People

Badpuppy Gay Today

Monday, 3 February, 1997

Straight News: Gays, Lesbians and the News Media

by Jack Nichols

 

This media history of the past half-century (1943-1996) fills in the blanks, uncovering how reporters and mainstream program producers have dealt with gay men and lesbians. Beginning with The Miami Herald, author Edward Alwood reveals how that paper once celebrated the arrests of scores of gay men because of the unsolved rape of a young girl. Others, because they were perceived to have a "feminine bent" were arrested on Miami Beach in groups and questioned. People whom the Herald ignorantly lumped together as "sex perverts," it chastised for imagined sexual crimes. Unwitting innocents were picked up by corrupt police and their reputations publicly tarnished in heartless blasts of thoughtless media tomfoolery.

Alwood's magnificent study moves pointedly through the decades, bringing readers into the present day, giving focus to pioneering gay/ lesbian liberationists like Randolfe Wicker and Phyllis Lyon as well as to mainstream media reporters like Leroy Aarons, no longer in the closet. This history has no shortage of heroes and heroines. Alwood's pages return us dramatically to yesteryear, and his focus in Straight News makes for a clear understanding of gay and lesbian history as it has evolved in America.

There were hints of change even prior to the 1969 Stonewall rebellion. The first nationwide network documentary on homosexuality aired as CBS-Reports on March 7, 1967 with Mike Wallace narrating and interviewing. Even then, however, only two or three gay men were willing to allow their faces shown. The rest spoke from the shadows or hidden by plant leaves, thus giving the entire program a strange, furtive glow.

The Washington Post printed a series of thoughtful articles in 1966, properly researched by reporter Jean White, and starting on page one. In spite of such treatments, however, even New York City newspapers treated the Stonewall uprising with contempt. The New York Daily News headlined: "Queen Bees Stinging Mad" while the so-called liberal Village Voice referred in its headline to the "Forces of Faggotry."

Author Alwood is a media relations specialist and was a broadcast news reporter for CNN. He too, he tells, was once in the closet, though he began his odyssey outward after attending one of the great gay marches on Washington, D.C. Howard Kurtz recently detailed Alwood's career on a two-page spread in the Washington Post, agreeing therein that his research was impeccable. Readers are advised that those who study gay/lesbian issues or, in fact, all journalism students, no matter their sexual orientations, concerned with the methodology of their future professions, should own a copy of this book. Over six years in the making, it is an invaluable tool.

1998 BEI; All Rights Reserved.
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