Kevin Hart and the Oscars: How, when and why should we forgive?

Courtesy of Disney/ABC Television Network via Flickr

I first tuned in to the hype surrounding this year’s Oscars when controversy arose over a series of anti-gay tweets made by Kevin Hart, around ten years ago. The to-be host immediately faced pressure from the Academy to either publicly apologize for his bigoted comments or to step down as the host. In response, Hart stated that this was not the first time his tweets had surfaced. The comedian claimed that he had already acknowledged and apologized for the tweets on several occasions and had grown as a person. Eventually, Hart decided that he wanted to step down as host of the 2019 Oscars (E! News, “Kevin Hart Says the Academy Threatened to Revoke Oscars Hosting Gig Over Anti-Gay Tweets,” 12.06.2018).

As a fan of Hart, I was upset by his tweets and found them offensive. I thought about how damaging these tweets would have been to me if I had seen them ten years ago, a time when I was still far from coming to terms with my sexuality. In 2009, I wasn’t out; I was a confused 12-year-old boy with a vocabulary that often consisted of the words “faggot” and “gay” due to my internalized homophobia.  As I reflected on the past, I questioned if I could be a fan of someone who had made so many hurtful comments about a part of my identity. I wondered under what circumstances should I forgive someone, and how do I come to that decision?

I then thought about how the government treated LGBTQ+ individuals the year Hart wrote these tweets. In 2009, the infamous “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, approved by Bill Clinton, was still in place, allowing the military to openly discriminate against LGBTQ+ individuals (CNN, “Discharged under ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’,” 11.10.2009). Same-sex marriage was not legalized across the country until 2015 (NPR, “Supreme Court Declares Same-Sex Marriage Legal In All 50 States,” 06.26.2015). President Barack Obama, hailed and remembered as an advocate for social justice and equality during his presidency, openly opposed same-sex marriage until the late 2000s (The Washington Post, “Obama’s latest ‘evolution’ on gay marriage: He lied about opposing it, Axelrod says,” 02.10.2015).

Considering the sociocultural context in which Hart tweeted this series of homophobic messages, should he be forgiven?

For years, peers, close friends and mentors of mine have used homophobic language either in front of me or directed at me. Oftentimes, these remarks have been just as offensive as Hart’s tweets. My continuous exposure to homophobia has led to years of anxiety, confusion and fear that could have all been avoided if I had grown up in a more accepting culture that was not afflicted by homophobic beliefs and discourse.

The conscious and unconscious messaging that has historically defined LGBTQ+ people as the Other operates on many levels. There are the more obvious instances, such as hate crimes. But there are also the subtle homophobic microaggressions and dominant heteronormative traditions that often go unnoticed, yet perpetuate the same form of othering. For LGBTQ+ individuals, it can be extremely debilitating to feel the need to constantly go out of their way to do the teaching in order to combat discrimination and fight for equality.

It would be mentally draining for me to directly address each barber, doctor or any other person who asks me if I have a girlfriend, come out to them and then educate them with a lesson on not assuming one’s sexual orientation. I also don’t have the mental space to get upset each time someone says “that blows,” “that sucks dick,” “no homo,” “that’s so gay” or “faggot,” among many other homophobic remarks. I’ve learned that as an LGBTQ+ person, with the amount of anti-gay rhetoric and heteronormative values that have saturated my life, I have to pick and choose my battles.

At times, I have been fed up with the homophobia and ignorance that I have encountered. I have often yearned for the opportunity to just go out and feel “normal.” Throughout my life, I have felt the need to remain hyper-vigilant about my sexuality in order to protect myself; for much of my life, I believed that if someone found out about this part of me, I would lose the love and trust of those closest to me. I now feel remorseful about and angered by the many moments when I was unable to be happy with friends and family due to the internalized homophobia that was ripping me apart.

Still emotionally scarred by my past, I have learned that my body cannot withstand holding onto so much anger for such a long period of time. A part of me wants to confront everyone who has made me feel uncomfortable about my identity and yell at them until they feel the same pain that I have felt. Yet, many of the people who have hurt me throughout my life are the same people who I can depend on, who would not hesitate to stand up for me, who support me when I need help and who make sure that I am okay.

In the end, no one is perfect. I would imagine that most people have said something hurtful and/or offensive at some point in their lives. Being flawed is a part of being human. So where do I personally draw the line when it comes to people offending me, making me uncomfortable or causing me harm? While I have the privilege to live in a time and place that is more accepting of me for my sexuality, should I just forget what people have done to me in my past and move on? For the people hurt by me—how should they respond to the pain I have caused them?

Even after years of practice, I still struggle with figuring out when I do and don’t want to address something that has rubbed me the wrong way. I’m still trying to figure out how much I would allow someone to push me around before I say something. I’m still trying to figure out when I should forgive people for wronging me, and how long I should wait before forgiving them. I’m still grappling with under what circumstances I would not be able to forgive someone.

Everyone has the right to choose whether or not they are willing to forgive others for what they have said or done to them in the past. The same goes for whether or not people are willing to forgive Hart for his tweets. Personally, I choose to forgive him. The tweets are a decade old. The U.S. has significantly changed within the last ten years in regards to LGBTQ+ rights and acceptance. Hart’s anti-gay rhetoric did not exist in a vacuum—it was largely a product of the internalized ideas and beliefs he was indoctrinated with growing up in a homophobic culture. This does not rid him of his responsibility to hold himself accountable for his actions. However, I think that with all the public outrage and defamation of his character, the public has started to oversimplify the treatment of homophobia; people are either good or bad, homophobic or not homophobic and there is nothing in between.

Given the hyperfocus on the judgement regarding Hart’s homophobia and the defamation of his character, many people have neglected to pay attention to the complexity of how homophobia and heteronormativity have operated—and currently operate—in society. These issues run much deeper than Hart. LGBTQ+ people have historically been disenfranchised across the world. This is a history that we should not forget. For many people, this disenfranchisement remains a reality.

But how do we move forward? I am optimistic that there are many people who are interested in exploring how we can all (myself included) be more mindful of our words and actions and how they affect others—in order to create a more welcoming world. If we share the goal of bettering the lives of LGBTQ+ individuals, then we must treat this objective as a collective effort. Instead of endlessly dragging Hart, we should all maybe focus a little more on our own shortcomings and challenge ourselves to continue to actively listen to one another, hold each other accountable and give one another the opportunity to learn and grow from our past mistakes.

Hart can’t undo his past. It seems to me that Hart sincerely regrets his homophobic tweets from a decade ago. While his response to the leak of these tweets was far from perfect, I am under the impression that he wants to be a better ally for the LGBTQ+ community moving forward. Yes, there are many people who will remain steadfast in their ignorant and bigoted beliefs. There are people who are unwilling to change their ways, even after being constantly told how their words and/or actions hurt others. There are also people who, even when they try to be better allies, continue to perpetuate homophobia through their words and actions, testing the patience of those around them.

I can’t speak on behalf of the LGBTQ+ community as to whether or not people should forgive Hart. I can only speak on behalf of myself. I haven’t experienced nor internalized homophobia the exact same way other people have. Nor is there a universally correct way for how we should address hate. Hate can be a powerful weapon—one that causes so much pain, conflict, violence and suffering. Hart’s tweets were extremely harmful to LGBTQ+ individuals, myself included. But I believe that forgiveness can be just as powerful. It’s perhaps time to move on from what Hart wrote ten years ago and find a way to work with him, instead of against him. Forgiveness can have the ability to create spaces where we can all learn, grow and heal, together.

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