Liberals should ask more of Alec Baldwin

Conservatives are urging Capital One to drop Alec Baldwin over his homophobic rant -- why aren't liberals madder?

Topics: Alec Baldwin, Homophobia, anti-gay slurs, Andrew Sullivan, Celebrity, Twitter, Gay Rights, GLAAD, LGBT Rights, LGBT, ,

Liberals should ask more of Alec BaldwinAlec Baldwin (Credit: AP/J. Scott Applewhite)

Conservative activists from GOP Proud and RightWingNews are calling on Capital One to drop spokesperson Alec Baldwin after the “30 Rock” actor urged his Twitter followers to “straighten out” reporter George Stark, whom he went on to call a “toxic little queen.”

Baldwin was roundly criticized for using homophobic threats and violent language against Stark (though it wasn’t the first time Baldwin targeted  a “queen” on Twitter — that distinction went to an “uppity” Starbucks barista on Manhattan’s Upper West Side). He quickly issued a perfunctory apology to the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, in which he called the tweets “ill advised” and having “absolutely nothing to do with issues of anyone’s sexual orientation.”

In response, GLAAD criticized Baldwin’s language, but called him an ally to the LGBT community and urged others to see the outburst as an opportunity for greater awareness of anti-gay violence. To complete the cycle of celebrity atonement, Baldwin deleted his Twitter account (again), and joked affably about flying to Moscow to interview Edward Snowden.

And that, it seems, was that.



But the conservative call for boycott, even if it is transparently motivated by a desire to expose a “liberal hypocrisy,” raises an important question: Why aren’t liberals more troubled by Baldwin’s outbursts?

In his apology to GLAAD, Baldwin said that, “as someone who fights against homophobia,” he hopes “my friends at GLAAD and the gay community understand that my attack on Mr. Stark in no way was the result of homophobia.”

Baldwin does have a public track record on marriage equality and other gay rights issues, but that doesn’t mean he can’t possibly be homophobic. It also doesn’t give him a free pass to ignore the ways his internalized prejudices may have factored into how he went about putting Stark, a gay man, “in his place.”

As conservative commentator Andrew Sullivan notes, language is important here. And threats of actual violence laced with homophobic slurs are not harmless: “Kids are brutalized by this kind of language every day; they commit suicide because of this kind of language; others are killed by those who share Baldwin’s homophobic rage.”

It isn’t too much to expect Baldwin to acknowledge, even though he believes that gays and lesbians should have equal rights, that his words were homophobic. And further, that threatening to forcibly sodomize Stark, or rallying his Twitter followers to “straighten out this fucking little bitch,” is a really brutal, troubling thing to do.

So why was Baldwin’s dodgy apology so swiftly accepted, and his violent language so easily forgiven? Probably because he is a well-liked celebrity, and well-liked celebrities can get away with a lot. He also has a history of liberal activism that many would argue balances out the actor’s other, angrier side. But writing checks to gay advocacy groups is no excuse to dabble in hate speech, or to openly advocate violence as retribution for an unflattering (though false) piece of tabloid reporting.

In all likelihood, this conservative petition won’t take off, but putting a little financial pressure on Baldwin — like many so rightfully did in the wake of Paula Deen’s racist speech and allegedly discriminatory employment practices — might inspire a little self-reflection. And it might give him pause next time he wants to threaten someone — gay or straight, in real life or on the Internet.

Katie McDonough is Salon's politics writer, focusing on gender, sexuality and reproductive justice. Follow her on Twitter @kmcdonovgh or email her at kmcdonough@salon.com.

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