troubling language that GLAAD brought to her attention, some offensive terms remained. The gossip site still referred to Campbell as a “transgendered person” (the word “transgender” never needs an “-ed” at the end; it’s an adjective, not a verb) and used language that implied being gay is a choice.
All Hip Hop – When contacted by GLAAD, the All Hip Hop news editor immediately made changes to address the offensive language in one of their reports. However, GLAAD did not receive a response or action from their Rumors team about a second story. As a result, transphobic slurs were still present in the site’s coverage.
Vibe – Despite GLAAD’s efforts asking that the site remove offensive language and our initial exchange with Vibe’s managing editor, no action was taken. The website used a derogatory term for transgender people numerous times.
Media TakeOut – Despite our numerous efforts asking that the gossip site remove anti-trans slurs, GLAAD received no response or action from Media TakeOut. Media TakeOut also assumed Campbell’s gender identity when there was no confirmation at the time on how Campbell self-identified.
Sandra Rose – Despite our efforts requesting that the gossip site remove offensive language, Sandra Rose took no action. The website used offensive and outdated terminology to refer to gay men and women in addition to derogatory references to both gay and transgender people.