Michelle Marzullo

An Open Letter to Tracy Morgan

Filed By Michelle Marzullo | June 13, 2011 10:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Entertainment, Marriage Equality
Tags: black entertainers, Joakim Noah, Kamora Le'Ella Herrington, Kobe Bryant, LGBT teens, Tracy Morgan

Tracy_Morgan_1.jpgI have found that a truism running through all advocacy around LGBT issues has been the way that face to face conversation performed with the honest intention of communication transforms hate into compassion and reflection, if not true understanding. In that spirit, an open letter was written by my friend Kamora Le'Ella Herrington as a note on Facebook. Considering the story about Morgan's homophobic June 3, 2011 rant broke on a Facebook note, this open letter serves as a full-circle response to the incident.

Kamora has been a champion for LGBT youth for years now. She has worked with youth, primarily with youth of color, in various capacities for over twenty years. Her letter intimately exposes the intersection of race and sexuality evoked by Morgan. It responds to the monetary fines recently levied on two basketball players Kobe Bryant and Joakim Noah -- to add that there is an underlying problem here that needs more than money thrown at it. Namely, the idea that race and sexuality are linked in important ways and that this should be the focus of the conversation we are having.

This conversation needs to become explicit and sustained. It is work that extends way past LGBT people but also towards the understanding that being LGBT and a person of color are not exclusive categories. Such conversations show both LGBT communities and communities of color where we must focus our attention. It is only in such intersectional work, and I mean work in every sense of the word, that we will move past incidents like this towards true understanding of each other.

Kamora has been on the front lines of that work for years now and people like Morgan, Bryant and Noah should walk a day in her shoes. Talk to the kids that they have so callously strewn away with comments about violent death and the implication that we faggots are weak. Instead, Tracy, Kobe, and Joakim and the others ahead of them who will too make similar mistakes should understand that being out on a day-to-day basis defines strength.

Though I think it's nice (nice, as my third grade teacher taught me means nothing and I use it in that way here) that in his apology Mr. Morgan stated that he doesn't "care if you love the same sex as long as you have the ability to love someone" and he would beat up anyone who is against it on a Manhattan or Brooklyn street corner. I think what is called for is an exit from this sort of masculine vibrato. Calling someone a faggot to reinforce masculine power, as we saw with Bryant and Noah, is a part of this problem.

Mr. Morgan said that what he was, "most sad about is the comments I made about kids and bullying. I would never want any young person to think that I wasn't on their side." If this is true, then you have a chance to tell these kids so--to walk the walk, not just talk the talk. Here is your invitation:

Dear Tracy,

kamora-herrington-ternise-barrett.jpgI woke up to your apology this morning and was disappointed. You apologized to your fans and the gay and lesbian community; that missed the point for me.

You know that your words offended the gay community because Kevin Rogers, an out gay man, was able to blog about his experience and share it with the world.

I can't pretend to know Mr. Rogers' situation, but I'm going to assume that he's found a way to live his life in an out and proud manner, and while your tirade against us was offensive to him, it didn't create a life or death situation.

Mr. Morgan, I'd like you to consider your position in the Black community. While you are a comedian and people expect that most of what comes out of your mouth will be jokes, there are certain cultural norms that you have the ability to perpetuate or reject or come up with something in between. Personally, I'd say examine them, but that's me.

When you perpetuate negative stereotypes towards the gay community, much less violence towards us, you're reinforcing the belief that Black people hate gay people. I'm tired of defending my community against my community and you don't make my job any easier by inserting yet another quotable example of Black people hating on gay people into the cultural and political discourse.

Mr. Morgan I am a bi-racial, lesbian mother who works with LGBT teens on a daily basis. Most of these teens are youth of color - that's us Tracy. Because of what they see and hear on t.v. and the radio they know that when they come out as gay they are losing the Black community. Imagine if someone told you being funny wasn't a Black thing so you could only hang out with white comedians. And if you'd try to hang out with Black folks they'd reject you. And when you hang out with your white comedian friends, sometimes some of them would make Black folk jokes because Black folks are funny. That just doesn't feel right. Does it?

Mr. Morgan you're an intelligent man. You wouldn't be where you are and have achieved the accomplishments you've achieved if you weren't. While my Black comedian example is a bit of a stretch I hope you get my point. Our children need to be accepted and loved for who they are. When you ridicule and advocate violence towards us as teens; when we're just growing into who we are, you validate stereotypes and create unsafe living situations for our children...hear me out.

Other than Mr. Rogers, I don't know who was in the audience that evening. But let's say there was a Black single mother in the audience who's just figured out that her son is 'that way.' She hasn't told any of her girlfriends, they're just out to have a good time. Then you start Tracy. Her son is the same age as the son you'd stab. And you tell your joke and her friends laugh...and she laughs.

What happens next, Tracy? I can tell you what I see. I'd LOVE to tell you what I see. Better yet, I'd love for you to come to my office and SEE what I see. Your apology may have come from the heart, but it missed the point. Some people will be happy with it, some won't, some are going to want to flush out your bank account.

I don't want your dollar. I don't want your apology. I want your ear, your time, and your understanding. Come to my office and meet the LGBT teens I work with or find other organizations and individuals working to support these marginalized children. Because again, Tracy they are us. Please, educate yourself on who these children whom you would theoretically stab are and consider their parents when you tell these jokes. When Mr. Rogers went home, he blogged. The theoretical mother out with her friends may have found a different outlet for her emotions. I've seen mothers like the one I described handle it in the most beautiful after-school special way. But I've seen far too many families torn apart by scenarios similar to the one you described on June 3rd.

Kamora Le'Ella Herrington

Kamora Le'Ella Herrington is the Mentoring Program Coordinator for True Colors, Inc., a support and advocacy organization for sexual minority youth based in Hartford, Connecticut. She has had several television appearances advocating for LGBT youth.

In 2009, Ms. Herrington appeared as a LGBT youth advocate on the Tyra Banks show titled "Hell to pay gay teen exorcism" after one of the youth in her program was videotaped being exorcised. In 2010, Ms. Herrington was featured on the CNN special report titled, "Gay teens talk their truth." She is a 2010 Faith Works Fellow an initiative of the Conference of Churches based in Hartford. Most recently, Ms. Herrington participated as an activist leader at the "Out on the Hill LGBT Leadership Summit" in Washington, D.C. to organize with other thought leaders, faith leaders, philanthropists and activists who are organizing to empower their communities while educating Congressional leaders, the Obama Administration and federal agencies about Black LGBT public policy concerns.

Images courtesy of Ms. Herrington.

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Thank you for posting this, Michelle (and Karoma) -- I found this thought-provoking.

Two statements were particularly enlightening:

When you perpetuate negative stereotypes towards the gay community, much less violence towards us, you're reinforcing the belief that Black people hate gay people. I'm tired of defending my community against my community ...

The fact that all three of the offending celebrities (Kobe Bryant, Joakim Noah, and Morgan) are African-American actually could be a coincidence, considering that both comedy and professional basketball are so well-populated with Blacks. (As a white person, I am quite sure that there are many white guys in these same professions who might put out the same homophobic messages.) But the perception now emerges, regardless of its valid correlation or lack thereof.

Because of what [Black LGBT young people] see and hear on t.v. and the radio, they know that when they come out as gay they are losing the Black community.

This observation is troubling and heartbreaking, because the more Black friends I have, the more I appreciate how Blacks need their community not only in concrete ways, but also as a social support network to provide psychological vaccinations against the social barriers they encounter constantly.

I think any comprehensive discussion of LGBT acceptance in Black America has to consider the centrality, influence -- and rigidity -- of the Black Church and its relationship to Black families ... but that discussion goes on elsewhere.

We can only hope that Open Letters such as this one get the message across that these instances are not jokes, are not funny, deserve the seriousness that the LGBT reaction gives them, and inflict social damage this is more far-reaching and complex than the media scuffle that plays out on the surface.

Thanks for sharing your friend's note, Michelle. I'm glad Tracy decided to make amends.