When is a Crime Victim’s “Gay Lifestyle” News?

A popular middle school principal is found dead in his suburban D.C. home. There’s no sign of a break-in. The guy is single, mid-40s, and lives alone. The obvious question–on the minds of many LGBT folks (including journalists)–is was the guy gay? Well, the DC Agenda answered that question yesterday with reporting that Brian Betts was openly gay and out to colleagues and friends. A great scoop and the reason why LGBT press is so important.

Now, the question is, what to do with that information.  Some online sources have picked up the news, including DCist and the Washington City Paper‘s Loose Lips blogger.  Going in a different direction was the Washington Examiner, a free newspaper run by the conservative billionaire Phil Anschutz.

In a story titled “Police investigating link between principal’s slaying and his sexuality,” the Examiner said police were looking into “the possibility that a District middle school teacher’s gay lifestyle might have played a role in his shooting death.”

Here’s some more of the story, plus the quote that provided “lifestyle.”

On Wednesday, police spokeswoman Officer Melanie Brenner said that detectives are aware that Betts was gay and that they were “looking into the possibility that his lifestyle may have played a role in his murder.”

Police have said they believe Betts may have known his killer and invited the suspect inside. A co-worker who went to check on Betts on April 15 when the principal didn’t show up for school found the door to Betts’ house open and a light on. The co-worker left the house and called the police. Authorities found Betts in his bedroom fully clothed and shot to death.

While some have raised eyebrows over the term “lifestyle,” my sense is that it was clumsy and a product of the police officer’s quote. The officer’s use of “lifestyle” can be read in a number of ways.

The larger question, however, is when is a crime victim’s sexual orientation (or gender identity) an issue to be reported by the press? It’s an age-old question that we’ve explored here many times.

In this case, there are two separate stories.  The reporting on the crime and the reporting on the victim.  As the eulogies roll in for Betts, who was considered a shining-light in DC’s beleaguered school system, the fact that he’s gay seems to be an element that adds more nuance and flavor to the story.  It seems quite relevant.

In terms of the crime coverage, it gets dicier.  The Examiner story could be seen as a little sensationalistic.  OTOH, if police are perusing an angle that the victim knew his attacker and let him in his house, then the victim’s sexuality–”lifestyle” or not–seems potentially relevant.

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4 Responses

  1. A gay “lifestyle” is often relevant in the solving of a crime such as this. So many casual encounters between two strangers have ended up with the death of one of them because “I didn’t like the way he looked at me” (after sex) or “the gay porn movie made me nervous” – this one is a paraphrase of a recent case in Connecticut, in which a man is accused of murdering his new-found friend. It’s apparent that the procuring of dates on the internet has been far too easy for far too many gay men, who pay dearly for the privilege of hopping into bed with total strangers. But I digress…yes, it’s relevant to this case and to many others, and that’s in large part due to the anonymity of so many gay encounters.

  2. That’s a Great post as always, it is great to have the chance to read a good quality article and Interesting topic with many great points.

    I wanted to say thank you for taking time to share this information.

  3. According to the NLGJA stylebook:

    Lifestyle:
    An inaccurate term sometimes used to describe the lives of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. Sexual orientation may be part of a broader lifestyle but is not one in itself, just as there is no “straight” lifestyle. Avoid.

  4. Yes, “lifestyle” may have been a clumsy description – but at least it’s out there now. Far better to be acknowledged as a possible precipitating or motivational factor in a violent crime that to be ignored, unacknowleged, or unrecognized by police.
    Because being gay is still viewed as the primary crime rather than the violence occurence itself, this is often not included in a thorough criminal investigation.
    But as part of the victimology of a case, MSM behavior must be ascertained and openly acknowledged in the investigation – as some MSM crime victims do not identify with being homosexual. We owe this much to the victim, and not relegate the victim back into the closet because of misplaced sensitivities by police and family.

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