10 Controversial Gay Gaffes That Shook Hollywood

Brett Ratner
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Brett Ratner's recent use of a homophobic slur led to the producer stepping down from this year's Oscars telecast. From Bob Hope to Tracy Morgan, THR takes a look back in history at some other offenders who got into hot water.

Last Friday night at a special screening of Brett Ratner’s new movie Tower Heist, the Oscar producer said, “rehearsal's for fags” during a post-show question-and-answer session.  The ensuing firestorm—fueled by other provocative comments Ratner made boasting about his sex life—led him to step down as producer of the Oscars on Tuesday (with Eddie Murphy bailing as the host on Wednesday).  But Ratner is not the first celebrity to get into trouble for using a gay slur.

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From Bob Hope to Mel Gibson to Tracy Morgan anti-gay gaffes and outright slurs have landed many celebrities in hot water.  Some have managed to apologize gracefully, others have suffered lasting career damage, and a few have defended their remarks.  Here are ten of the most well-known incidents and their fallout:

The offender: Bob Hope, 1988

The comment: During an appearance on The Tonight Show, Hope called someone a “fag” for wearing a colorful tie.

The fallout: This was the first time GLAAD (the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Discrimination), founded in 1985, successfully pressured a celebrity to apologize for using a gay slur.  At a time when public support for gay rights was still small, Hope agreed to record a public service announcement condemning anti-gay bigotry, graciously paying for it himself.

The offender: Mel Gibson, 1991

The comment: In an interview with the Spanish newspaper El Pais, Gibson said, “Homosexuals take it up the ass.  This is only for taking a s**t."  He added, “I became an actor despite that.  But with this look, who's going to think I'm gay?  It would be hard to take me for someone like that.  Do I sound like a homosexual?  Do I talk like them?  Do I move like them?"

The fallout: The comments set in motion the long-term erosion of Gibson’s public image, compounded by other incidents over the years.  In 2006, Gibson reportedly made sexist and anti-Semitic comments to the police officer who arrested him suspicion of drunk driving. In 2010, recordings surfaced of Gibson verbally abusing former girlfriend Oksana Grigorieva and in 2011 he was sentenced to three years probation for domestic battery for hitting her.

The offender: Dr. Laura Schlesinger, 2000

The comment: The radio show host had a long history of anti-gay comments, including calling homosexuality a “biological error,” before getting her own syndicated TV talk show in September 2000.

The fallout: GLAAD criticized Paramount’s decision to give her a show and a website StopDrLaura.com catalogued her anti-gay comments.  The controversy contributed to weak ratings for Dr. Laura.  Schlesinger, a Jew, tried to apologize with a full-page ad in a Hollywood paper on Yom Kippur: "On the Day of Atonement, Jews are commanded to seek forgiveness from people we have hurt.  I deeply regret the hurt this situation has caused the gay and lesbian community.”  But many gay activists called the ad too little, too late.  The ratings for Schlesinger’s TV show never picked up and in March 2001 Paramount decided not to renew it for a second season. 

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The offender: 50 Cent, 2004

The comment: In an interview in Playboy, rapper 50 Cent said, “I ain’t into faggots.”  Adding, “I’m not prejudiced.  I just don’t go with gay people and kick it—we don’t have that much in common. …  But women who like women, that’s cool.”

The fallout: 50 Cent shrugged off calls from gay rights groups to apologize.  In 2010, after an argument with openly gay blogger Perez Hilton, 50 Cent tweeted, "Perez Hilton called me douche bag so I had my homie shoot up a gay wedding.  wasn’t his but still made me feel better.” Again, the rapper ignored demands from GLAAD and other gay rights groups to apologize.

The offender: Isaiah Washington, 2006

The comment: During an argument on the set of Grey’s Anatomy, Washington allegedly told Patrick Dempsey "I'm not your little faggot like [co-star T. R. Knight]. 

The fallout: Washington’s comments prompted Knight to openly acknowledge his homosexuality a few days later.  He told Ellen DeGeneres, “I've never been called that to my face.  So I think when that happened, something shifted, and it became bigger than myself." Washington apologized, calling his words  “beneath my own personal standards,” but the slur against the popular Knight seemed to alienate Washington from many of his Grey’s castmates.

The controversy resurfaced at the Golden Globes in January 2007 when Washington joked about it and denied referring to Knight as a “faggot.”  In June 2007, Washington was dropped from Grey’s Anatomy when his contract was not renewed for the next season.

The offender: Jay Leno, 2008

The comment: On The Tonight Show he asked Ryan Philippe, who played a gay teen on the Soap One Life to Live, “Can you give me your gayest look?”

The fallout: After being condemned by GLAAD, Leno quickly apologized.  “In talking about Ryan’s first role, I realize that what I said came out wrong.  I certainly didn’t mean any malice.  I agree it was a dumb thing to say, and I apologize.”

The offender: Kobe Bryant, 2010

The comment: During a game against the San Antonio Spurs, the Lakers star appeared to call a referee a “f***ing faggot.”  Although courtside microphones did not pick up the audio of Bryant’s words, the videotape made it possible to read his lips.

The fallout: The Human Rights Campaign immediately criticized Bryant, who tried to excuse his comment as a result of the passion of the game.  "My actions were out of frustration during the heat of the game, period.  The words expressed do not reflect my feelings towards the gay and lesbian communities and were not meant to offend anyone.’’  Still, NBA Commissioner David Stern fined Bryant $100,000 and criticism of Bryant continued.  Bryant then agreed to appear in a PSA condemning anti-gay slang for GLAAD.

Bryant’s comments generated a wide debate among NBA players and officials about the prevalence of gay slurs during in game “trash talking.  Phoenix Suns star Grant Hill recorded his own PSA urging players not to use gay slurs as on-court insults and Phoenix CEO Rick Welts announced he was gay, becoming the highest profile sports executive to openly acknowledge his homosexuality.

The offender: Ron Howard, 2010

The comment: The trailer for the Universal Pictures movie the Dilemma, directed by Howard and produced by Ratner’s Oscar replacement Brian Grazer, featured Vince Vaughn’s character, an advertising executive telling auto company executives, “Electric cars are gay.  I mean, not homosexual, but my-parents-are-chaperoning-the-dance gay.”

The fallout: GLAAD called the use of the word “gay” in that context pejorative and asked Universal to remove it.  After Anderson Cooper also criticized the line on CNN, Universal cut it from the trailer.  But Howard opted to keep it in the movie, saying, “I believe in sensitivity but not censorship.”

The offender, Patti Stanger, 2011

The comment: Appearing on Bravo's Watch What Happens Live, the Millionaire Matchmaker host told a gay caller who worried about remaining faithful in a long distance relationship, “There is no curbing the gay man.”  Stanger than told openly gay host Andy Cohen, "I have tried to curb 'you people.'"

The fallout: After a flurry of tweets criticizing her, Stanger herself tweeted an explanation, arguing she was speaking about Los Angeles-area gay men only.  “It's true LA gays toughest nuts to crack to monogamy!”  Followed by: “Attn male Gays: I support you & my comment on WWHL was to a LA guy who can't find commitment.”  After a similar equivocal apology on The Joy Behar Show failed to quell the outcry, Stanger issued a more direct apology, “I am so sorry.  I did not mean to offend anyone with my comments.”  Bravo also apologized in a statement.  ‘“Her comments are not representative of the network’s beliefs and opinions.  We apologize for the offense it caused.”  But despite calls from some viewers for Stanger to be fired, she remains the host of the network’s Millionaire Matchmaker show.

The offender: Tracy Morgan, 2011

The comment: During a performance of his stand-up act in Nashville, Morgan went on an anti-gay riff, saying among other things he would stab his son if he told Morgan he was gay.

The fallout: Morgan’s comments went viral when a gay fan in attendance criticized his remarks on Facebook.  After GLAAD criticized Morgan, he apologized.  30 Rock star Tina Fey and NBC head Ben Greenblatt also apologized for Morgan’s comments, but defended Morgan personally, despite his history of homophobic jokes.  Morgan remains a member of the 30 Rock cast.