Taking Notice of Deaths

Among the victims of the recent subway crash in Washington, D.C., was Mary “Mandy” Doolittle. Reading the stories about her death, we learn she worked for the American Nurse’s Association, she was originally from Texas, she lived in Kansas and spent time in Italy, and was beloved by her officemates. What isn’t known—at least from reading most of the stories—is that she had a female partner, Carol Anne Douglas, who she’d been with for 15 years.

The Washington Blade connected the dots in its coverage of the crash:

Among the nine people who died in this week’s Metro collision was a lesbian who had been with her partner for at least 15 years.

Mandy Doolittle, 59 and a D.C. resident, was among the victims. Her partner was Carol Anne Douglas, a former collective member of “Off Our Backs,” a feminist news journal published since 1970.

Monday’s crash occurred on Metro’s Red Line after one train slammed into another from behind near the Fort Totten Station. It was not immediately clear what triggered the collision, the deadliest in Metro’s history.

Karla Mantilla, another collective member of the news journal, said Doolittle was “an incredibly sweet person, through and through, with unfailingly polite and gracious manners.”

The Blade is the only local media outlet to identify Douglas. The Washington Post mentioned a “partner of 15 years” while the Washington Examiner just referred to her having “a partner.” Other reports by the local media did not mention anything about Doolittle’s relationship, with CBS affiliate WUSA saying quoting Doolittle’s boss saying Doolittle “has no immediate family.”

This leads to the inevitable journalism question of how to report information where there is uncertainty about a person’s sexual orientation and relationships. From all indications, there is no mystery that Doolittle and Douglas were in a relationship. A blog post by the publisher Tax Analysts acknowledges Doolittle was a Tax Analysts family member and refers to her partner, who works for the company. Many people commenting at Washington Post‘s Post Mortem talk about Douglas and their relationship. At Belerico Project, Nancy Polikoff talks about Doolittle and Douglas in the context of Douglas’ work as an author and a member of the Off Our Backs collective.

Deborah Howell, the Washington Post‘s former Ombudsman, took on this question in response to criticism of the Post’s coverage of a gay Army major who died in Iraq. Howell felt the Post erred in not including information about the Major’s life and activism, saying the story would have been richer if there had been details about him being gay. She also quotes the Blade’s Kevin Naff.

It’s a double standard to report basic facts about straight subjects like marital status, while actively suppressing similar information about gay subjects. It was clear that Maj. Rogers led as openly gay a life as was possible, given his military service. He worked for a gay rights organization, had gay friends and patronized D.C.-area gay clubs. It’s unfortunate The Post . . . chose not to present a full picture of this brave man’s life.”

This seems like one of those stories where explaining that her “partner” was a woman–and giving that partner a name–would have honored Doolittle’s life and her relationship. It’s possible that the people who knew her at work, who appear to the the main sources of information in the stories, were being cautious about not “outing” her. But being coy doesn’t really tell the story and more reporting would have made for richer stories.

2 Responses

  1. Notably, the Post’s entry on another victim, who was described as having been married for two years, named her husband. One would think a partner of 15 years was entitled to equal recognition.

  2. what about her family relatives?
    she leaves a grieving brother and nephew.
    no jounalists took the time to find out
    that they exist either.

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