As a matter of form, the press tries not to use vulgarities and profanities in their work. If they are paraphrasing someone who used a certain vulgar word, they’ll use a euphemism like “the eff word” or F-word. When quoting someone, they will take out some letters to be accurate yet soften the blow by doing something like this; f—k. This general rule also applies to other offensive words for minorities like the “n” word. Nobody wants to write these things but since these words exist and have heft and meaning, they will sometimes come up. Let me explain why I’m bantering about semantics and journalistic style books.
An issue arose recently when councilperson Robert Lilligren lost the DFL endorsement for the seat he holds on the Minneapolis City Council to Abdi Warsame, who is Somali. There were people at the caucuses who had been using Lilligren’s sexual orientation as a way to sway attendees to vote against him. Maya Rao of the Star Tribune wrote about the incidents on April 26, 2013, in a piece called, ‘Political hardball alleged in Minneapolis city council race’:
“Volunteers for Lilligren’s campaign said in interviews that people on Warsame’s team essentially took over the April 16 caucuses, speaking in Somali and criticizing those who supported the other candidates, while also trying to turn more conservative Somali elders away from Lilligren by highlighting his openly gay status.
‘It’s very unsettling. It’s very distressing. Can we run a clean race?’ said Maryam Marne Zafar, a caucus captain for Lilligren who submitted one of the challenges.”
This is interesting on a couple of levels. First of all, this is a DFL convention. For operatives to be using Lilligren’s being gay as a way to delegitimize his candidacy is incredibly offensive. A candidate’s sexual orientation isn’t relevant as to whether they can serve in public service or not. What’s even worse is that these operatives were also endorsing this idea to some elements of the Somali community. I see the Somali community as another victim of this kind of underhanded sleazy politicking.
Since Rao was strongly suggesting harsh words may have been used, I called her up. She told me she’d interviewed several Somali activists separately and they all told her Lilligren had been called a “faggot” as translated from Somali. This is even worse. It is one thing to say openly gay candidates like Lilligren are gay but quite another to use a demeaning slur against them.
Lilligren lost the endorsement and Warsame, his opponent, denies the name-calling ever happened. I spoke at length with Rao and she believes the witnesses she talked to. She stands behind the story.
Then, I began to hear rumors the same thing was being done to another candidate. I’d heard from a couple of independent confidential sources that some in the Somali community were told Jacob Frey was gay. After hearing this, we don’t have just a single incidence of using sexual orientation as a political weapon, but we seem to have campaign operatives who are using us as the muck to throw at opposing candidates. With Lilligren, the use of sexual orientation could be glossed over. But, that doesn’t work with Frey.
You see, Jacob Frey isn’t gay.
The gossip about him is obviously, and maliciously, intended to steer Somali voters away from him and toward other candidates. This is sick, wrong, and it caters to the worst possible tendencies we can have. To prejudge someone based on characteristic you cannot change is discrimination at its worst.
I tried to get Somali witnesses who heard the rumors about Frey on the record but their community–while close-knit–is also close-mouthed. That’s too bad because as I said, I believe they are victims of this smear campaign as well. Their ideas about us are being ratified and amplified by the political forces in Minneapolis. We have a duty to put a stop to it.
It wasn’t that long ago that being gay or lesbian meant political death. Minnesota had the honor of seeing some of the first openly gay and lesbian legislators in the country. Sen. Allan Spears came out of the closet in 1974 and was a national example of a gay public official. So has Rep. Karen Clark been, since 1980. The idea of people in the GLBT community being elected officials in no longer a rarity but we must be vigilant.
We cannot let those in ANY political party say we aren’t worthy to serve because of our sexual orientation. If political operatives want to say “faggots” like us can’t be city council people or mayors or U.S. Senators, it is our duty to ourselves to say “not on my watch.” Too many have fought too hard for too long to let anyone demean our place in this society. We are not just the other “F word.”