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Recognizing & Overcoming Two Types of Homophobia
Recognizing & Overcoming Two Types of Homophobia

By Eric Hegedus


In a recent e-mail exchange with me, NLGJA National Board Member Steve Rothaus got me thinking about two types of homophobia that should concern all of us.

Rothaus mentioned news coverage of "Brokeback Mountain,” widely known as the "gay cowboy film.” Many reporters have asked whether playing gay — and doing same-sex love scenes — posed career risks for the film’s leads, Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal. Additionally, recent stories about Felicity Huffman’s role in "Transamerica” considered the possibility of risks for playing a male-to-female transsexual.

"Every time a straight actor or actress plays a serious gay role, the same question is asked,”Rothaus said. "Did you worry about ruining your career?" Other oft-asked questions: "How did you prepare yourself for the big sex scene?" and "Were you sickened by having to kiss so-and-so?"

Rothaus followed with this query: "At what point do these questions seem gratuitous and perhaps a bit homophobic? ”

I think he has a good point. Journalists’ questions can reflect internal stereotypes and fears — and, specifically, homophobia and transphobia. We need to recognize that, and work to make sure that news gathering isn’t tainted by any level of prejudice or intolerance.

But Rothaus’ thoughts also made me ponder homophobia coming from another direction in news coverage. Specifically, how appropriate is it to quote interviewees whose ideas could be considered homophobic?

In October, excerpted portions of a book, "The Marketing of Evil: How Radicals, Elitists, and Pseudo-Experts Sell Us Corruption Disguised as Freedom," by that site’s managing editor, David Kupelian.

In it, Kupelian rewound to NLGJA’s 10th anniversary convention in San Francisco in 2000. In handing NLGJA a backhanded acknowledgment of our importance and influence — saying we have "grown into a formidable organization” — Kupelian referenced convention attendees’ opinions about issues of balance and handling homophobia in coverage.

For instance, the author quoted NLGJA member Ramon Escobar: "This whole issue of ‘balance’ that we as journalists are supposed to achieve … When we cover the black community, I’ve never seen a newsroom where you’re covering one side and then you have to go run out and get the Klan’s point of view.”

And Kupelian quoted member Jeffrey Kofman: "The argument [is]: why do we constantly see in coverage of gay and lesbian, bisexual and transgender issues the homophobes and the fag-haters quoted in stories when, of course, we don’t do that with Jews, blacks, etcetera?”

Lastly, Kupelian cited Paula Madison, then-vice president of diversity for NBC, who agreed with Kofman. "I don’t see why we would seek out … the absurd, inane point of view just to get another point of view.”

Kofman’s follow-up, as related by Kupelian: "All of us have seen and continue to see a lot of coverage that includes perspectives on gay issues that include people who just simply are intolerant and perhaps not qualified as well.”

Kupelian’s conclusion? He suggests that mainstream press is "converting Americans to their world view … A lot of credit for the ‘gay-ing of America’ can be laid at the door of the news media who, intentionally or not, have worked in tandem with the movement’s public relations machinery for years now.”

To that, I say nonsense. LGBT journalists — including members of NLGJA — simply want to ensure fair and accurate coverage that has historically been done with derision and a lack of respect and understanding. This is about fairness, something one expects of journalists covering any minority community.

Certainly, news organizations have written extensively about white supremacists and other hate groups. For instance, in October we saw a flurry of stories about 13-year-old twins Lamb and Lynx Gaede, who use entertainment to promote the supremacist movement ("Young singers spread racist hate,” said a headline on the ABC News Web site).

But I doubt that any journalist is adding them to a source contact list for bringing "balance” to future stories about reparations, interracial marriage, the Holocaust or immigration. That same ethic needs to extend to LGBT coverage, too.

The bottom line is that all journalists must take greater care not only in how they frame their own questions, but also in determining who they’ll interview. Journalists must start rethinking the appropriateness of both questions and answers.

This piece originally appeared in 2006, in the official newsmagazine of NLGJA.

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