One of the biggest gay advocacy organisations in the US has criticised Azealia Banks for her use of a homophobic slur. Banks, who called blogger Perez Hilton "a messy faggot", had initially refused to retract the remark: "Really not as moved by this 'f word' thing as u all want me to be," she wrote. "I meant what I meant." She did, however, say sorry: "My most sincere apologies to anyone who was indirectly offended by my foul language."
The offensive remark came at the end of a week that saw two relative peers, rappers Banks and Angel Haze, lashing out at each other in a pair of diss tracks. Hilton took Haze's side in the fight, prompting Banks to get ugly. "@PerezHilton lol what a messy faggot you are," she tweeted.
After Hilton and other observers decried Banks's language, she became indignant. "A faggot is not a homosexual male. A faggot is any male who acts like a female. There's a BIG difference," she wrote. "As a bisexual person I knew what I meant when I used that word … When I said acts like a female I should've said acts like a cunt." Her only apology was appended with a "lol".
That's when the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (Glaad) entered the fray. Despite having hailed Banks as a "notable coming-out story", it condemned her use of the f-word. "Regardless of [Azealia's] intent or her personal definition … there are gay kids who follow her on Twitter who hear this word in an entirely different context," wrote associate director Matt Kane. "This word is used almost universally by bullies, often as part of a larger verbal or physical assault. This word hurts those kids, no matter what Banks meant by it."
Reports on gossip websites suggested that the remarks may have led to Banks being dropped by her US label Interscope. However a spokesman for the rapper denied this was the case, saying: "Azealia Banks is currently in the studio recording her debut album, which will be released this year through Interscope in the US and Polydor in the UK."
I agree with the sentiments Keo Nozari's Huffington Post article.
GLAAD is obviously an important organization in battling true homophobia and celebrating those who encourage gay equality. But when they involve themselves in things of this nature they diminish their considerable cache. We can't be outraged when a 34-year-old gay man who built his career on bullying is in turn 'bullied' by a 21-year-old bisexual woman employing his same methods. It was, after all, just in June 2009 that Hilton himself called will.i.am a "f*****" to his face. Defending Hilton is the equivalent of coming to defend sextape-made-me-famous Kim Kardashian if she claimed to be a victim of someone showing her some porn.
Hilton has talked a lot of his intention to change his tone online this past year, including an Oprah appearance on her "Life Class" show along with Deepak Chopra. Many had hoped this was a genuine shift in consciousness for him. However, would Winfrey and Chopra have conducted themselves like this, inserting themselves into a rapper's cat fight? Would they then have tweeted other celebrities to attempt to involve them, claim victimhood and escalate the feud? An argument could be made this type of bad behavior is far more detrimental to gay people than Azealia's actual use of a gay slur.
One celebrity who chose to run to Hilton's defense -- and to the tune of great irony -- was Scissor Sister's frontman Jake Shears. He tweeted: "Oh yeah. 'F*****.' Totally cool. Give me a fucking break." Yet Shears himself somehow found the word fine to use in his own song "Step Aside a Man"? Sure the context is different, but he's still choosing to propagate the ugly and hurtful word himself (even if it's under the guise of 'reclaiming' the word). It's equally sad to see him so easily throw his collaborator under the bus. (Banks guested on an album track of his just last year.)
Oddly enough, the only voice of reason to chime into the argument was the notoriously snarky Gawker. In Rich Juzwiak's piece, he clearly makes a case that while Banks is reckless, she is no homophobe. But it's a sad day when Gawker is the voice of reason in the gay community.
The teachable moment here isn't 'sensitizing' Banks or for that matter Hilton to the error of their ways. They are likely not to change because these types of feuds are hallmarks in their careers. Instead, it's about the need for gay people and their organizations to learn to pick their battles. "Ladies, play nice," would have been a far more appropriate comment for GLAAD to make for the level of maturity these folks are acting from. It's like when a foul-mouthed drag queen makes an inappropriate aside, you're not meant to get 'offended' by what they say. As Bill Maher argued brilliantly in a New York Times Op-ed piece last year, America gets 'offended' way too easily. He suggests we need to learn instead to co-exist with each other and people that have different opinions that we do. And in this spirit of co-existing, the gay community needs some sober, mature, thoughtful leaders who are able to transcend the silliness that the far too often permeates gay life and get on with the real issues.