Are Newspapers Too Gay-Friendly?

By Fitzgerald, Mark | Editor & Publisher, September 28, 1996 | Go to article overview

Are Newspapers Too Gay-Friendly?


Fitzgerald, Mark, Editor & Publisher


IS NEWSPAPER COVERAGE of gay issues and personalities too pro-gay?

At first blush, that's an astonishing question. After all, well into the 1960s, headline writers routinely used "deviant" as a synonym for homosexual. Even now, some newspaper newsrooms are regarded by their gay and lesbian employees as hostile workplaces where they are better off in the closet than out.

These days, however, most newspapers, especially metro dailies, are striving mightily to present themselves as "gay-friendly" both in their offices -- and on their pages.

As more news about gay people and organizations gets into the paper, however, some gay and lesbian journalists are beginning to question the quality of the coverage.

Put bluntly, they say it's simply too positive.

"We've sort of gone in the opposite way," said Bettina Boxall, a Los Angeles Times reporter whose metro beat includes gay organizations.

"Sometimes it's too gay," said Boxall, who is a lesbian. "We do too many simple, formulaic, sappy stories ... in which every gay figure is a hero. I think it's time for coverage of gay issues to move to a higher level."

"I agree," said John Gallagher, national correspondent for the Advocate, the biweekly gay and lesbian newsmagazine. "A lot of the reporting, unfortunately is sort of spongy. I don't know if that's because newspapers don't want to offend their gay and lesbian readers... [but] you see it even in the gay press."

Atlanta-based freelance writer Richard Shumate says he has seen the problem in almost every medium he writes for: mainstream magazines, alternative papers and gay newspapers.

"People who are covering gay and lesbian stories don't really do a lot of critical, thinking-out-of-the-box stories about our community," Shumate said."The gay press doesn't want to do it because it's not PC [politically correct]. The mainstream press doesn't do it because by and large they don't care about these issues .... But all of us -- whether we are in the gay press or the mainstream press -- should be doing more of these critical stories."

In panel discussions and hallway conversations at the recent National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association convention in Miami, journalists critical of this supposed tendency toward positive stories say its biggest effect is to misinform both mainstream America -- and the gay community itself.

Two examples:

* The almost universally cheerleading reports on the potential of protease inhibitors to reverse the symptoms of AIDS or even to cure the disease. Some gay activists maintain that the gay and mainstream press are ignoring reports that some asymptomatic users are actually developing symptoms.

* Constant repetition of unsubstantiated claims of the gay community's size and wealth.

"How many times do we repeat the statistic that the gay community is 10% of [the general population]? Well, I don't think it's 10% and I don't think anyone can prove it's 10% of the community," the Los Angeles Times' Boxall said.

That statistic -- and frequently repeated assertions that gay males have incomes substantially above average -- are unreliable because they depend on people identifying themselves as gay in surveys.

"To some extent our community suffers based on our lack of diligence," said Jeordan Legon, Latino community reporter for the San Jose (Calif.) Mercury News.

Legon says there is an understandable reason gay and lesbian reporters in the mainstream press tend not to be critical when writing about gay topics.

"The reason why we're not being too critical of the gay community is because of the stigmatization and marginalization of the gay community over the years. It brings back a very bitter taste to the gay community [and] it can be perceived as gay bashing.

"There is a feeling the mainstream press owes us for marginalizing the community," Legon said. …

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