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Open Letter to U.S. Newies From the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Ass

But many Americans may be deprived knowing about the gay heroes [of 9-11]. That is
because some news organizations have selectively chosen to obscure or ignore
the sexual orientation of some of those who also lost their lives.
Open Letter to U.S. News Organizations From the National Lesbian and Gay
Journalists Association

WASHINGTON, Oct. 22 -- The following letter was issued by
Robert Dodge, President of the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists
Association:

Dear Fellow Journalist:

Since the September 11 attacks, many of us have been touched by countless
accounts of heroism. Americans learned about how ordinary people became
extraordinary in a moment. We know about these people because journalists in
print, online and broadcast have told their stories. We know much about
their lives, families and friends and what made them special because those
details were revealed in newspapers, magazines and on the air.

At least we know much more about the heterosexual heroes and victims.

But many Americans may be deprived knowing about the gay heroes. That is
because some news organizations have selectively chosen to obscure or ignore
the sexual orientation of some of those who also lost their lives.

Consider the story of Franciscan priest Father Mychal Judge, the chaplain of
the New York Fire Department who was killed while administering the last
rites to injured rescue workers at the World Trade Center. Although Father
Judge was openly gay and often worked in the gay community, this fact went
unreported in many stories generated by the mainstream press.

Mark Bingham of San Francisco was among the heroes on United Airlines flight
93 who tried to overpower hijackers and prevented the Boeing 757 from
hitting targets in Washington, D.C. Bingham was also openly gay. He was
planning to play on his gay rugby team in next year's Gay Games in Sydney.

Then there was David Charlebois, the first officer on American Airlines
flight 77 that crashed into the Pentagon. Mr. Charlebois, a 10-year veteran
pilot, was a member of the National Gay Pilots Association. He lived in
Washington, D.C., with his partner of 14 years.

Some journalists may embrace outdated ideas that identifying openly gay and
lesbian heroes will cast a negative image on their memory. This decision is
based on a presumption that being gay or lesbian is wrong, a bias that works
completely against news objectivity. Withholding relevant details about
these lives, their partners and families is unfair and hurtful to the people
they loved. In our mission as journalists, it also denies readers and
viewers information about the true identity of those who are in the news. It
is the same as withholding information about the spouse, children and other
features about the heterosexual heroes.

What about legitimate concerns about "outing" someone, or disclosing the
sexual orientation of someone who preferred privacy? We suggest more and
better reporting.

Instead of asking whether the victim was married, it might be better to ask
if he or she had a partner. This basic question may open the door to find
out more about the subject of your story -- including the chance that they
were heterosexual and had a significant, romantic relationship outside of
traditional marriage.

Denying and obscuring the existence of gay and lesbian people is a form of
discrimination. Withholding the sexual orientation of these individuals,
especially when inconsistent in equal coverage about heterosexuals, will
leave readers and viewers with only the negative stereotypes of gays and
lesbians. News organizations that do so may find themselves having taken a
biased editorial position that affirms those stereotypes.

I invite you to call on NLGJA as a resource; you may reach me at
202-661-8414 or Pamela Strother, NLGJA's executive director, at 202-588-9888
ext. 11. NLGJA website: www.nlgja.org
 
 

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