The New York Times no longer prints the word “gay” only in quotation marks, but it still has a long way to go to represent gay and lesbian reality. On the issue of gay-bashing, Times coverage in recent months has shown apattern of neglect and distortion.
“A Gay Protest Against Attacks Becomes Violent” was the headline of a June 18, 1990 Times article, obscuring the key fact that it was anti-gayhecklers who used violence against the protest. The march, co-sponsored by the gay and lesbian rights group Queer Nation and the AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power (ACT-UP), was held in Greenwich Village to protest a wave of assaults on gay and lesbian people. “Where were the media when the 50 queer-bashings took place in May? Nowhere,” says Maxine Wolfe, a member of Queer Nation.
On July 16, when more than 100 members of Queer Nation protested outside of the homes of the alleged attackers of the march, all three New York tabloids ran stories on the demonstration. There was no mention in the Times.
This avoidance of the issue by the Times is not unusual. On May 11, all the New York papers fanfared Mayor David Dinkins’ condemnation of racist and anti-Semitic attacks. His criticism of anti-gay violence in the same speech was not included in the Times report, however. In reporting on anotherrally less than a dozen days later, the Times again conspicuously omitted comments about anti-gay bias by Mayor Dinkins, New York Governor MarioCuomo and lesbian activist Virginia Apuzzo.
“The New York Times only does the little it can get away with,” says Stephen Miller of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD). The paper, for example, continues to print that James Zappalorti, a Staten Island man beaten and kicked to death for being gay, was killed by attackers “who perceived him to be gay,” even after both of his parents have declared publicly that their son was homosexual and that that was the reason he was murdered.
Miller asked John Darton, the Times metro editor, for a correction of the paper’s report that Zappalorti’s father denied that his son was gay. “He said he realized that every other news source quoted the father differently, but that the paper has to stand by its reporter,” Miller said.
If Times editors wonder, as stated in a June 26 editorial, why gay and lesbian activists have to resort to radical confrontation (“a breakdown in sense and civility”) to get their point across, they need only look attheir own record.
“They just don’t get it,” said Maxine Wolfe after the killing of another gay man– hammered and stabbed to death outside a gay bar in Queens– also went unnoted in the Times. “If we don’t act who will? The Times has shown it certainly won’t.”