When is it appropriate for the media to report on an individual's sexual orientation?
It's a question that crops up regularly, and I've encountered a wide range of opinions on the matter -- from journalists who feel sexual orientation should never be reported unless it has a direct bearing on the story, to those who believe that any homosexual in the news needs to be identified.
Personally, I tend toward the former view -- it always bugs me to read sentences such as "Openly gay Commissioner Joe Schmoe supported the proposed conditional-use permit for Block 64, stating it would promote the township's goal of encouraging walkable communities." Sure, it's one way to spice up a tedious and thankless zoning-board report -- the phrase "openly gay" draws the eye to a paragraph that nobody would read otherwise. But I'm pretty sure that, after having spent six long years studying engineering and architecture, Schmoe wonders why his main claim to fame is that he happens to be gay -- and not only that, but openly so!
Maybe it would be better if all sources were identified that way: "Mayor Jill Jones, an avowed heterosexual, cited the importance of curb-and-gutter improvements." (Of course, if the reporter really did her homework, the wearisome story might make the front page: "Assistant Director John Fresnel, an unabashed plushie enthusiast described by many in the town's therianthropic community as 'supremely yiffable,' pointed out that the last time the Township Master Plan was updated, Block 64 was underwater.")
It wasn't very many years ago that the odds of a gay man or lesbian winning an election or achieving prominence in some notable field were very long indeed -- unless he or she was living a double life. So the fact that a public figure was "openly" gay seemed newsworthy.
These days, we like to think we're more enlightened -- so the subject of sexual orientation rarely bears mentioning -- if at all.
Outing a closeted individual is a different matter, of course. Personally, I think it's only warranted when he/she is 1. a public figure, and 2. using power or status to actively oppose the interests of the LGBT community.
Apple COO Tim Cook is now running the company – again – because [Apple CEO] Steve [Jobs] is away – again – on medical leave. Cook is a workaholic gay man, according to a report from Gawker that quite clearly is accurate to anyone versed in the Kremlinology of reporting on gay celebrities. (It’s reporting, not “outing.”)
From any rational cultural perspective, Cook is homosexual, not gay, but the distinction crushes to dust under the onslaught of the men of the computer press.
I'm not sure exactly what Clark means by his distinction between "homosexual" and "gay" (perhaps Cook is rationally, culturally "homosexual" because he wears dress shirts to work instead of "gay" latex thongs).
But Clark's point is interesting: Omitting an openly gay public figure's sexual orientation may actually be a disservice. "When you tell us it’s wrong to report on gay public figures," he writes, "you are telling gays not to come out of the closet and journalists not to report the truth."
I'm happy to hear the news that Apple's COO is "family" and he's all out-loud-and-proud. Good for him! But I'll be damned if I could find a relevant way to work the fact into a business story about the day-to-day operations of a computer manufacturer.
Clark's blog is entertaining -- check out this entry about CNN anchor Anderson Cooper's reported association with the hunky owner of a New York City gay bar. (Clark has a quirky and provocative turn of phrase. In addition to the above-cited "Kremlinology," he uses words like "Kunstahellenführer" * (?) and "homosexualist" ** (??). I may not always understand it, but I like it!)
Personally, I don't much care whether Anderson Cooper is gay or not. It's not like we're dating. Even if I weren't already married to Dave, and if I were into clean-shaven, New York-y media-clone types, Anderson Cooper would still be way out of my league. (I mean, come on; he must make $2.5 kajillion per year and spend half that on clothes and cosmetics. My last beauty-product outlay was for $8 at Smith's Marketplace, and I expect our two quart-bottles of Tresemmé shampoo will last us until October at least. It's a bargain!)
Not that I have anything against Anderson Cooper himself. I like his show, and his alleged boyfriend is awfully dreamy. I'd be pleased as punch if he publicly came out as gay. Good for him!
Now, if Cooper were going around bashing gays, promoting reparative therapy and saying marriage equality was the end of the world, I'd tell any journo to out that fucker at the first possible opportunity. But, as far as I can tell, his coverage of LGBT issues has always been fair, and I don't think he ever vehemently insisted he was heterosexual -- so, if Cooper prefers to lurk behind a tantalizing is-he-or-isn't-he facade, I'm content.
It's his business, after all.
* Apparently, "Kunsthalleführer," which by my meager, first-year German, would be a jokey compound meaning something like "art gallery curator"
** "Homosexualist" is probably borrowed from the right-wing media, where it is often used to label Andrew Sullivan. I think it means something like "a gay man with political opinions."
Brandon's Big Gay Blog