July 10, 2007
Bill Richardson's 'maricón moment'
Posted by: Chris
I posted today on Gay News Watch a story I reported with Karen Ocamb of IN LA Magazine about Bill Richardson's use of the anti-gay slur "maricón" in an appearance on, of all places, the Don Imus show. Details are here, but the gist is that on a March 29, 2006, broadcast, Imus joked with the New Mexico governor that one of the shock jock's staffer didn't believe Richardson is really Latino.
IMUS: “You can just answer this yes or no and this will answer that question. Would you agree that Bernard is a maricón?”
RICHARDSON “Yo creo que Bernardo, sí — es un maricón si él piensa que yo no soy hispano. [General laughter] Was that good enough or what? [General laughter]”
IMUS: “That’s good enough for me.”
Most of the gay Latinos interviewed for our story, and every gay Latino I've talked to about the subject, agrees that "maricón" means "faggot" in Spanish. So, translated into English, Richardson had replied, "I believe that Bernard, yes — he's a faggot if he thinks that I am not Hispanic."
The March 2006 appearance is resurfacing now because of one reader of this blog. Christopher Hubble, a Denver, Colo.-based book publisher and blogger, e-mailed me after I wrote very approvingly of Bill Richardson's gay right record when he announced for president earlier this year.
Like several of the Richardson supporters quoted in the story, I think the Imus appearance raises legitimate questions about Richardson's judgment. He was clearly baited by Imus, but he replied using the same word without missing a beat. He was so anxious to reply he talked over the host. A clip of the appearance is available here.
Even more telling for me, however, is Richardson's handling of the issue since. He is said to have apologized privately soon after the broadcast to Equality New Mexico, his state's gay rights group, as if he could say he was sorry by proxy to all gay people who heard the broadcast by making one private phone call. In that call, Richardson claimed that in the Spanish he grew up speaking, "maricón" only meant "effeminate." So he was calling the Imus staffer a "sissy," not a "fag." Does that feel much better to anyone?
A year later, seeking the Democratic nomination for president, Richardson's statement in response to the incident is even more of a non-apology apology. This time around, he claims the word means "simply 'gay,' not positive or negative.
"It has been brought to my attention that the word also has a hurtful or derogatory connotation, which was never my intent," said Richardson. "If I offended anybody, I’m sorry."
We've all known since childhood that "I'm sorry you're upset" isn't a real apology, taking true responsibility. We've lived through six years of a president who never admits he's wrong; the bar should be set high for candidates willing to say when they've messed up — not when they've upset you.
At a more fundamental level, Richardson's wavering explanations about "maricón" strain credulity. If "maricón" means "simply gay, not positive or negative," then why in the world would Don Imus suggest his staffer was "simply gay, not positive or negative" for thinking Richardson isn't truly Latino? Why would Richardson agree?
It's also hard to believe Richardson has "since learned" that "maricón" is offensive. Spanish-language dictionaries refer to it as a derogatory epithet, and I've yet to talk to a gay Latino who disagreed or had heard otherwise.
The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation has for years taken Spanish-language media to task for using "maricón." In one press release, GLAAD referred to "maricón" as a "derogatory slur" that is "vulgar, defamatory and unacceptable."
Language can be a tricky thing, as Telemundo host Luisa Fernanda found out recently when she was fired for using "cherna," the Spanish word for grouper on the air. Fernanda is Mexican and very gay-friendly, and says she had no idea that for Cubans, "cherna" is also an anti-gay epithet.
Respected gay Latino bloggers like Andrés Duque at Blabbeando and Alex from Stuck on the Palmetto and have largely accepted Fernanda's explanation, but it still cost her the job. Is our standard for president lower than that for a Telemundo chat show?
Most disappointing for me personally was Richardson's effort to change the subject, suggesting that news of his Imus appearance is surfacing now through some effort by rivals to quash his "momentum." No one associated with the story has been anything but helpful to Richardson's campaign in the gay community. In addition to my previous praise, which has been linked to pro-Richardson sites, my co-author Karen Ocamb gave Richardson an extended interview for IN LA Magazine. In fact, the only dirty politics here is the effort by the Richardson camp to smear his rivals for being behind a story they had nothing to do with.
News of Richardson's "maricón" moment — while nothing so awful as George Allen's "macaco" moment in the 2006 campaign — should depress gay voters. Richardson is right when he says his record on gay rights is better than any other serious candidate, mostly because he can point to actual accomplishments rather than simply rhetoric.
But a candidate seeking our support and our votes owes us more than half-apologies and wavering explanations, much less unfounded, Rove-like efforts to shoot the messenger.
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