Why Language Matters: An Ongoing Public Dialogue With Roland Martin

February 19, 2012

Last year, the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs reported the following staggering realities:

  • Violence against LGBT people was up 13 percent in the preceding 12 months. 
  • 70 percent of the victims murdered were people of color. 
  • 44 percent of these murders were transgender women.

"If a dude at your Super Bowl party is hyped about David Beckham’s H&M underwear ad, smack the ish out of him! #superbowl" - Roland Martin,  February 5, 2012

“Who the hell was that New England Patriot they just showed in a head to toe pink suit? Oh, he needs a visit from #teamwhipdatass.”   Roland Martin,  February 5, 2012

Roland Martin used his platform to send these messages. Last year, he also argued that others should be able to do so unapologetically when Tracy Morgan chose to speak out against anti-LGBT violence after Morgan said during a standup routine that he would "pull out a knife and stab" his son if he were gay.  On the basis of these statements and other parts of his record, and after outreach to CNN and outreach to Martin publicly on Twitter, GLAAD called on Martin to be fired from CNN.  

We live in a culture of 140 characters, sound bites, and 3-hour news cycles.   Context, and even intent, is often lost. In spite of that, our media, and what is considered acceptable in it, is more important than ever. For better or worse, celebrities and prominent voices in our media set a standard for what is acceptable in the rest of our society.  GLAAD firmly believes that language which could be construed by an audience as inciting violence against LGBT people, people perceived to be LGBT, or members of other groups that face discrimination or prejudice is unacceptable in our media.   Anti-LGBT violence is not a political opinion.

On his show, Washington Watch, Martin today took another important step, acknowledging that his words had a negative impact, and making it clear that he understands how serious the issues of anti-LGBT bullying and violence are. You can read his full remarks here. This incident, along with recent incidents of violence directed at LGBT people, sparked a national dialogue centered around why the issue of anti-LGBT violence needs to be taken seriously.

On Tuesday, February 14, GLAAD sat down with Martin to begin a discussion of how we could take this situation, our call for him to be fired from CNN, and our repeated demands for both Martin and CNN to speak out against anti-LGBT violence, and turn it into a positive, teachable moment for our society.  

Every fair-minded American knows that no one deserves to be a victim of violence simply because of who they are.  But what many do not connect is that demeaning and threatening language towards groups facing bias helps create an environment in which violence against groups continues to thrive.

GLAAD’s meeting with Martin on Tuesday, February 14, was a good introduction. He has committed to meeting with GLAAD and other organizations in the near future for a more substantial dialogue. We support Martin’s commitment to use his media platforms to shed light on the harms of hate-inspired violence and look forward to continuing this dialogue. GLAAD was one of several organizations and LGBT advocates who originally called on Martin to take responsibility for his tweets. We will be reaching out in hopes of working with and involving members of the community in this ongoing discussion.

Following our call in regard to Martin, there has also been discussion around issues of race and the LGBT community.   Against the best interest of everyone, racial epithets and homophobic language were used in online attacks against Martin and GLAAD. GLAAD unequivocally condemns racist language or behavior.   The LGBT community is made up of people from all races, genders, faith groups, and all walks of life.   The fundamental belief in equality for all people is at the very core of all that we strive to accomplish.   

Part of GLAAD's job as an organization is to hold the media accountable for the words it presents and to help create a society in which every person can live without fear of violence on the basis of their identity.   GLAAD welcomes Martin and his willingness to engage with us around these issues.  It's not easy to sit down with a group that has just spoken out publicly in the way we did.   It speaks to his character that he is willing to have this dialogue with us and for the comments he made today.  We thank him for that and look forward to working with him and continuing to talk with him about how we can achieve our mutual goals together.