Monday, July 02, 2007

Isaiah Washington rebuts apparent homophobic slur that got him fired from "Grey's Anatomy"

Isaiah Washington did an interview on Larry King Live this evening Monday July 2, about his firing from Grey’s Anatomy allegedly for a “homophobic” remark on the set, which was thought to be directed at Minneapolis (Guthrie Theater) actor T. R. Knight. He claims that he was in a conversation with Robert Dempsey that got out of control, and that much of the anger culminated over Mr. Dempsey’s tardiness on a couple of occasions, which Mr. Washington felt embarrassed him on the set and in front of other union members. Mr. Knight later reported that he was forced to “out” himself when he had not intended to. Washington says no comment was intended to be directed at Knight.

He also reportedly tried to retract the slur in the backstage area of the Golden Globes in January 2007.

Disney’s reaction to the apparent use of a “homophobic slur” was emphatic, and resembles the reaction to Don Imus for his slurs regarding an African American basketball team. Mr. Washington is himself African American. Washington claimed that he was gagged from defending himself to the press, that he sought counseling, and that he tried to resign from the show twice and was not allowed to before he was “fired” on June 7 (his contract was not renewed).

Washington claimed that the f- word, in his mind, connotes “weakness” and a “lack of being worthy of respect.” Part of the altercation escalated when Mr. Dempsey said, “I can act,” and that was taken by Mr. Washington as irony, meaning that Mr. Washington could not. The word was compared to “sissy” in the program, invoking stereotypes from the 1950s.

If is common for openly GLBT people to appear at film “mainstream” events in different cities festivals), even with domestic partners, without the subject being mentioned directly unless there is a context.

Until Stonewall (1969), however, Hollywood had its homophobia, with stories of a massive firing of gay employees at Technicolor in 1965. In 1967, CBS had aired a documentary “The Homosexuals: Eye on People” in which Mike Wallace interviewed gay men anonymously, and in which Secretary of State Dean Rusk (in the LBJ Administration) said, “If we find homosexuals in our employ, we discharge them.” Ironically, the Army, when there was a draft, was (whatever the Army regulations) sometimes in practice more hospitable to gay men than many civilian areas. Story is here.

Mr. Washington has done announcements for GLAAD.

Show business is very sensitive to inappropriate remarks. In the director’s contest “On the Lot” one short film was thought to be insensitive to the disabled, but the incident blew over.

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