Judge Walker is ‘Openly Gay’? Really??

As inevitable as the sun rising in the morning, the issue of Judge Vaughn Walker’s sexual orientation is again front-and-center after the ruling on Proposition 8 in California.

Sitting in my car listening to NPR on Wednesday, I heard correspondent Karen Grigsby Bates describe Walker as being openly gay and it not being a big issue.

He is generally considered to be very thoughtful, very thorough. And he’s gay. He’s gay and out. And it doesn’t seem to be an issue for anybody, including the supporters of Proposition 8, because when it was announced that Judge Walker was the judge who’d been assigned this case, they did not ask that he be recused from it.

That he was gay and out was news to me, since I’m not sure I’ve seen any reports where Walker has talked publicly about being openly gay, although it does appear to be common knowledge in San Francisco legal and media circles.

Quickly, the issue of Walker’s sexual orientation became big news among Prop 8 supporters and the conservative press. It’s mentioned as evidence of bias in a story in the Washington Times, in commentary on Fox News’ website, prominently on the Drudge Report, in a blog post at the National Review, and in press releases by the National Organization for Marriage. Andrew Sullivan looked at the attempt to smear Walker and said:

Did it matter that Thurgood Marshall was black? Should he have recused himself from civil rights decisions that affected African-Americans?

All of this brings us back to a more basic question. Is Walker “openly gay” if he’s never talked about it openly? Are you openly gay if you have a same-sex partner and everyone knows you are gay, but you haven’t issued a press statement or responded to questions about it?  What exactly constitutes “openly gay”?

I’m not sure Grigsby Bates was wrong in describing Walker as “gay and out” although it was still odd to hear given the attention the issue has gotten.  I assume a public figure is “out” when they’ve actually said it in public, but maybe that’s a very 1990’s way of looking at things and not terribly post-gay.  For someone of Walker’s age and stature, I’d be curious to know whether he considers himself “gay and open” as opposed to what someone who has never lived in the closet would say about being “gay and open.”


5 Responses

  1. I’ve never participated in the template of those who believe that you aren’t gay unless it’s one of the first things you tell people about yourself. I keep a picture of my partner on my desk and, in other cases, don’t deny it if asked. Some of us don’t see the point in advertising.

  2. It does make you wonder: Do we have to “come out” actively in this day and age? By living his life as he lives it, and then by not squawking when media outlets reported that, didn’t Walker basically “come out” with a shrug?

    And isn’t that both sensible and … kinda classy?

  3. I think the term “openly gay” should be consigned to the dustbin along with the terms “admitted homosexual” and “avowed homosexual.” No one is “openly left-handed.” One either is, in which case it can be reported as such, or one is not. But perhaps “openly gay” is designed to straddle the ethical ambiguity of reporting on someone’s sexual orientation that arose at a time when “gay” was a defamatory slur. Since the subject is open about it, the journalist is not reporting on the subject’s sexual orientation, but on the subject’s stance on their sexual orientation. I think the term “openly gay” perpetuates this “he’s gay-but-I-don’t-mean-it-in-a-bad-way” thinking.

  4. […] Judge Walker is ‘Openly Gay’? Really?? Part II Posted on August 6, 2010 by Michael R. Triplett In a follow-up on the controversy: […]

  5. […] has been in a 10-year relationship with a man. The story brings an end to one of 2010′s most interesting media ethics stories relating to the judge who everyone assumed was gay–and the media often […]

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