Should Post review policy on disclosing sexual orientation?
Sunday’s ombudsman column sparked a healthy discussion about whether The Post should loosen its policies governing when to disclose a person’s sexual orientation. The column dealt with last month’s tragic murder of D.C. middle school principal Brian Betts and The Post’s decision not to reveal he was gay, despite the fact he was “out” to friends and coworkers and although police said publicly that he was homosexual. The Post held firm, even after police subsequently revealed that Betts had met at least one person charged in his murder through a phone-sex chat service.
Since the column appeared, a handful of gay and straight Post journalists, including two supervising editors, have contacted me to say they believe there should be a review of the policy governing when to reveal sexual orientation. It’s a good discussion to have.
Post policy says: “A person's sexual orientation should not be mentioned unless relevant to the story... When identifying an individual as gay or homosexual, be cautious about invading the privacy of someone who may not wish his or her sexual orientation known.”
Defining “relevant” is the challenge. It can be relevant if a closeted gay lawmaker promotes anti-gay legislation. And I felt it was relevant to disclose that Betts was gay, especially because the circumstances of his murder were similar to others locally and nationally.
In most cases, a person's preferred privacy should continue to trump disclosure. After Sunday’s column ran, for example, several readers who identified themselves as gay called to say that they would surely lose their sensitive military or intelligence agency jobs if their sexual orientation were to be revealed by The Post in the event they became part of a news story.
But many other “out” gay men contacted me to urge The Post to be less restrictive when writing about those who make no secret of being gay to family, friends and work colleagues.
“The Post’s policy of reporting a person’s sexual orientation only if it is ‘relevant’ is wrong,” e-mailed Richard McKee of Arlington, who identified himself as “an ‘out’ gay man.” He added: “If it is known that a gay man or lesbian is ‘out,’ if only to friends and perhaps family members, that should be reported.”
“By omitting a person’s sexual orientation,” he continued, “the Post tacitly reinforces the erroneous and harmful presumption that everyone is heterosexual. Homophobes cling to that fallacy and its corollary, that some people immorally or perversely ‘choose’ to engage in homosexual behavior. Thus, they justify laws discriminating against gays and lesbians.”
Mitch Wood, president of the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance of Washington, took issue with a part of my column that said The Post “deserves praise for its protective instinct” in not identifying Betts as gay, even though I concluded that his sexual orientation subsequently should have been disclosed.
“Gay men and lesbians are not in need of The Post’s ‘protection,’” he wrote. “Further, your praise for that instinct reinforces the common perception that there is something negative, evil or dirty about being gay.”
Several others observed that societal views of gays are changing.
“Please let the editors and writers of The Post know that if a man or women is openly gay to their family, friends and coworkers (as I am), reporting on their sexual orientation is as benign as reporting on their hair color,” wrote Chris Tharrington of Adelphi.
Posted by: thebuckguy | May 12, 2010 10:18 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: WmarkW | May 12, 2010 11:22 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: uh_huhh | May 12, 2010 11:53 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: uh_huhh | May 12, 2010 12:04 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: remulac | May 12, 2010 7:19 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Nymous | May 15, 2010 8:19 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: JohninMpls | May 17, 2010 4:03 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: walkleftstandright | May 17, 2010 9:11 PM | Report abuse
The comments to this entry are closed.