LGBT-supporting Cincinnatians had a bipolar March 15, with Sen. Rob Portman coming out in support of same-sex marriage and the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network (GLSEN) being publicly barred from the St. Patrick’s Day Parade on the same day. The conflicting news stories served as an important reminder for LGBT advocates: Even as the gay rights movement inevitably inches forward, there are still regressive opponents out there, and the media needs to do a better job covering them.
CityBeat congratulates Portman’s decision to come out in favor of marriage equality, even if it did take a gay son and two years to realize that homosexuals deserve equal rights, too. But GLSEN’s story and how it was covered is particularly troubling, considering the group’s purpose is to stop anti-gay bullying — a cause that shouldn’t be controversial to anyone.
Chris Schulte, grand marshal of the Cincinnati St. Patrick’s Day Parade Committee, allegedly told Councilman Chris Seelbach that GLSEN’s LGBT support conflicted with the parade’s Catholic roots. He later denied this position, explaining in a press statement that the parade “should not be used for advancing any political party, social movement or cause” — a defense that should convince no one, considering Councilwoman Laure Quinlivan and her re-election supporters marched in the parade with a banner that said, “Laure for City Council.”
Beyond the parade committee’s reprehensive call, local media outlets covered the controversy with the blind two-sidedness that we have come to know them for, with many putting up polls asking if GLSEN should be allowed to march.
Imagine if the story was about a different civil rights movement. Would The Cincinnati Enquirer or WCPO put up a poll asking if black civil rights supporters should be allowed to march? Surely, they’re too smart for that, but it seems as though they see something different about this type of discrimination (or an opportunity to ratchet up web traffic).
News outlets should strive to obtain all sides of a story, but how those sides are reported needs limits.
As a society, we would be justifiably appalled if a news outlet gave a racist or sexist movement the credibility gained from being published. Why shouldn’t the same principle apply to homophobia and gender bigotry?
The good news is society is clearly moving away from such bigotry. Barring an LGBT group from marching in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade was seen as so strange and sinister in this day and age that outlets like The Huffington Post and Buzzfeed were quick to pick the story up — making an otherwise local issue into a national one.
Moreover, it’s likely Portman’s support for same-sex marriage is the beginning of a larger movement within the Republican Party. As millenials come to age, opposing gay rights is becoming a losing battle for conservatives. This trend was explicitly acknowledged in a recent report from the Republican National Committee: “Already, there is a generational difference within the conservative movement about issues involving the treatment and the rights of gays — and for many younger voters, these issues are a gateway into whether the Party is a place they want to be.”
That’s the comfort LGBT supporters can ultimately fall back on: It’s not a question of whether media outlets will eventually be embarrassed about their gay rights coverage or whether other politicians will change their positions. It’s a question of when.
But while we’re here, it might be a good idea for politicians and media outlets to pull a Portman and get ahead of the issue before it diminishes any credibility left over from too many years of being blindly two-sided while a minority group was clearly oppressed.
Other News and Stuff
In other LGBT news, Hillary Clinton finally came out in support of same-sex marriage in a video for the Human Rights Campaign. She also explained her evolution on the issue: “Like so many others, my personal views have been shaped over time by people I have known and loved, by my experience representing our nation on the world stage, my devotion to law and human rights and the guiding principles of my faith.”
Portman’s announcement means both Ohio senators now support same-sex marriage — granting promising prospects to FreedomOhio’s gay marriage legalization amendment, which will likely be on the ballot in 2013. Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown has long supported same-sex marriage; as a representative in the U.S. House, he voted against the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996, which Bill Clinton signed into law.