What caught me off guard when I watched the Media Matters clip of New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson on the Don Imus show last year was how casually and easily the word “maricón” fell from Richardson’s lips. “Maricón,” as you probably know, means “faggot” in Spanish.
It was not an easy story to write, but as my co-author Chris Crain explains on his blog, it’s a legitimate one that ultimately calls Richardson’s judgment into question.
I met Richardson after he officially announced his candidacy for the Democratic nomination for president. During the press conference that followed, I asked him why he didn’t support full marriage equality for gay couples. He dodged the question, citing his good record on LGBT issues before scanning reporters’ faces for another question. He dodged my attempt at a follow-up, too.
To his credit, Richardson later sent his communications director to get me for a personal interview. That resulted in my story “Richardson Pledges to be an ‘Activist’ President,” which is posted on his campaign site , with a link to my publication, IN Los Angeles magazine.
Richardson was incredibly amiable, jokingly asking me why I asked him the marriage question in front of the national media. “I’m your guy,” he said (or words to that effect.) “Why do you want to embarrass me like that?”
“Because I‘m a reporter and this is California,” I replied, thinking about how our state Legislature passed a marriage equality bill - vetoed by Gov. Arnold.
What I really wanted to say was – you may be a nice guy, but it’s not my job to promote or embarrass you.
I shouldn’t have been all that surprised by his chiding. Time and again politicos who are good on LGBT issues are shocked when the LGBT press writes anything inconsistent with their agenda. Sometimes there is a subtle hint that support might be withdrawn or dampened if the story is too critical.
Call me old fashioned, but I never agreed to give anyone a pass on anything. And there have definitely been times when I’ve had to alert my publishers that they might get an angry call. Luckily, I have publishers who might ask questions but stick by me.
Don’t get me wrong. There are times when I have pulled my punches if it appears my probing might do harm. Case in point: when openly gay L.A. Assemblymember Jackie Goldberg was pushing the expanded domestic partnership bill, I asked her why she didn’t call the legislation a civil unions bill because that was what it was. She said that it was a strategic move to get support from stressed conservative/moderate legislators who could tell their constituents that they were only supporting an expansion of the existing domestic partnership registry bill. A civil unions bill – well, that was a whole other thing because it had a different name and was perceived as too close to marriage.
I wrote the story but I didn’t call the legislators struggling with the vote and ask them what the hell was wrong with them, anyway. I imagine LGBT journalists in states other than California, Massachusetts and New York face similar quandaries.
So I understand why Equality New Mexico asked GLAAD not to “go after” Richardson after he uttered the remark and called EQNM to apologize. Not that he would have withdrawn his support – he does appear to be a man of principle.
But ironically, that’s exactly the problem. First of all, it’s an issue today because neither Richardson, nor EQNM, nor GLAAD handled it properly at the time – and since then we’ve had an explosion of controversy over “faggot” and the “n-word.” In that context, the argument to “let it go” as ancient history and potentially harmful to a good guy doesn’t fly.
But more importantly, after the experience with Bill Clinton – the man who said, “I have a dream and you’re a part of it” – and then threw us to the military wolves – it is imperative that we scrutinize even our friends closely. And if a pro-gay candidate can so easily do the “boys-will-be-boys” banter and joke around with the word “maricón,” what does it say about his secret mind-set? Would he have so easily and casually spouted back the n-word?
I am a journalist, not a psychoanalyst. But since the days of Richard Nixon’s Watergate and Bill Clinton’s “it depends on what the definition of ‘is’ is,” we need to parse the words that fall from the mouths of the candidates who could make our lives heaven or hell.