Print Columns   |   Web Chats   |   Blog Archives   |  

Should the Post Invest in Better Gaydar?

Kevin Naff, the managing editor of the Washington Blade, the area's most prominent gay weekly, says in an editorial that this newspaper is too shy about mentioning when people in the news are gay.

He focuses his criticism on the Post's coverage of the winner in Metro's recent contest to pick a new voice for announcements on the system's trains. The winner, Randi Miller, the Blade reports, is an out lesbian. You didn't read that in the Post's various stories about the contest and Miller because nobody here asked her about her sexuality.

Naff read the Post's story and was intrigued by a line saying that Miller celebrated her victory "with friends at a restaurant." Somehow, this was a clue to him that Miller might be gay. So he put a reporter on the story and found out that that was indeed the case.

So now the Blade has a profile of Miller, a nice feature that, I might note, contains not a syllable beyond the lead--which briefly mentions "the calm alto voice of a local lesbian"--about her sexuality or its impact, if any, on her work.

Naff runs a very good paper that aggressively and fairly stands up for its readership. The Blade's coverage of legislative initiatives in Virginia against homosexuals is exemplary. The paper did fine work on the scandals at the D.C. HIV/AIDS Administration. But I think he's wrong on this one.

When I'm interviewing someone, I don't ask them about their sex lives unless it's germane to the story. I don't ask about their family or living arrangements unless I'm working on the kind of personality profile that gets into private as well as public aspects of the character. I wrote and blogged about the Metro voice contest and it never dawned on me to find out whether any of the finalists were married, single, heterosexual or homosexual. It had nothing whatsoever to do with the job they were seeking or the qualifications that Metro was considering.

The Post profile that Naff says should have contained the information about Miller's sexuality did attempt to introduce her to readers, but only superficially. It mentions where she works and her previous experience as a voiceover artist. But it doesn't seek to explore her youth, formative experiences, or any of the other intimate material you'd expect to find in a Style profile or a Sunday magazine piece. Why should it then inquire into her sexuality?

Naff argues that reporters should ask sources about their sexual orientation just as readily as we do about their marital status. But marriage is, as a rule, a publicly declared status. Sexual orientation is public for some and private for others.

Naff writes:

"If a reporter thinks that a medal-contending skater is gay, then ask him and report what he says.

"When a famous gay person like Ismail Merchant dies, interview his longtime partner for the obituary. And if an openly gay police officer commits suicide amid charges of institutional homophobia in his district, then investigate it.

"The very fact of an interview subject's sexual orientation should not be considered a private issue any more than a heterosexual person who is asked about having a spouse or children."

I agree that if we're going to write about a public person in enough depth to describe his living arrangements, then it's fair to ask questions such as "Are you married? Do you live with someone? Is so-and-so your partner?" But unless the subject of the story is running for political office or otherwise opening his life to the public, that person has the right to say "None of your business."

I'm with Naff on the matter of interviewing longtime partners for an obituary. I agree that news organizations are often too squeamish about covering gay issues and way too Victorian about the degree to which we will describe things sexual--and that goes for all people we write about, regardless of their orientation.

But I don't see why reporters should make it part of our daily routine to ask sources about their sexual identity. Just like race, sexuality sometimes matters a great deal, but often matters not in the least. Randi Miller became the voice of Metro because of a voice that I described as "smooth jazz: authority with a velvet coating." When I wrote that, I had no idea whether she was a lesbian or a heterosexual. I didn't know her race (though that too became an issue, as some readers suggested that Metro was seeking a "white-sounding" voice, whatever that might be.) I judged her according to the only qualification that mattered: How she sounded. And I think we're all better off for leaving it at that.

By Marc Fisher |  February 15, 2006; 6:57 AM ET
Previous: Save the Castle--Now! | Next: Castle Update

Comments

Please email us to report offensive comments.



Couldn't agree more! The focus of this contest was to find a voice that would fit the bill for the changes that Metro wants to make. One characteristic was being examined. No need to ask who this person lives with, sleeps with, or hangs out with. It doesn't matter. And the sad truth is, if more persoanl data were collected, there would be no doubt about its impact - I don't care how "color blind", "gay-blind" (note a great term, I know - but you know what I mean) etc.,a person claims to be. Adding this extra non-necessary information would surely slant some to change (perhaps lower?) their opinion of this person's voice based on something they shouldn't even know about. All I can say is, if we all had knowledge of what goes on behind the closed doors of those we know (yikes!), we would likely all be in for some surprises. One's private life should be just that - a PRIVATE life.

Posted by: maggie | February 15, 2006 8:33 AM

Marc, I agree with you, but be prepared for an onslaught. There is a line of thought in the gay community, dating back to the forced "outings" of the 80s. It goes like this - "Make it obvious to the straight world that we're out here and that there's a lot of us, and then we won't be persecuted."
Personally, I think the theory is bunk. Blacks weren't lynched because they were hidden, but because they were obvious. Jews didn't suffer pogroms because they went unnoticed...

Posted by: John | February 15, 2006 8:45 AM

Amen Marc.

I, for one, am growing very tired of having to respect someone because he or she is _________ (fill in the blank).

I prefer to respect people because they have values, morals and treat others by the Golden Rule.

If a person is gay and evil, then evil is evil. If a person is white and obnoxious, then the person is obnoxious.

This rush to label everyone and then demand the ultimate respect based on a label is getting old.

Posted by: Sue | February 15, 2006 9:00 AM

If Ms. Miller felt it was important for everyone to know, I suspect that she would have said something. As someone who knows many gay people, I know that some are very vocal about this, while others don't see it as something that everyone needs to know. It's a personal choice, and it would be unfairly intrusive and potentially insulting for a reporter to pry.

Posted by: kate | February 15, 2006 9:08 AM

Posted by: CaveMan | February 15, 2006 9:13 AM

Amen to what Sue said. How is Ms. Miller's orientation in the least bit important to the fact that she is the voice of Metro? Face facts....some "advocates" are too hyper-sensitive, and most of the rest of us could not care less what you do...it's time to stop shoving private information into the public sphere.

Posted by: CaveMan | February 15, 2006 9:15 AM

I agree with you that personal details that are irrelevant to the story at hand should not be made part of the story. "Joe Smith, 63, a married black man with 3 children and a dog, is in critical condition after an car ...." I understand that some exposition is often necessary, either to humanize a subject or to emphasize the particular nature of the story.

Apparently, though, the Post does not follow this policy very well, judging from the headline yesterday: "Gay Bishop in Treatment for Alcoholism" Can someone please explain the relevance of this identifier?

Posted by: Troy | February 15, 2006 9:17 AM

To respond to Troy: I guess the relevance is that the bishop identified himself in the public media as an openly gay man. Ms. Miller apparently did not.

Posted by: CaveMan | February 15, 2006 9:24 AM

If Ms. Miller had done something negative rather than positive, such as murdered somebody or assaulted somebody or robbed a bank or committed treason against her country, the media would some how find a way to work into the story the fact that she is gay.

Posted by: Nameless | February 15, 2006 9:55 AM

I love it! Because this means evangelicals will call for a boycott of Metro, right? Excellent!

Posted by: h3 | February 15, 2006 10:06 AM

I hope you're right h3. that will mean less tourists from the midwest that always crowd the doors and wander aimlessly around stations. finally, a place for me to sit in the morning!

Posted by: OD | February 15, 2006 10:22 AM

I was surprised to learn from the Blade that it was a lesbian's voice that was selected to make train announcements, but totally agree with Marc that her orientation was not germane to the article as reported. Naff's point about the lack of Post coverage of the mayor signing the Domestic Partnership bill is the more troubling critique from that article IMO. That decision was certainly a legitimate subject to mention.

Posted by: dc1 | February 15, 2006 10:40 AM

I'd missed the interactive feature presenting the voices of the candidates previously. Very cool, WaPo! Lots of fun to listen to these excellent voices.

Marc: Since you're the radio expert, tell us how radio people learn their craft. Part of what makes these people sound good is the kind of voice they were born with, but what sort of training or practice do people undertake for radio?

Posted by: THS | February 15, 2006 10:56 AM

Marc,

While I agree that what people do behind closed doors is generally irrelevant to the jobs they do beyond those doors, I don't think that's the part of being gay that any of us expect or want to read about.

Rather in this case, what IS relevant would be the reaction of co-workers, friends and family to Randi's selection as Metro's "voice". If she has a partner, then why on earth wouldn't we be as interested in her reaction as in that of her co-workers?

Posted by: Linguist | February 15, 2006 11:08 AM

THS - I worked in radio in Albany for a few years. As an on-air personality, I can tell you what training I underwent. First, was to lose my Boston accent. Second, it was timing, pacing and enunciation.

Marc, you're on the right track here. What goes unsaid is that the Blade is at it's heart an advocacy publication. It's sort of expected that they go out of their way to find that the group they are advocating for aren't getting the recognition they feel they deserve. This would be the same regardless of it is the gays, or Christian Fundamentalists.

Posted by: Soulie | February 15, 2006 11:14 AM

Marc, dude, you're missing the point: simply treat gay people the same as you would others. In writing a story, if you ask someone about their spouse, just say 'spouse or partner'. That's common practice in most corporate settings these days anyway. The interviewee can make the call on what to disclose. And then maybe you could take a look at WP headlines touting "gay alcoholic priests"... no exploitation there?

Posted by: DannoDC | February 15, 2006 11:38 AM

Remind me again why I should care about who the Metro woman sleeps with? It's not me, and that's all that I care about.

Posted by: Jacknut | February 15, 2006 12:02 PM

As a gay man, I agree with what Marc is saying. It's not really relevant. However, there should also be no prohibition or hesitation to cover the fact that gay and lesbian people lead very happy, normal, and accomplished lives. Not saying that was the case here. But that headline yesterday "Gay Bishop" was a bit pushing an association of gay and alcoholism. I am sure the right-wingers, who love to assert (incorrectly) that being gay is a social ill, or curable, are eating that one up.

Anyway, in an ideal world where people ARE treated equally and respected for who they are, Marc is right. However, as evidenced by yesterday's article on the bishop, the activity of the Virginia legislature, and some of the posts above, we're not there yet.

Posted by: Doug in Mount Vernon | February 15, 2006 12:12 PM

Jacknut asks why we should care who the Metro woman sleeps with.

We shouldn't.

But just as it was relevant to interview her co-workers, it might just be relevant to ask what the person she shares her life with thinks. Being gay, like being straight, is about far more than who one "sleeps with". Who we spend our lives with really does matter, at least for most people.

Posted by: Linguist | February 15, 2006 12:22 PM

About a year ago, I was interviewed by "the Gazette" for an article on home improvements. Despite the fact that I repeatedly used "we" in my comments about our home renovation, there was no mention of my partner in the article. In contrast, married couples were mentioned throughout the piece.

Gay people have learned the hard way that our most important relationships are routinely treated as unimportant, or worse, as non-existent.

Posted by: Linguist | February 15, 2006 12:32 PM

Sounds like Naff just wants something to feel good about, or something to help gay folks gain acceptance. Who cares? She's a voice in this case, not a social issue.

Posted by: EP | February 15, 2006 12:49 PM

When your paper treats people equally in reporting, then and ONLY then, can you get up on your moral high horse.

All interviews in the press tend to note the "husband and three kids angle", no matter what the story is. Gay people don't get that courtesy, just as black people were never afforded the honorific of Mr. or Mrs. in the newspapers of the South. When your paper asks the question to gay people as often as you do to straight people, then I'll listen to your indignation. Not until then.

Being economical with the truth is still lying.

Posted by: Carl W | February 15, 2006 1:25 PM

Linguist writes: But just as it was relevant to interview her co-workers, it might just be relevant to ask what the person she shares her life with thinks.

According to the Blade article, Miller is single, so there is no one she shares her life with in the sense I think you mean. If we extend the meaning of "shares her life with" to include her friends, we did learn something about her personal life.

But, again, I'd argue that, for this story, all that is relevant is that she won the contest and information that relates to the topic---for example, whether she had previous experience in radio, etc. The discussion of how her boss recommended that she enter and that her voice plays a specific role at her job is relevant. The information in the Blade re her father would also be relevant, as would the detail re her friends asking her to record their voicemail messages. That's a charming note that might have been included. Of course, space in newspapers is always tight. While it has some public significance, this story doesn't have the kind of implications for the public that other stories might.

Posted by: THS | February 15, 2006 1:32 PM

I actually read the editorial Fischer criticizes, and then wrote a lengthy response to Fischer, which the Post site promptly ate. Rather than try to reconstruct that critique, I'll simply point out that Fischer focuses on one small portion of the editorial, and ignores the multiple serious, substantive criticisms of the Post's reporting that the editorial contains. I think those criticisms are meritorious, and that Fischer should be ashamed for his misrepresentation of the editorial's content.

Posted by: DMS | February 15, 2006 1:34 PM

Posted by: Anonymous | February 15, 2006 1:39 PM

THS,

Since she's single, then of course, you're right.

I guess I do remain pretty sensitive to the issue of invisibility, though. I am not quite at EP's level of "Who cares?" because, quite frankly, I've read more than my fair share of comments from the Right about the evils of some imagined "gay lifestyle".

I was named "Citizen of the Year" by our county a few years ago for volunteer work entirely unrelated to the fact that I am gay. And none of the articles about me mentioned the fact that I was.

So how do we ever undo the damage done to good, civic-minded, moral gay people if we never point out that good, civic-minded, moral individuals also happen to be gay?

Posted by: Anonymous | February 15, 2006 1:40 PM

I agree 100% with you Marc. As a straight person I get really confused on this one.

There was a guy in our office who everyone assumed was Gay, everyone accepted him normally but when confronted he was offended and quite due to embarassment (we guessed). But at the same time, we meet Gay men and women and they openly accept their openiness. So it really confuses the normal public on how to handle.

I too really didn't care if this person was nothing more than a human being, but now they (Gay paper) want to take credit and use her in some way to their advantage.

And,that is such a lie when they say they openly ask or come out and tell the public who is gay or not. They have a behind the doors committee as well. (This was from an insider that work there for a short period).

Being treated equally with Gays comes in many different packages.

Thanks

Posted by: Frankey | February 15, 2006 2:12 PM

Another reader writes: I was named "Citizen of the Year" by our county a few years ago for volunteer work entirely unrelated to the fact that I am gay. And none of the articles about me mentioned the fact that I was.

So how do we ever undo the damage done to good, civic-minded, moral gay people if we never point out that good, civic-minded, moral individuals also happen to be gay?

THS replies: You make a good point. It is important for the public to see the lives, work, and other contributions of gay people in contexts that do not specifically relate to sexuality. Most often, I think, it's through simply knowing gay people that the prejudices of straights are broken down.

So there must be some "third way." I think Marc is right w/ regard to this story, but for Linguist, who was profiled in connection w/ home renovations, I'd argue that Linguist's partner should have been mentioned. Treating Linguist and his or her partner as a family would be consistent w/ what was done w/ other families.

And, although that article doesn't seem to have handled the issue in the right way, I've seen numerous other articles regarding such lifestyle issues (and television shows too) that do make clear that the people whose activities are being discussed are same-sex partners.

Posted by: THS | February 15, 2006 4:03 PM

The WaPo's continued hostility to gay people is part and parcel of its neocon march to war in Iraq. One shouldn't have to resort to gaydar or read code to decipher WaPo stories. It's an issue until it isn't an issue. This "it's a matter of privacy" remains a very Washington thing--still too many closets in the corridors of power in this city.

Posted by: Brian | February 15, 2006 4:43 PM

Thanks, THS, and I completely agree with your comments.

And I do think that things are changing: During the house renovation, we subscribed to 3 or 4 home improvement magazines. Where once I would have expected to see oblique references to same-sex couples, there are now overt mentions of "John and his partner", etc.

When lives are interdependent, as is the case with married couples (including same-sex couples whose partnerships/marriages are denied legal protection), it's difficult if not impossible to tease apart all the individual aspects of our lives.

Posted by: Linguist | February 15, 2006 4:54 PM

There is merit on both sides here. A lot of people stereotype gay people, including their voices. Many people think they can tell a person is gay by hearing them speak. So if race is a relevant issue here, then sexual orientation could be as well.

And a previous poster pointed out that gay people's personal lives are almost universally ignored in human interest stories. You often see the spouse of a straight person interviewed in human interest stories. You almost never see a gay spouse interviewed.

But on the matter of the gay bishop, his sexual orientation is definitely a reportable issue. It is, after all, why he is famous. He is the first openly gay bishop in that denomination. It is part of the story.

Posted by: Hillman | February 15, 2006 4:59 PM

I agree with DHS that there was more to the editorial than this one case.

While it might not be necessary to point out that the new metro announcements come from a lesbian, there are many times when such references are appropriate, and yet are not included in Post coverage. The Merchant obit and also Susan Sontag's obit come to mind.

Any time that it is appropriate to include context clues in articles that indicate when subjects are straight, it is appropriate to include clues that indicate when subjects are gay. Sadly, this simple standard of equality is one that the media has not met.

Posted by: Nick | February 15, 2006 5:03 PM

Nick,

Another good post.

I do think it's important for people to realize straight people rarely have to mention that they are straight because that is assumed to be the case. Anytime it is mentioned that so-and-so is married, or divorced, or has kids, or moved because his wife/her husband got a job in another city-- these are taken as indications that the person is straight (even though, for instance, many gay people do have kids).

Gay people are frequently taken to task for "flaunting their sexuality" when in reality, they are simply talking about a part of their lives that wouldn't draw attention or even need mentioning if they were not gay.

The important relationships in our lives are difficult to keep out of the picture, but for too long, gay people have nad no choice but to do just that.

Posted by: Linguist | February 15, 2006 5:17 PM

As a specialized newspaper, the Blade with a targeted audience has every right to editorialize and evangelize a gay lifestyle. Part of this, part of the gay agenda, is public identification of gay individuals to further awareness of gay people in society.

It is absured to expect the Washington Post or any other general circulation newspaper to endorse the gay agenda or any other agenda (although there are many people who conclude that the Post does just that through its story selections and the prominant position of one view relative to others). Otherwise there would be no end to the identifications necessary. The post would need a box next to each name in the paper (or a link on the web edition) that listed a each person's affilications, beliefs and lifestyle. Is this person:
a) gay, heterosexual, bi-sexual, unsexual, a practioner of safe sex -- we need not get into their peculiar activities in bed or where ever they engage in sex or even whether they engage in sex;
b) Christian, Jewish, Islamic, agnostic, atheist, Bahai, wicken, Druid, Budhist...;
c) vegeterian, vegan, omnivore, carnivore, subscriber to the South Beach Diet, or Jenny Craig;
d) follower of an ecologically sound lifestyle or a profligate one;
e) Republican, Democratic, independent; Communist, Libertarian;
f) Reebok, Nike, or New Balance wearer;
g) Google or Yahoo or MSN sercher
h) a Chevy, Ford, Toyota, SUV, minivan, or subcompact driver;
i) a PC or Mac user?

This is outside the scope of news or reporting in the public interest, which is the purpose of general circulation newspapers. I believe one of your competitors has the right slogan: All the news that fit to print. This personal stuff is not relevant, not fit to print, unless being a lesbian or a Christian or a minivan driver or a Macintosh user explains the qualifies of her voice. Pointless personal intrusion, gossip, is the foundation of an intrusive, judgemental and disrepectful society, and is the enemy of a tolerant, diverse one.

Posted by: krush | February 15, 2006 5:46 PM

Krush,

I certainly don't advocate intrusive, judgmental or disrespectful "personal stuff". It's virtually never relevant to report what a person does or does not to in bed.

And I for one don't think that that's what this is about. I am gay. Having said that, you have absolutely no idea what I do in the privacy of my bedroom and, God willing, you never will.

But if I am talking to a reporter about the renovations to my house, it's unavoidable and completely relevant to point out that the house is mine AND my partner's and that the TWO of us renovated it together. The money we spent was OURS. The decisions, agonizingly made, were made JOINTLY. It would be absurd NOT to mention that we are a couple.

Yet the Gazette decided to leave that fact out, while repeatedly mentioning husbands and wives in the rest of the article.

Do you find THAT to be "respectful"?

I do not ask anyone to "endorse my lifestyle", whatever that would mean. I do expect them to depict my life accurately.

Posted by: Anonymous | February 15, 2006 6:00 PM

It goes both ways. Yes, sexuality is one of the least interesting aspects of a given individual. But also, yes, there is so rarely a major newspaper that reports anything dealing with sexuality that it is like a media blackout. Sexuality is intensely political. Leaving sexuality out of the picture because of whatever reason has the effect de-politicizing something that *should* be political. Life is political, to self-identify as gay or lesbian is a political choice and it is a factor in what you are reporting even if you do not initially see how.

As Nameless mentioned at 9:55, if Miller had murdered someone, you'd know she was a lesbian. Easily, even if it is not relevant. Seriously--we know that's true.

So yes, don't pry, but yes, remember that it is relevant to report on what is an intensely political subject matter. Doing that is the only way to counter the media blackout, and frankly, you guys at the Post are the people that can do it. I don't have such access to the media, we're counting on ya'll to be responsible...

Posted by: Greg | February 15, 2006 6:01 PM

Great discussion, folks--I will add just one bit here. I checked with our Obits Desk on our policy about same-sex partners and obituary writer Adam Bernstein explains that the Post "treats companions like anybody else. We mention them as survivors in the same way we do married spouses."

The Merchant case that was mentioned in the Blade editorial and in several comments above was indeed a case in which the Blade referred to the filmmaker with a reference to his homosexuality, whereas the Post obituary did not. This was not the result of any queasiness or unfair policy. Rather, it was the result of, you'll pardon the expression, actual reporting.

Our obituary writer spoke to people who knew Merchant well, and was repeatedly told exactly what Merchant had said throughout his life, that his sexual orientation was nobody's business but his own, and that he would not make it a part of his public persona.

We strive for accuracy in obituaries, even when some people do not want their cause of death to be noted. The Post does not use euphemisms like "died after a long illness," but instead names the disease. In the mid-80s, the Post was one of the first papers in the country to mention AIDS in obituaries. In Merchant's case, Bernstein tells me, there was no credible support for outing him, nor is it our policy to out anyone. Had he been openly gay, that would have been reported.

Posted by: Fisher | February 15, 2006 6:01 PM

I think the whole idea of people having to incorporate into any article someone's sexuality when it doesn't pertain to the story at all is absolutely ridiculous. It would be one thing if the story was about gay prominence in D.C., but it's obviously not. It's like requiring for reporters to mention their religious affiliation, something that is just as private as someone's sexuality in many cases, and usually just as irrelevant to the story. That would be like having a newspaper article that said, (detailing a car accident), "One witness, a gay Unitarian Asian man said the car was driving recklessly. A straight Catholic Latina woman agreed entirely with him, noting that it was 'swerving down the street.'" It's political correctness to the maximum, and I thought people were finally beginning to grasp just how ridiculous pc is!

Posted by: Mason Patriot | February 15, 2006 6:03 PM

Sexuality is indeed an issue in reporting, whether we like it or not. Shame on me for not remembering her name, but the Post's coverage of the tragic murder last year of a District government lady was tinged with the issue of sexuality. The lady was apparently a known lesbian, and as long as the Post had the suspicion that her murder might be a hate crime, it was front page news. When it was determined that it was just a random killing, the story quickly faded, even though her death was still every bit as tragic as it would have been if her sexuality had been involved in her death. This paper, like all media outlets and all people, has certain agendas that they advance in what they do or do not report, and how they report it.

Posted by: vajent | February 15, 2006 6:10 PM

I feel like Mr. Naff's position is a bit disingenuous and crosses the line between journalism and advocacy (this is understandable, as advocay is the essence of papers like the Blade). Anyway, it seems that he finds it newsworthy when a gay person wins a competition such as this one, but I wonder if he would feel the same if papers like the Post highlighted people's gay oprientation when they were involved in crimes, corruption, incompetence, or otherwise screwed up. This lady got the gig because the judges capriciously liked her voice over those of all the other entrants; her status as a gay person had nothing to do with it, any more than sexual orientation impacted the failures of other gay contestants who weren't selected. True acceptance comes when people are treated equally, not when their accomplishments have to be amplified because of their sexual orientation.

Posted by: Pete | February 15, 2006 6:19 PM

To Vajent: The woman you mentioned worked for Mayor Williams in a position that was something like "Coordinator for Gay and Lesbian Affairs." That's not the right title, I'm sure, but her job involved work w/ the gay and lesbian community. So, in addition to the hate crime possibility, there was fact that her professional life focused on concerns about sexuality. In fact, it's likely the fact that she was a public official that made her death newsworthy in the first place.

Posted by: THS | February 15, 2006 6:23 PM

Accomplishments can be amplified however one chooses, It is an accomplishment to be gay for many people. Social mores about gender run deep. So yes, asking journalists to be responsible in how they represent gender, it is an agenda. This discussion is a matter of how people are represented in the media. As a few others have mentioned the family angle is always, and clearly, represented in the media. It's just such a basic, common thing. Sometimes people in the media reinforce these assumptions with their words and their angle. When that happens, it's a time to discuss agendas.

Posted by: Greg | February 15, 2006 6:51 PM

For whatever reason, gay activists are obsessed with their gayness, and that of everyone else.

I remember that is got so bad for the mayor of San Francisco during his futile marriage licencing fight that his wife ened up standing at the podium of a public meeting and told the audience that what "he liked was . . ." - and then she took the microphone and simulated filatio on it - "but only from me!"

This deal with the Blade is right in that vein. The truth is most gays just want to live their lives in peace and privacy - just as the overwhelming majority of the straights do as well. Sure, they don't want to be assualted by gangbangers, or separated from their loving partners in the hospital, or deprived of inheritance and health insurance - but they want those rights with the same quiet dignity and acceptance straights enjoy.

Posted by: Kenneth E. Lamb | February 15, 2006 7:20 PM

As an Asian American, I love reading human interest stories that feature fellow Asians. Of course this doesn't mean I don't enjoy human interest stories that aren't about Asians. However, I would be lying if I said that stories about Asians don't carry an extra sense of interest to me. They do. They are, for better or worse, more likely to attract my attention.

The same goes for human interest stories about gay people. As a gay person, I'm also drawn to stories about other gay people.

I think it's natural for all of us to be more interested in human interest stories that deal with people who share our own race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, and/or so on. The shared "characteristic" between the subject of the story and the reader something extra to relate to.

Now, since the Washington Post doesn't cater specifically to a gay audience, I can see why it wouldn't mention a gay person's sexuality in every story about a gay person. But I can't help but wonder if sexual orientation still takes a back seat to less controversial "elements of diversity" such as race or religion.

Finally, to those who say that mentioning a person's sexuality in a human interest story would be unnecessary in a perfect world, I agree. But we obviously do not live in a perfect world, or else so many gay people wouldn't be so disappointed or hurt to notice the omission in this particular story about the Metro contest winner. I read both the Post and the Blade, and right away I noticed the Post's omission. Right or wrong, it was glaringly noticeable to me, a gay reader. I'm not expecting the world to cater to my sensibilities alone, but it's just something to think about.

This is a very good discussion.

Posted by: AL | February 15, 2006 7:23 PM

As a gay man and devoted reader of both the Post and the Blade, I agree with Marc, and Naff. The story had nothing to do with her sexuality. It would have been different if she were in a relationship and it wasn't mentioned in her bio (Randi lives in Woodbridge with her parnter....), but the bigger story would be why are the gays staying in VA, aka the Hate State.

I, and I assume along with Naff after reading his article, are militant about LGBTQ people being accepted just as blacks, hispanics, and others are about their acceptance. I feel the more we say that somebody is gay, or lesbian, the more accepted (hopefully) we will become. We can hide our identity unlike people of ethnic descent, so we need to be more vocal when we have an opportunity. We need to tell our stories, especially in areas of the country that are passing legislation that is so blatently discriminating. Just as we heard about the first black female winning the Academy Award, we should be hearing about the first black, gay man to win a gold at the Olympics.

The bottom line is, as a society we need to extinguish labels. This goes for the "a white-sounding voice" comment also. Racism (both ways), sexism, genderism.....it just needs to go away. Until we can accept people for who they are and not who we want them to be, we will continue to have these types of conversations. We will continue to demand injustices to cease.

Posted by: gayinVA | February 15, 2006 8:04 PM

As an out gay man for ten years, I agree that this whole flap about the Post not mentioning Ms. Miller's sexual orientation (if the reporter even knew about it) is absurd. What if she had been an evangelical Christian instead? Would the Post have been obligated to include that fact in a story that had nothing to do with her religion? No. In fact, to do so would be interpreted by gay activists as "promoting the homophobic Christian lifestyle". It cuts both ways, boys.

I'm intrigued that Neff figured out that Miller was a lesbian just by the fact that she went to dinner with friends. I sometimes go to the Tuesday night seafood buffet at the Army-Navy Club with a couple of very straight, very conservative retired military officer friends from work. Gosh, I wonder if my co-workers are actually gay because they "go to dinner with friends", one of whom is openly gay?

Special-interest publications like the Blade, the Dallas Voice, and the Advocate will always have an axe to grind, no less than the "Focus on the Family" website. They all must be taken with a grain of salt. And so must the Post.

Posted by: Scott | February 15, 2006 8:35 PM

Excellent comments all. I enjoyed reading this.Peace.

Posted by: Nick | February 18, 2006 7:13 PM

The Post prints irrelevant information all the time when it is trying to make a point or cast aspersions upon someone it dislikes. For example, every (and I mean every) article about Marion Barry somehow slips in his personal struggle with drugs, even if the topic of the article has absolutely nothing to do with his personal life or drug use. Barry could be at the opening of a day care center and somewhere near the end of the article will be a stattement about his drug arrests. I'm not defending Barry, but I do disagree with Marc Fisher's suggestion that the Post doesn't print information about people that is irrelevant to the story.

Posted by: cmoney | February 18, 2006 9:31 PM

A well-rounded long feature about her winning the competition that delves deep should have included any appropriate info she cared to mention about her personal life. A shorter "here's just the facts--she got the job" news story might not.

We in the gay community are under such attack today that it is a breath of fresh air to read something positive about one of our own. We expect the Blade to tell us, but it would be nice if the mainstream press would not only tell us, but the rest of the population too.

Posted by: skyline | February 20, 2006 11:24 AM

Mr. Fisher misrepresented the editorial by describing it simply as accusing the Post of being "too shy about mentioning when people in the news are gay." Although that was ONE point that the editorial made, it also pointed out a number of recent news stories--such as the dramatic expansion of domestic partnership rights by the City Council--that the Post completely ignored. The voice of metro issue did so dominate the editorial as Fisher's emphasis of it would suggest. Fisher has taken the most easily critiqued point in the editorial, bashed it to death here, and largely ignored the harder to rebut claims in the editorial. Why do we have to turn to the Blade for coverage of the Council's landmark expansion of partnership rights? Why do we have to turn to the Blade for coverage of antigay actions by the Virginia legislature? Why do we have to turn to the Blade for coverage of most any news of relevance and interest to the gay community in Washington? Do they not let folks down at the Washington Post frat house talk about gay people unless they absolutely have to? That was the point of the editorial. Fisher's little condesceding concoction here is evasive and disingenuous.

Posted by: Steve | February 20, 2006 4:55 PM

I agree with the posts above that the Post discusses family only when it is a straight person's family. From the weddings listings (marriage in Boston, AND civil unions in Vermont) to the to obits, the Post is caught up in its upper Northwest DC bubble. Whatever progressive strides the Post tried to make in the 1990s, insofar as covering the sizeable gay and lesbian community in DC, has petered out. It is a real shame that the only commentator in the Washington Post group who regularly addresses gay and lesbian issues is -- Mickey Kaus of Slate, owned by the Post. Over and over, he posts comments that drip with disgust for lesbians and gays, and disdain for their rights. With all the problems the NYTimes has had lately, at least gays and lesbians are not treated as second-class citizens in its pages.

Posted by: Joel | February 21, 2006 10:58 PM

Only one more thing to add, because I think it's essentially true: "The Post covers gays only when we're in drag." I say this often, but I actually heard it first from a friend, and have heard different iterations of this statement over and over during the past few years. It's one of those overly simple generalizations that says so very much.

Posted by: Joel | February 21, 2006 11:02 PM

I've found this discussion quite fascinating and I'm glad to see so many people feel strongly about the subject of putting people on equal footing.

My two cents on this issue is simple. While I didn't wave my pride flag during interviews after the contest, I did expect at least one or two reporters to inquire about the existence of a family, spouse or partner.

I was disappointed to consider the possibility that my sexual orientation made the existence of loved ones in my life somehow less important to the story.

I believe that one of the things that defines us as people is the love of family and friends in our lives. Omitting them from a human interest piece is really disregarding the "human," in my humble opinion.

But its also important to note that I was very pleased with the article Lindsay Leyton wrote, and I have gotten a kick out of sharing it with my friends and family.

Posted by: Smoothie | February 27, 2006 4:34 PM


People like Mr. Naff are dangerous... They are a threat to those who live a life without their sexuality being in the forefront and controling their lives... One wonders how many lives have been ruined by Mr. Naff.

People make choices in life regarding what works for them regarding their sexuality. Mr. Naff has no right to make the lives of people an open book without permission. There are choices in life that are mine and NOT his...

With his kind of ethics, he would have published that people were Jewish in the German newspapers during the Nazi regime...
Perhaps someone needs to investigate Mr. Naff's life to report his foibles so they can be exploited. You know, perhaps his drug of choice and where he buys it... or his interest in young boys... or the porno on his computer... I am sure there are any number of dirty little secrets he wouldn't want published, but perhaps people who read The Washington Blade need to know... I think it's time we discover them, whatever they are, so they can be put in print... Turn about has been proven to be fair play...

Posted by: Rick | March 5, 2006 9:49 PM

Since Kevin Naff's editorial was about reporting on people who are OUT, the ranting post by "Rick" misses the point entirely and illustrates only his own need for lots of therapy.

Posted by: Steve | March 8, 2006 11:11 AM

A woman wins an award. Naff decides she is a lesbian. Naff discovers the woman's sexuality and then publicly "outs" her in his newspaper. SURPRISE! Any embarrassment, family problems, or danger to her livelihood is not considered by Naff. He has to make the woman gay news whether she wants it or not - who cares what it does to her life? That's responsible reporting???

If one reads The Blade, one knows that Naff has repeatedly tried to out public figures in the entertainment industry who he thinks might be gay. That they might wish to go about their lives without controversy and do good is of no interest to Naff. These celebrities and others have adapted to the world we live in but Naff has to try to ruin their life or he's not happy. How responsible is that?

There's nothing therapy inducing about Rick's suggestion that if Naff can throw mud then he should be prepared for mud to be thrown back. It’s a law of nature. It happens when one is involved in controversy. One flings mud and it comes back. It’s that simple! Sometimes it was better to never start flinging the mud in the first place! Through it one discovers that minding one's own business should be a way of life!

Steve and Naff are obviously from another generation than Rick. I sense that they haven't lived through the possibilities of losing one's job and one's apartment because of their sexuality - they haven't fought the war that our older gay citizens have. This gay generation gap which is caused by the prevailing attitude that older gay people have nothing to offer has taught younger gays very little. If younger gays had lived through the past then they would understand that not offending other's sensibilities has a place in the world. Not outing your friends and readers also matters. It’s what people do for each other!

We don't live in as perfect a world as Steve and Naff might think. Telling the world people's secrets is not what this world is about. This world is about caring, loving and supporting people. In these days of the Religious Right and other extremists, we don't know what's going to happen. Identifying gays can certainly open them to hate crimes and other forms of abuse. So why isn't Naff trying to protect rather than harm his audience? Wearing lavender triangles on one's sleeve and living in a concentration camps wasn't that far off and history does repeat itself. If Naff has to go, obviously he's going to be certain to take us all with him!

There are two real issues here. One is why does sexuality have to matter. It, of course, shouldn't. Equality means we treat each other the same. If one wishes to announce one’s sexuality to the world, then there is only one person who should and it shouldn’t be in a newspaper!

The second issue is good manners. Whether Miss Manners is with me on this one remains to be seen - but it's never good manners to reveal other's most intimate secrets in public. It just isn’t done in a polite society!

Posted by: Tom | March 11, 2006 5:06 PM

Posted by: Troy | July 23, 2006 11:00 PM

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 

© 2010 The Washington Post Company