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Gay Group Demands Apology from Olympics Announcers

by Kilian Melloy
Tuesday Feb 23, 2010
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Homophobic remarks made about flamboyant figure skater Johnny Weir and other competitors by two sports announcers have been denounced by The Quebec Gay and Lesbian Council. The group has also called for an apology from Canadian French language broadcaster RDS, reported the Associated Press on Feb. 22.

RDS sports commentators Alain Goldberg and Claude Mailhot swapped wisecracks about Weir, including a suggestion that the figure skater be tested to determine his gender, in a reference to Caster Semenya, a South African runner who was subjected to gender testing after her winning performance last year in Germany. They also suggested that Weir should be competing in women’s events, rather than men’s. The duo further slammed Weir as "a bad example" of figure skating athletes.

The Quebec Gay and Lesbian Council posted a detailed account of the commentators’ exchanges on its Web site. "The CQGL demands public apology from these people for their offensive and derogatory comments against the figure skater Johnny Weir and his appearance at his performance in the short program held the previous day," text at the site read, going on to say that the announcer’s remarks were "each more insulting than the last... They perpetuate their own prejudices against homosexuals."

"The CQGL regards it as unacceptable for a sports commentator and host to mock and denigrate an athlete in this way because of his demeanour and non-conformity with gender stereotypes. Throughout the exchange, Mailhot and Goldberg, while paying lip service to Weir’s right to be who he is, attacked Weir for his supposed negative effect on the sport, and even suggested that Weir should undergo gender testing," reported the blog posted by Pride House, an Olympic venue for GLBT athletes, trainers, and others.

"These people attacked not only the athlete, but also gays, bisexuals, and heterosexuals who do not conform to social stereotypes of gender.
Their words perpetuate homophobic stereotypes," the blog quoted Foster as saying. "It’s even more distressing considering that one of them used to be an assistant deputy minister in the Quebec Ministry of Education, Leisure, and Sport." Added Foster, "Their comments are a blot on the Olympic spirit and their professions."

Though RDS did issue an apology, according to a Feb. 20 article at Yahoo! Sports, the apology referenced only "tactless comments on the appearance and manner of a figure skater," and did not extend to slurs regarding his gender or the "example" Weir sets.

"They only apologized for the comments they made on his outfit," said Steve Foster, the president of The Quebec Gay and Lesbian Council. "We hadn’t even asked for an apology for those remarks. It’s the rest of the comments: on his masculinity, his femininity, the fact he should skate as a woman."

"This may not be politically correct, but do you think [Weir] lost points due to his costume and his body language?" Mailhot asked Goldberg on air, following Weir’s disappointing sixth-place finish.

Spectators may have wondered the same thing. The event’s judges were using a new scoring system that placed greater emphasis on certain technical aspects--to the detriment of the athlete who had been favored to win, Russian skater Yevgeny Plushenko, who reckoned that he’d have taken the gold if the judges were using the previously employed scoring system.

Plushenko’s razor-thin margin of loss, however, was less controversial than the fact that Johnny Weir - who is widely speculated to be gay, though he has never confirmed it publicly in so many words - was ranked so poorly, despite his perfect technique. The Christian Science Monitor reported in a Feb. 19 article that the judges were unimpressed with Weir, whose performance was not as technically dazzling; Weir, for his part, cited a popular performer with a big gay following. "As Lady Gaga would say, ’I have all my role models out there,’" Weir told the press.

Mailhot and Goldberg weren’t the only sports commentators who were making sport of Weir; Australian presenters Eddie McGuire and Mick Molloy referenced the gay-themed movie "Brokeback Mountain" when discussing one skater’s costume, and jibing that it was a shock that another athlete was heterosexual.

The "figure skaters are gay" stereotype has led to a push recently to "masculinize" the sport’s image. Goldberg pointed to Weir as "a bad example" that cast a gay light on all figure skaters, telling Mailhot on air that, "They’ll think all the boys who skate will end up like him. It sets a bad example."

"The comment is so inappropriate that we will not even justify it with a response," the CEO of the U.S. Olympic Committee, Scott Blackmun, told the press.

Weir has been unapologetic about his public presentation, which, on and off the ice, has been seen as flamboyant--and forthrightly gay. But Weir has seemed to play with perceptions about sexuality, refusing to state his orientation and talking about his sport - which has a reputation for being "gay" - in terms that avoid labeling.

"I know that for the men’s population of the Unites States, figure skating is a ’gay’ sport, and that’s a misconception," Weir told Advocate.com in a Feb. 9 article. "There are so many straight athletes in figure skating. I think it’s the music and the costumes that turn most men off. Because they want to see, well, they want to see spandexed men hitting each other’s ass and throwing a ball. It’s very different."

In Weir’s case, argues Outsports.com’s Cyd Zeigler in a Feb. 17 article, his public persona is not simply a holdover of the sport’s theatricality: "Over the last four years, Weir has been the gayest thing in sports," Zeigler wrote. "He walked in the Heatherette show and appeared in Black Book in high heels. In his documentary, ’Pop Star On Ice,’ he’s in a bubble bath with his best friend, Paris, and he lies on the couch with a Hello Kitty doll. When ESPN asked him for an interview, he took the reporter for a mani-pedi. When I interviewed Weir last summer and asked him how many sequins are too many, he answered: ’What kind of question is that? There are never too many.’"

For Australian commentators Molloy and McGuire, however, the costumes were a subject of mockery - leading to viewer complaints and the establishing of Facebook page "Eddie McGuire is ruining the 2010 Winter Olympics coverage," reported U.K. newspaper The Sun on Feb. 19.

Commenting on the costumes worn by the skaters, Molloy remarked, "They don’t leave anything in the locker room these blokes, do they?"

"They don’t leave anything in the closet either, do they?" rejoined McGuire, who went on to suggest that the presence of a heterosexual skater in the competition was a rarity. Apologizing later, Molloy added a barb: "I suggested that there was a disaster happening at the ice skating rink because organizers had found out one of the male ice dancers wasn’t gay. And I apologize for that really sincerely. But it definitely wasn’t this guy." Molloy was referring to Weir, who was clad in dramatic attire and carrying a prop in the shape of a heart.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor, writing about film, theater, food and drink, and travel, as well as contributing a column. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

Comments

  • BB, 2010-02-23 12:27:59

    I demand an apology from Weir. I spent my entire life fighting the repulsive stereotype of homosexuals as lisping, simpering little pansies mincing down the streets behaving like teenage girls. Now along comes this ridiculous thing with costumes so awful it was said Bjork had to be calmed down from laughter. If you want to dress and act so as to draw attention to yourself, fine, but don’t then whine about the kind of attention you get. You want to dress like a clown, some people are going to laugh.


  • Diva Dan, 2010-02-23 13:17:56

    Dear BB, First of all you are no better than the announcers by saying lisping,simpering little pansie homosexuals are repulsive. Even though the majority of homosexuals are not like that there are those who are and they are still part of our family. Basically you want to censor creativity and expression to fit your comfort zone. There are all types of homosexuals, even some I’m not fond of but they are still apart of our community. I’m asuming you are probably one of those gym bunnies who has to work out nine times a week to feel masculine. I’m a professional drag queen and I get looks of repulsion from my own community which I think is just shameful. People like you are just as hurful to our community as those outside of it. Get a clue sister and straigten up your act! Diva Dan of San Francisco


  • BB, 2010-02-23 13:34:52

    Diva Dan. I actually enjoy the hell out of artists like you and would so dislike a world where you did not exist. At the same time, you do what you do to attract attention to yourself, correct? You did say you were a professional. Well, not all that attention is going to be positive, and it is a simpering impotent response to whine about it and go running to the authorities to punish those who offend you. I doubt you do that. I don’t believe in a community - in that simply because one is of a group, that makes one above criticism. Chris Rock understands this very well when he attacks those awful elements in his own community who he dislikes. So do I. I am not required to love each and every homosexual just because they share the same sexual appetites as I do, and those elements I think are ghastly, I’m going to write about. By the way, no I don’t go to the gym, I feel masculine because I have a penis and testicles between my legs and beyond that I am simply a writer. I like to define myself by my work and not by who I fuck. Thank you for your thoughtful reply.


  • Anonymous, 2010-02-23 13:38:37

    I love Johnny. My husband loves Johnny. He is an artist and a performer and will be loved and remembered long after many other skaters are forgotten. Just let him be and let him skate.


  • BB, 2010-02-23 13:53:51

    Fine 13:38 - let him skate, but somebody get the silly thing a stylist. How can you look at that photo above and NOT crack up. He looks like a Tupelo drag queen doing Aunt Bea.


  • Anonymous, 2010-02-23 15:33:53

    He doesn’t need a stylist. He is a genius. That is the most awesome prank I have seen in years. This guy is going places, man. BB, I’m sorry his little prank offended you, but he’s just a kid, man. Cheer up.


  • Anonymous, 2010-02-23 15:58:44

    Hey, someone came along and gave me a one-star rating. Look, dude: I am the only person in this discussion so far who has put it together that 1) he is a twenty-something year-old kid, and 2) twenty-something kids like to pull retarded stunts for humor. Throughout the ages, people who do not have a sense of humor have found this offensive. Situation normal, man.


  • Anonymous, 2010-02-23 17:02:45

    Dear BB. guess what? It’s the "flamers" who, since the beginning of time, are the ones who have blazed the trails and taken beatings and been murdered so you can have your freedoms. He is who he is and has a right to be that and not be mocked for it. In fact he should be celebrated as a brave, creative, and strong person. But I guess the gay "community" is only as large as your nearest boring Abercrombie and Fitch. If your idea of winning equality is to become so invisible so as not to be noticed, then take your "community" and shove it up your ass. There’s more strength of character in Johnny Weir’s "sissy" pinky than in your khaki, button down closet.


  • BB, 2010-02-23 19:42:20

    17:02 Thank you for your reply. However, I’m not a fellow 20-something, and your points of attack are misfires because of your lack of a sophisticated cultural vocabulary. The freedoms you allude to are in fact freedoms granted the United States Constitution and by Providence. You only think you are living in a better world now because you have no sense of history. You would do well to immerse yourself in the poetry of Constantine P. Cavafy, for example, it will expand your horizons as to the homosexual sensuality which existed long before radical American homosexualism became the rage. That tawdry philosophy has twisted your understanding of both freedom and of rights. There is no right to freedom from mockery. If there were, the writings of Wilde, Forster, Vidal, Coward, Isherwood, Auden, and any of a hundred other homosexual social satirists, who are in fact the true pioneers of a gay sensibility ,would be dismissed and forgotten. The right to make mock of anything that seem silly is one of the hallmarks of a civilized society. You and your leftist ilk want to live in a world free from adult experience. You want thought police, and cultural fascism - you’re like little adolescent Cultural Revolutionaries in pink Mao jackets.


  • Anonymous, 2010-02-24 08:53:50

    This is so funny. All the way Johnny:) love your individuality! brave one


  • Anonymous, 2010-02-24 15:44:59

    BB Please, go see a shrink. You have some serious self loathing issues. Internalized homophobia, does a lot more to damage our community than does a crowd of flamboyant boys.


  • Anonymous, 2010-02-24 16:00:34

    ^^^ Oh, I think he’s a hoot.


  • Anonymous, 2010-02-24 18:37:35

    Um... BB? I think you missed something even MORE basic here. You said: "If you want to dress and act so as to draw attention to yourself, fine, but don’t then whine about the kind of attention you get..." What YOU missed (no doubt, because your own whining was so stridently trying to drown out your internalized homophobia) was that Johnny Weir himself NEVER WHINED. His responses to how he’s been treated were calm, rational, humorous, appropriately biting, and intelligent. Twenty-something or not, his response to the world has been a hell of a lot more mature than yours has been in this forum. Save the vitriol for the people who are the ones actually beating us up, denying us our rights, and killing us. Jeez.


  • Anonymous, 2010-02-24 20:36:58

    I am a 60 year old woman from Nebraska, US and I truly LOVE Johnny Weir!!!!!!! He is just like a soft summer rain that cleanses and refreshes all life! There will always be little people who are threatened by originality and spirit. They don’t get it because they are so afraid to come out of their little circle. Brave and beautiful people like Johnny help us to see the possibility of life and bring with them the color we all so desperately seek. I love you Johnny. The world is truly truly a much better place because you are here. I would be so very proud to be your Mother and God bless you and your family!!


  • Anonymous, 2010-02-26 16:35:47

    I demand an apology from BB. I’m a 56 year old gay man, and I didn’t fight for years for equality just so that some gays could oppress other gays. Those of us who consider ourselves "masculine" are just as despised by homophobes as any drag queen. Don kid yourselves, and don’t be a Quisling. Your Stockholm Syndrome is showing when you call Johnny Weir "lisping." He’s a great athlete any minority group can be proud of.


  • Anonymous, 2010-02-26 16:38:40

    I’ll bet anything the pretentious BB reads Cavafy in English, not modern Greek. In English translation it’s just about the easiest poetry to appreciate this side of Rod McKuen. Telling people to "Immerse themselves" in a rather small book of lyric poems not even in the original language to improve their general culture is a howler.


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