Stiffed ‘Fag’ Waiter: Why Media Coverage Matters

Carrabbas

By Bil Browning (Founder and Publisher, The Bilerico Project)

A waiter at a Carrabba’s Grill in Overland Park, Kansas, was stiffed on his tip by anti-gay Christians who complimented his service but also called him a “fag.” The shining examples of brotherly love left a note on the back of their bill.

“Thank you for your service, it was excellent. That being said, we cannot in good conscience tip you, for your homosexual lifestyle is an affront to GOD. (Homosexual slur) do not share in the wealth of GOD, and you will not share in ours,” the customer wrote. “We hope you will see the tip your (homosexual slur) choices made you lose out on, and plan accordingly. It is never too late for GOD’s love, but none shall be spared for (homosexual slur). May GOD have mercy on you.”

If you watch the local CBS station’s report on the event, you’ll notice that the language is markedly different than the printed version posted online. Reporter Sandra Olivas doesn’t read the contents of the note herself, instead relying on a local pro-gay pastor to tell viewers what was said – complete with the obligatory censorship of the word “fag.” However, she repeats the same language left on the note in her actual reporting.

This is problematic. While she’s obviously shying away from repeating the noxious filth spewed by the holier-than-thou pasta lovers and gives a generally positive report, by casually repeating that the waiter has a “gay lifestyle” and the minister has a “homosexual partner,” she reinforces the very language and underlying prejudices of the couple who left the note.

There is no “gay lifestyle” and there is no need to use clinical language about sexuality to refer to the other man’s spouse. No one would say “the black lifestyle” or “his heterosexual partner.” All of the media style guides tell reporters to avoid both phrases – and there’s a reason why.

Olivas’ reporting emphasizes a divide between straight and LGBT people that is simply unnecessary. That “us versus them” mentality is what fed the hateful Christians’ sense of entitlement and superiority that made them think their behavior was okay. After all, media coverage like this is the real choice.

I wrote to Olivas to express my concerns and she wrote back.

Assuming that Olivas’ intentions were good and this was a simple mistake, I sent her an email this morning.

Sandra,

I wanted to thank you for your story on the gay waiter who got stiffed at Carrabba’s Grill. However, I wanted to point out something that is problematic with your reporting.

As a reporter myself who covers LGBT issues, I wanted to point out that you say he has a gay “lifestyle” and is a “homosexual.” Did you also notice that those are the same words written on the receipt by the customer who wanted to degrade him? You’re simply parroting back what they said only you’re doing it nicer.

There is no “lifestyle.” LGBT people come in many shapes and sizes – we’re not one big monolithic group where everyone gets a membership card and is told how to act and what to do. You’d never say “he happens to lead a black lifestyle.” As well, the term “homosexual” has long ago been jettisoned for it’s focus solely on a sex act. All of the major styleguides – including the AP, NLGJA, GLAAD, New York Times, etc – all say not to use it. “Gay” is sufficient.

I noticed that the offensive language was removed from the print version of the story on your website. Please consider these points for your next on-air report. I know there’s likely not a lot of gay news in Kansas, but please don’t use the same language the hateful bigots did. Surely you’re a step above them.

To my delight, Olivas wrote back, acknowledged her mistake, and promised to do better in the future. This wasn’t one of those wishy-washy “thanks for writing me and I’m going to pretend like you said something while still defending my fault” emails either. Olivas took ownership of her mistake like a professional.

Good morning Mr. Browning,

I appreciate your concern and I will keep this in mind for the future. I know words do matter and I would never want to be insensitive to anyone in my reporting. I agree I should have only said partner and left out the word homosexual. The story was proofread by an editor who missed the error as well. So I have made them aware of this too so it doesn’t happen again as we continue to cover similar stories in the future.

As far as the term “lifestyle” I agree with your point as well. However, I was quoting what the customer actually wrote on the receipt as the reason for not tipping the waiter and maybe that wasn’t clarified to the viewer enough.

Again, I appreciate you sharing your thoughts with me.

Thanks again & have a great day,
Sandra Olivas

As someone who’s watchdogged local TV reporters for years on their word choices, I can honestly say that this is the nicest and most professional email back I think I’ve received. Remember when Indianapolis NBC reporter Steve Jefferson was named the “worst reporter in the nation” for his problematic coverage of the murder of a transgender woman and subsequent rejection of any corrections? The station’s news director eventually intervened, corrected the coverage, and arranged for diversity training for newsroom staff. In this case, the information flowed up to editors instead of being forced on the journalists by management.

Olivas is no Steve Jefferson. She was willing to reflect and use her journalism to reflect its true meaning: to be an impartial, unbiased source of news and information without resorting to sensationalism.

The recent success of the LGBT movement hasn’t been solely accountable to the record number of people coming out. A large part of the advances have come just as simply and of the same magnitude: media coverage that reflects our real lives – our trials and tribulations as well as our triumphs. The truth shall, indeed, set us free.

This article was originally published on The Bilerico Project.

Joseph Beam

joseph_beamBorn: 1954
Died: 1988

“The bottom line is this: We are black men who are proudly gay. What we offer is our lives, our loves, our visions … We are coming home with our heads held up high.”
-Joseph Beam

Joseph Beam is an official honoree today for LGBT History Month 2013, which this year has several HIV-positive honorees.

Joseph Beam was a gay activist and author who worked to foster the acceptance of LGBTs in the African-American community.

Beam became a leader in the black gay community in the early 1980s, writing news articles, essays, poetry and short stories for publications such as The Advocate, Body Politic, Gay Community News and the New York Native, relating the gay experience with the U.S. civil rights movement. In 1984, the Lesbian and Gay Press Association awarded Beam for his outstanding achievement as a minority journalist.

In 1986, he edited and published In the Life, an anthology of work written by largely unknown black gay writers, in response to his frustration over the absence of African American voices in LGBT literature. The anthology is widely regarded as the first of its kind.

Beam was also the founding editor of the national magazine Black/Out, served on the board of directors of the National Coalition of Black Lesbian and Gays, and was a contributing editor for the magazine Blacklight. He also worked as a consultant for the Gay and Lesbian Task Force of the American Friends Service Committee.

In 1988, Joseph Beam died of AIDS-related complications just three days shy of his 34th birthday. In 1991, Beam’s mother and friend published a second anthology of black gay men’s literature, titled Brother to Brother, which Beam was working on at the time of his death.

Go to lgbthistorymonth.com for more information about Beam and the other honorees.

UNITY Elects David Steinberg as President

UNITY_logoStatement from UNITY:

McLEAN, Va. — UNITY: Journalists for Diversity is pleased to announce the election of David Steinberg as its president.

“I appreciate the support of the UNITY board and plan to announce, as early as next week, specific proposals to reform UNITY to make it more efficient, cost effective, and responsive to its alliance members and partners,” Steinberg said.

UNITY is an alliance of the Asian American Journalists Association (AAJA), the National Association of Hispanic Journalists (NAHJ), the Native American Journalists Association (NAJA) and the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association (NLGJA).

“I’m confident that David’s experience working across a broad base of stakeholders will make UNITY even stronger and will strengthen the journalism industry as a whole,” said UNITY Vice President Doris Truong, who has been the organization’s acting president since late April. “It was encouraging to see a contested race because that shows the passion and commitment of the candidates to UNITY’s mission.”

AAJA President Paul Cheung said: “I am looking forward to working with David on how best to grow and shape UNITY’s future. This is the time for us to step up, roll up our sleeves and get down to work!”

Mary Hudetz, president of NAJA, was the nominations chair for the election. Janet Cho, a business reporter for the Plain Dealer in Cleveland, was also a candidate for the presidency.

“This election presented a difficult choice between two very qualified candidates ready to serve and lead UNITY as it heads in a new direction,” Hudetz said. “I congratulate David and look forward to working with him in the coming year.”

Cho, a former AAJA vice president for print, also congratulated Steinberg as he prepares to lead the coalition of journalism associations.

“Congratulations to David, and thank you to the board members who voted,” Cho said. “The next few months will be critical ones for reassuring our alliance group members and others in the media industry that UNITY remains relevant and necessary. David will need all of our collective support.”

Steinberg, a two-term NLGJA president, is the copy desk chief/stylebook editor at the San Francisco Chronicle. He has served as UNITY’s treasurer since Jan. 1.

“David was one of the best presidents NLGJA had,” NLGJA President Jen Christensen said. “He is a man of integrity and vision, and we have great confidence that he can lead UNITY in the right direction.”

Steinberg was elected to complete a presidential term that expires Dec. 31, 2014. The vote will be ratified by the board at an upcoming meeting, which will be scheduled as early as next week.

“What UNITY needs to succeed in today’s environment is the fundamental support of all journalism diversity organizations,” Steinberg said. “We must restore the sense of partnership and shared values that UNITY was founded and built on, and overcome differences that distract us. That will be my overarching goal as UNITY president.”

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About UNITY: Journalists for Diversity

UNITY: Journalists for Diversity, an alliance of four journalism organizations representing more than 4,000 journalists, is the nation’s most diverse journalism organization. A coalition of the Asian American Journalists Association, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, the Native American Journalists Association and the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, UNITY is a strategic alliance advocating fair and accurate news coverage about people of color and LGBT issues and aggressively challenges news organizations to increase diversity in whom they employ at all levels of their companies.

The Road to the NLGJA Hall of Fame

By Mark Segal (Publisher, Philadelphia Gay News)

What surprised me most at the National Lesbian Gay Journalists Association annual convention in Boston last week was the concern for print media.

Granted, print media is having a hard time at present; it doesn’t know how to monetize its online material and print circulations are on the decline. So, that led me, at the last minute, to completely change my acceptance speech for my induction into the NLGJA Hall of Fame.

First, to give some perspective to audience members who didn’t know me, I detailed my activism background. Those of you who have read this column regularly know that the timeline went: Stonewall, Gay Liberation Front New York, the founding of Gay Youth, disruptions of “CBS Evening News” with Walter Cronkite … then the founding of PGN.

PGN Masthead

I first told them of our early days in which we put up with bombed vending boxes, vandals destroying our office, only having one IBM Selectric typewriter and using press type for headlines. We even had The Thunderbolt, the nation’s white supremacist magazine, put us on their hit list. No journalism organizations allowed us to join (now I sit on their boards).

Then to give them optimism, I explained that PGN now owns its own building, equipment, all our bills and taxes are paid to date and we employ a full-time staff of 14 with full benefits. That is success in print media.

Then the important part — how did we become so strong? It’s a simple formula, at least to me. A strong business department that makes the funds to hire award-winning journalists to put out not an LGBT newspaper, but the highest-quality journalistic newspaper that serves the LGBT community. It was easy to explain that. PGN is the most-awarded LGBT publication in the nation. Yes, I said that with some of the other publishers present.

Stories that readers can get only in your newspaper bring readers, so publications shouldn’t be afraid of controversy and strong opinion pieces, and allowing those who disagree with you to do so in your letters to the editor or in op-ed pieces. But the most important is investigative reporting. Here I recalled Tim Cwiek’s 10-year saga on the Nizah Morris case, which prompted a new report by the city’s Police Advisory Commission, and rule changes at the Philadelphia Police Department. No other paper that I know of would put the resources into such a story for so long.

Hard news and features keep you relevant. We were out front on the Boy Scouts and the city’s decade-long battle with that group began in our pages, while we also covered the dangers of pumping parties, requesting a reporter to spend a night on the streets with homeless gay youth.

Media has changed and print must embrace and innovate. I explained that we have partnerships with philly.com and Philadelphia Business Journal, the first such partnership in the nation. Our work with the Philadelphia Multi-Cultural News Network, which not only allows PGN to work with a full range of diverse publications but has helped more than 20 newspapers, making Philly a vibrant, diversified newspaper city.

I had much more I could have added, but my time limit was running out. My desire was to bring new ideas and optimism, and I believe I succeeded.

Mark Segal, PGN publisher, is the nation’s most-award-winning commentator in LGBT media. He can be reached at mark@epgn.com. This article was originally published on epgn.com.

TV Stations Miss Real Story Behind HIV-Positive Inmate

By James Miller (Media Critic, WFPL)

prisonIn the early days of the AIDS epidemic, most people had no idea how AIDS was transmitted. Even as late as 1999, many people believed that they could get AIDS from public toilets or sharing drinking glasses with an HIV-positive person. These erroneous beliefs were at least partially attributable to homophobia, but misinformation from irresponsible news reporting was likely also to blame.

One would think that in 2013 this type of reporting would be long gone, but three Louisville, Kentucky, TV stations are uncritically repeating assertions from authorities about the dangers of HIV and urine.

WHAS, WLKY, and WDRB all reported essentially the same story which appears to be based on a single arrest report: an HIV-positive inmate at Louisville Metro Corrections allegedly threw a cup of his own urine onto a corrections officer.

The corrections department decided to destroy the officer’s clothing and send the officer to a local hospital for “treatment and decontamination” despite the fact that HIV cannot be transmitted through urine. So the inmate’s HIV status is entirely irrelevant, unless some enterprising reporter decides to write a story about the fact that the Department of Corrections is still treating urine from an HIV-positive prisoner as if it was a deadly infectious substance.

According to earlier reports, the DOC even charged this same inmate with attempted murder for exactly the same act back in February, even though there is no risk of catching HIV from urine. It’s like charging someone with attempted murder for throwing a glass of water on somebody else.

Chris Hartman, director of the Fairness Campaign, called these stories “gravely irresponsible reporting” and agreed that “the real story is the inappropriate way in which Metro Corrections handled this incident.” He also speculated that Metro Louisville’s HIV Prevention Services “would be happy to have a conversation with Metro Corrections and give them some education on this issue.”

As of Thursday, July 25, the story was one of the most popular on WHAS.com. I’m sure overblown stories like this are great for clicks and shares, but the Project for Excellence in Journalism’s Principles of Journalism specifically caution against “inflating events for sensation.” Perhaps next time, reporters will dig a little deeper past the press releases and arrest reports and look for the larger story.


James Miller is WFPL’s media critic and a journalism teacher at duPont Manual High School in Louisville, Kentucky. This article was originally published on WFPL.org.