Grey's Anatomy star Isaiah Washington called a co-star a faggot and ended up in rehab, while former basketball star Tim Haraway said he hated homosexuals and now his career as an ex-jock pitchman is on a cold slab. This will be remembered as the year the F-word became the new N-word and homophobic comments were no longer considered acceptable in polite company. To be sure, America has not endorsed homosexuality, but the new rules do mean celebrities will lose endorsements if they gratuitously bash homosexuals.
Of course, careers have crashed before as a result of anti-gay antagonism. After Anita Bryant crusaded against a 1977 gay rights measure in Miami, a boycott was launched and the orange juice queen fell off her throne. More recently, Dr. Laura's rampant homophobia, which included referring to homosexuality as a biological error, cost her a television show after a successful web campaign (www.StopDr.Laura.com) was launched targeting advertisers.
Unlike Anita Bryant, before angry GLBT advocates could spell boy...oh, boy was Hardaway tossed aside by the National Basketball Association. David Stern, the NBA's commissioner, immediately banished Hardaway from participation in the All-Star weekend activities. "We removed him from representing us because we didn't think his comments were consistent with having anything to do with us," Stern said. BaldGuyz, a company that makes grooming products for bald men, also scalped Hardaway by killing his endorsement deal.
Likewise, the Grey's Anatomy actor was on a shrink's couch examining the anatomy of his prejudice. Whereas gay people were once considered mentally ill, the world has been turned upside down and homophobes are seeking help to deal with their neurosis.
As we have learned with racial and religious minorities, the new public climate will not eliminate the cold private chill of discrimination. There will be winks, nods, glass ceilings and new code words to decipher. However, moving hateful words behind closed doors opens the closet door even further, greatly benefiting the GLBT movement. As adolescents hear less overt anti-gay rhetoric, it lessens the consequences of coming out, both emboldening and empowering the next generation. Ultimately, this translates into more out homosexuals, the number one defense against anti-gay bigotry.
If you think about it, fundamentalists vastly outnumber the GLBT community and our opponents have infinitely more financial resources. Yet, we are winning this culture war because coming out has unique transformational power that changes attitudes and minds. Most people will not reject their family members and friends who come out and are often willing to rethink their most basic assumptions and core beliefs.
As painful as the Hardaway incident was, his comments in response to former basketball player John Amaechi's coming out helped start a much-needed dialogue. Even more important than Hardaway's rebuke was the show of support Amaechi received from NBA mega-stars.
"If he was on my team, I guess I would have to protect him from the outsiders," said Shaquille O'Neal, center for the Miami Heat. "I'm not homophobic or anything...I'm not the type who judges people. I wish him (Amaech) well."
"When you have any teammate, you have to accept them for who they are," Washington Wizards guard Gilbert Arenas said. "If they're trying to win a championship, that's all that should matter."
"Maybe 10 years ago (people might be intolerant of a gay player)," Phoenix Suns star and league MVP Steve Nash said. "But in our locker room [now]? I think guys are over it. Guys are like, 'I don't care what you do.'"
There are still no "out" active male athletes on a major team sport. The show of support by some NBA superstars will make it easier for a brave player to take the big leap. This is one final barrier that is now one step closer to crashing down.
On a final note, it is pretty amusing how anti-gay offenders depend on gay people to resuscitate their careers. In the case of Washington, gay rights groups counseled him. For Hardaway, openly gay North Miami mayor Kevin Burns has invited him to meet his family. It is sort of queer eye for the homophobic guy. We take in some wretch and fix him up so he can be presentable to society.
While it will be difficult to believe Hardaway is sincere, I guess if Rev. Ted Haggard can be cured of homosexuality in three weeks, maybe Hardaway can be cured of homophobia in two.