Last edited: December 31, 2004

Arkansas Paper Covers Up Suicide

GLAADAlert, February 20, 1998
The GLAADAlert is the weekly activation tool of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation

Despite the suicide of a man whose name the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette published on Janaury 30 for being arrested in a public sex raid (see GLAADAlert 2.6.98), the newspaper has ignored a request from five major organizations to have a meeting, failed to report on the suicide, and defended the selective publication of the names of men arrested in same-sex misdemeanors. The suicide note left by the man to his (male) partner of 31 years, which was printed in a February 20 report in the weekly newspaper Arkansas Times, made abundantly clear his motivation: "My name and everything is in the paper this morning.... Goodbye. I love you."

The man's lawyer, Gary Sullivan, said that prior to the newspaper's printing of his identity his client gave no indication he might consider suicide. "'I have to believe that the Democrat-Gazette is responsible for [his] death,'" Sullivan told the Times. A February 12 letter from GLAAD, ACLU of Arkansas, the Women's Project, PFLAG and the local Metropolitan Community Church to the Democrat-Gazette requested a meeting, noting that "this is not the first time someone has killed himself under these circumstances. A number of years ago your paper published the names of men arrested on the same types of charges, and then also a man killed himself. Surely, the time has come to evaluate this policy." In a terse February 16 response, Democrat-Gazette Executive Editor Griffin Smith, Jr. said, "We have a duty to report the news. We would be remiss if we withheld from our readers public information of this nature... Publication of such items is governed by our established news policy.... We believe our policy is logical, consistent, proper, and in the interest of our readers. We do not contemplate any change."

The policy states: "Once a misdemeanor sex offense arrest has been deemed newsworthy, editors should then apply this three-pronged test in deciding whether to publish a charge of deviant sexual activity, loitering for the purpose of sex, indecent exposure and other related charges. The alleged crime: Must occur in a public place; Must be sexual in nature; Must be overt (i.e. indecent exposure; actual sexual contact, as opposed to just signaling intent, such as asking for 'some action,' winking, hand gestures, etc.)." The third prong, by providing the "signaling intent" caveat, essentially lets heterosexual men soliciting prostitutes off the hook while targeting men who have anonymous consensual public sex with other. The Democrat-Gazette does not print the identities of others arrested in misdemeanor consensual sex-related offenses. In 1993, when the paper ran an article on a heterosexual prostitution sting, it did not identify any of the arrested men. When asked by the Times about the discrepancy, the Democrat-Gazette spokesman said "he didn't know why the newspaper didn't publish the names of those arrested in [that] prostitution sting."

The Democrat-Gazette has made no indication that they understand that societal forces of homophobia lead deeply closeted men to seek out such furtive sexual encounters. Printing the names will not stop men from seeking out anonymous sex with other men. Smith has failed to acknowledge either the request for a meeting or the death of a citizen because of their "policy." Smith has also failed to address why the suicide and controversy has not been considered "newsworthy" enough to make it into the newspaper.

Tell the Democrat-Gazette that the policy of singling out and humiliating men who have public sex with other men--frequently married men who are the most fragile and closeted members of our community--must go. Insist that the newspaper acknowledge the suicide and the ensuing controversy as legitimate news, and that the newspaper's leaders have a meeting with concerned organizations immediately.

Contact: Walter Hussman, Publisher
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
P.O. Box 2221
Little Rock, AR 72203
fax: 501.372.3908

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