Today, I was on the online news desk, meaning it was my job to rewrite stories for the web that came in from TV and radio reporters or on the wires. I was told to prepare myself for a busy day of six to eight stories.
It was a slow news day. I got two. Luckily, both were really interesting - one was about American prisons cutting back on meals for inmates to save money, and the other one was about gay penguins who adopted an abandoned egg in a German zoo.
As this blog entry goes to press, there are 238 comments on the gay penguin story. That's a lot of comments.
I got kind of mesmerized scrolling through them all today. I found two categories the most interesting. Category one is people denying the penguins are gay. How do we know, they ask. Maybe they're brothers. Maybe they're just into hanging out. Can't two men, erm, penguins, live together and raise a child without being gay?
My understanding (this is a wire lift, so it's not like I have been to this zoo myself) is that the penguins definitely get it on. Maybe I should have made that more clear and perhaps embedded a video. But moving on.
The other category, which covers the vast majority of the comments, was people saying something to this effect: Hooray! Homosexuality occurs in nature, and now we have proof! Debate over! Queers win!
While it's kind of awesome that people think a story about two gay German penguins definitively destroys all homophobic arguments, it's also kind of disturbing. To me, anyway.
What I want to know is: Why do we need to prove that homosexuality is "natural" for it to be socially acceptable?
It reminds me a bit too much of your mom telling you not to stare at the girl with buck teeth because she can't help it. She was born that way. Of course, if she could have chosen, she would have had nice straight teeth like the rest of the kids. But the Good Lord in his wisdom decided to make her crooked. So be nice to her.
I think the same attitude is behind the unwritten journalistic code of not outing gay politicians. I watched a documentary called Outrage that outed a number of closeted American politicians who support anti-gay policies. The argument was that it's in the public interest to know this information, because it concerns public policy.
Another example cited in the documentary was a politician who was dating one of his staffers and charging his expense account to fly said staffer around the world with him. The media did not report this, because it would have violated the "no outing" principle.
The media drags straight people through the mud for their carryings-on all the time. It's not always done tastefully. But the general guiding principle is that, if it's in the public interest to know, report it. By saying queers get held to a different standard, the media is basically saying that their queerness is so unfortunate, so potentially damaging, that they're willing to hold back their duty to report to the public if it would out them. And this is doing them a favour?
The other story from this week I have to mention is the lesbian axe murder acquital. This is a predictable response, but if it was a straight couple, would the headline be "Accused in heterosexual axe murder trial acquitted?" Sexuality did play a role in the axe-murder trial, so it makes sense to mention it, but putting it in the headline is sensationalizing.
This isn't hard: When someone's sexuality is in the public interest, report it. When it isn't, don't. And think hard about the philosophy underlying all supposedly good intentions.
I say it isn't hard, but it is. The more I think about it, the more I realize that I picked an MRP topic with the maximum number of potential ways to offend various groups of people... an MRP about LGBT/queer people when I can't use the terms LGBT or queer (CP style), and how their lives are affected by the state and society they live in although I have to make sure no one interprets that as "a backwards country like all them Muslim countries" (because that's definitely not what I mean), and how life is definitely hard and they definitely experience oppression but not nearly as much as Canadians might think they do.
So that's good.
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