NLGJA calls on AP for equal treatment of married gays and lesbians

APLogoThe Associated Press again drew the ire of the LGBT community, including some journalists, this week when an internal guidance memo advised staff not to refer to same-sex married couples as “husband” or “wife,” but instead as couples or partners. (Would it be inappropriate to call this move homophobic?)

After initiating a discussion with the AP stylebook editor about the memo, NLGJA sent AP a letter today calling out the double standard and encouraging the news agency to revise the guidance to use the same terms for married individuals, regardless of sex.

The memo came to the attention of the NLGJA’s Rapid Response Task Force on Tuesday, after the memo was posted on several blogs.

The original memo, issued in the agency’s Style Watch on Feb. 11, stated, “We were asked how to report about same-sex couples who call themselves ‘husband’ and ‘wife.’ Our view is that such terms may be used in AP stories with attribution. Generally AP uses couples or partners to describe people in civil unions or same-sex marriage.”

The problematic guidance is the last sentence, which instructs reporters to refer to married individuals as partners or couples—not husband or wife. Considering reporters use husband and wife routinely to describe opposite-sex married couples, this creates a clear double standard.

While the AP guidance may be appropriate for same-sex couples in civil unions, which is a comparatively new institution without clearly established or universal terms, married is married.

Former NLGJA President David Steinberg contacted David Minthorn, the stylebook editor for AP, on Tuesday and explained how the language was problematic. And while AP issued revised guidance to the original memo, it still fell short.

The clarified AP guidance added, “Our view is that such terms may be used in AP content if those involved have regularly used those terms (‘Smith is survived by his husband, John Jones’) or in quotes attributed to them.”

While this is marginally better, it retains the earlier language regarding using couples and partners for married same-sex individuals.

NLGJA President Jen Christensen’s letter to AP can be found here.

Rapid Response: Language Doesn’t Need to be a “Drag”

One of the goals of NLGJA is to encourage fair and accurate coverage of LGBT issues.  When concerns are raised–both big and small–the Rapid Response Task Force (RRTF) will often respond with suggestions that would improve coverage.  The goal is not to be overly critical or unnecessarily pedantic.  Instead, it’s journalists talking to journalists about how to improve our craft.

A good example of our work was a recent exchange with the Chicago Tribune over its story on a bar that was imposing a new identification policy targeting “cross-dressing prostitutes.”  It’s a story fraught with complicated language issues and the RRTF offered some advice on how to handle the lede.

This sentence, “Put another way, they now need a photo ID that shows them in drag,” implies that this only affects people dressed in drag, whereas a wide spectrum of people are affected by this policy.

Perhaps another way to have stated it (and still stay somewhat lighthearted) would have been something like this: “An Elk Grove Village gay bar popular with cross-dressers now requires patrons to show a valid photo ID that matches their gender presentation. That means you better show up to the bar looking the same way you did at the DMV.”

Members of the RRTF discussed the story and agreed that it did a lot of things right, but that some language in the story could be clearer. The RRTF also acknowledged that stories involving transgender people and gender-issues generally were difficult even for the best journalists. The note was sent to the Tribune and the RRTF received a quick note back saying the paper appreciated the help.

For people with questions about terminology, check out our NLGJA Stylebook Supplement on LGBT Terminology and our Journalists’ Toolbox.