Alex Blaze

The Word's poor coverage of IE's opposition to LGBT civil rights legislation

Filed By Alex Blaze | July 06, 2009 9:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Media, Politics

The Word's coverage of Indiana Equality's opposition to ENDA in this month's edition is appalling. I had a chance to read July's issue (pdf available if you can't get a print version), and I didn't even find a news blurb about the most important and most discussed piece of LGBT news to come out of Indiana in June.

The short story is that IE is willing to let the perfect be the enemy of the good and doesn't want ENDA to pass, claiming that adding sexual orientation and gender identity to the Civil Rights Act is better. It's a silly proposal since ENDA's the legislation that's been introduced, that has over 100 cosponsors, and that has an actual chance of passing Congress. Sure, it's not a perfect bill, but all civil rights legislation has historically come in pieces, with the last update to employment protections for women passing in 2009 with the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.

Instead, the group that ostensibly represents Hoosier LGBT folks would rather our national orgs work on a bill that hasn't been introduced, that would never pass the Senate, and that would probably receive opposition from even some of the more progressive House Reps who wouldn't want to go in and reopen the Civil Rights Act. Their strategy is incomplete, abstract, and over-optimistic. Personally, I'm not going to speculate on IE's motives, but just point out that their position isn't something I can get behind.

But my opinion on IE's stance is neither here nor there. That position, no matter how much damage one thinks it'll do to LGBT Hoosiers, is their position and The Word should have at least reported it. There are a few op-ed mentions of the controversy that don't even discuss the ENDA or IE's position on it, instead opting to make the whole story about the fact that there are LGBT people in Indiana who dare to question IE's authority on the topic.

First, an op-ed from Ted Fleischaker, The Word's publisher discusses IE's position on ENDA without even mentioning ENDA (huh?). It's really a swing and a miss for The Word as they tell LGBT Hoosiers who want employment protections that they need to thank their lucky stars that we at least don't have a marriage amendment in this state and not ask for too much, like for their lead LGBT org to support the biggest piece of LGBT civil rights legislation introduced in Congress.

Fleischaker mentions tone, and he takes a few digs at Bil, but he doesn't ever state the substance of the controversy. Does he think that IE's position is good? Bad? Complicated? Well, you sure as hell aren't going to find out. I'm guessing that either he doesn't understand the ENDA (possibly) or he just got so caught up in the "Oh no he didn't!" aspect of the controversy that he forgot that, you know, the issue at hand is a specific bill that would benefit LGBT people and an LGBT org's opposition to that bill (probably).

Second, there's American Values Alliance's Sheila Kennedy, who dismisses criticism of IE with: "Even in my local community, there have been persistent efforts by some bloggers to mischaracterise and undermine Indiana Equality." There is no mischaracterization here. IE was fairly clear in their opposition to ENDA. She goes on and on about the tone of the arguments, about civil discourse, but, really, what the argument comes down to is a big "shut up" to LGBT Hoosiers who want job protections.

Even though Kennedy promises her readers that she doesn't want people who disagree with IE to shut up and go away (if someone has to make that disclaimer, it usually means...), her column is a classic silencing technique. Instead of addressing the substance, she dismisses criticism by saying that the tone is inappropriate. It's a means to simply avoid engaging in the discussion, and the irony is that the call for "civil discourse" gets used to bludgeon any discourse to death, since the simple truth is that, for most people concerned with "civil discourse" above all else, the discourse can never be civil enough if it disagrees with their beliefs on the concerned topic.

(She also blames Prop 8's loss on "the discord and squabbling among the
various gay rights groups charged with defeating Prop 8," which is simplistic at best. There may have been some infighting going on out there, but the major culprits were a lack of early fundraising, commercials that were too vague to be understood, the inability of the campaign to put volunteers to work, lack of out-reach to communities of color, and a technically well-done campaign from the Yes on 8 side. I was actually surprised by how much some of those groups got along and put aside their egos to work together in California last year, thereby creating a top-down, dissent-free organizational structure that aided in our side's defeat.)

Third, there's this from that strange gossip column written from the perspective of cats:

Speaking of teaching, we hear tell some of the local bloggers need to be taught good manners and, above all, accuracy. One blog we're told gave hell to some folks who didn't deserve it and worst of all the way it was written the people trashed thought we cats were to blame for posting it -- not! Another loose cannon took their side, then rambled on over and over and over about the same mis-information. At least in the latter case we know who the source is/was and his reputation for temper fits (whew!) Still a 3rd seems to have an agenda, which leads us cats to say does anyone out there REALLY believe bloggers and trust them to get it right? Surely not us! Meow!

Actually, what's funny about that statement is how threatened The Word obviously is by the rise of blogs and blogging. "Does anyone out there REALLY believe bloggers?" Are they seriously asking that question in 2009? What are these writers, 86? [After some thought, I'm taking that back. There are plenty of people in their 80's who are out there blogging, some who are quite popular. It's not about being old, just out-of-touch.] After some of the biggest stories of the last three election cycles came from blogs, they're still pretending like there's even a debate over whether the specific software used to display opinion and news is legit?

I would say something here about how traditional print and TV news organizations have taken to blogging themselves, but that's not really news either since it started happening a decade ago. Even The Advocate, 365gay, and local LGBT publications like the Washington Blade and JustOut started up blogs. A while ago. It's not news. It's not even fashionable anymore. It's neither "in" nor "cutting-edge" to blog. It's simply another way of presenting information, one that gay and lesbian people are particularly fond of.

This isn't the horseless carriage, cats. You can stop fearing this technology.

Of course, they misrepresent the issue by blaming it on "bloggers." But the issue at hand is IE's position on ENDA, which was posted on their own website. It wasn't created by bloggers, it's just being discussed by bloggers. And considering how The Word categorically refused to discuss the most important piece of LGBT news to come out of Indiana in June, thank God blogs are willing to bring it up. The Word shouldn't be petulantly making fun of the people discussing a major Indiana LGBT news item; rather, they should be ashamed that they weren't able to provide relevant coverage in the way several Indiana blogs have been able to.

The fourth place where IE's take on ENDA is mentioned is in Helen Harrell's summary of her BloomingOUT podcast:

Indiana Equality (IE) Secretary Vivian Benge joined us on podcast to discuss IE's reasons for not supporting the non-inclusive federal ENDA legislation. It is their stance that ENDA must include gender identity in order to be completely effective in overall employment protection for the community.

I went over to listen to the podcast, and both of the shows' hosts were stuck on trans-inclusiveness, which isn't really the main question about the legislation at this point, and didn't seem aware of IE's actual reasons for opposing ENDA. ENDA is trans-inclusive at this point, and both NCTE president Mara Keisling and Barney Frank's aide Diego Sanchez are confident it'll stay that way. It would have been nice for BloomingOUT to be aware of why their guest opposed ENDA, but it's understandable considering the radio show was put together on the day of ENDA's introduction (even though it was known for some time that a trans-inclusive ENDA would be introduced).

That quotation above, though, is the only place in the entire paper where ENDA is even mentioned. That's right - if it weren't for BloomingOUT, The Word wouldn't have tangentially mentioned the introduction of what could be the first piece of national LGBT civil rights legislation. And even if that event, since it's DC news, isn't within their editorial scope, the biggest state-level LGBT organization took a controversial position on that legislation. One would think that that would be worth at least a mention in a paper charged with reporting on items of interest to Indianapolis's queer population, especially since mainstream publications can't be trusted to do so themselves.

The Word, instead, takes the position that questioning those in power is inherently icky, is in bad taste, and that we should all keep our mouths shut and just be happy that we don't have a marriage amendment in Indiana. To The Word, the point of LGBT journalism is to defend LGBT organizations from inquiry and dissent instead of holding them accountable for their decisions or even reporting those decisions.

I wonder if we'll find out more about The Word's decision to refuse to provide decent coverage of IE's opposition to ENDA. It's bizarre, to say the least. These journals are usually starving for local news to report, and here was an interesting item that was lain out before them, that would not have required all that much investigation other than calling the parties involved.

One is left to assume that they chose to cover it like gossip instead of policy because the folks at The Word simply don't understand the policy issues involved.

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Donna Pandori Donna Pandori | July 6, 2009 3:16 PM

Great post Alex.

we should all keep our mouths shut and just be happy that we don't have a marriage amendment in Indiana

Exactly, if we don't keep our mouths shut a marriage amendment is precisely what we'll get. IE and their lobbyist can't get passed this threat either because they a) they don't want to or b) they're being out maneuvered. If this is the best we can expect from them then it's time for a change.

I'm wondering about the strategy as well. The marriage amendment wasn't passed, great. But how is that related to federal legislation like ENDA? I don't think it is, but then why does everyone who defends IE's position on ENDA bring up the marriage amendment?

Donna Pandori Donna Pandori | July 7, 2009 8:44 AM

That's my point, it's not related to ENDA. I hate to be critical here but the only thing I see IE doing is keeping the marriage amendment at bay. And they're not even doing that very well because it keeps coming back as a threat to us every session.

I ran into a study recently that shows a respectable number of glbt living and working in Indiana (I'm planning on blogging about it). I think we have an adequate physical and dollar presence to warrant being a lot further along with glbt equality in Indiana than what we are. It's obvious there is a disconnect. I don't think enough pressure is being put on our legislators to take us seriously as a voting block. In my opinion IE has not been successful at promoting equality for the glbt community. Our voices are not being heard. Doesn't it seem reasonable to expect better results from an organization that is paying a "seasoned" lobbyist to work with State legislators to pass pro glbt legislation? All we get is the same old fighting the marriage amendment every freakin session. Why? I hear "oh, Indiana has always been very conservative, they're never going to change". I think that's a crap argument.

Have you heard anything about any changes in leadership at IE?

Don Sherfick Don Sherfick | July 7, 2009 3:23 PM

"I hate to be critical here but the only thing I see IE doing is keeping the marriage amendment at bay. And they're not even doing that very well because it keeps coming back as a threat to us every session."

Donna, I'm having a problem figuring out what your strategy would be for keeping a single legislator or group of legislators from putting a proposed constitutional amendment on marriage or anything else, or for that matter any legislation, in the hopper.

Enlighten me in detail, please. Fresh and comprehensive ideas are always in order. I'm not a disinterested party when it comes to this particular subject.

(Now maybe if we just put a big lock on the legislative chambers that would do the trick.)

Donna Pandori Donna Pandori | July 7, 2009 4:58 PM

I'm having a problem figuring out what your strategy would be for keeping a single legislator or group of legislators from putting a proposed constitutional amendment on marriage or anything else, or for that matter any legislation, in the hopper.

Don, I’m not suggesting there is a strategy that would ever stop a single legislator or group of legislators from putting legislation in the hopper. There should, however, be a strategy for growing an ally support base across Indiana and bringing enough legislators over to our side so that we a) don’t have to worry about a marriage amendment in the hopper cause it would never see the light of day and b) could start getting some pro-glbt legislation passed.

Enlighten me in detail, please. Fresh and comprehensive ideas are always in order.

This is what I expect from the leadership of our state equality group. Unless information presented about IE on Bilerico is false then it is legitimate for people to be frustrated with IE’s progress. They have not been able to advance pro-glbt legislation.

Don Sherfick Don Sherfick | July 7, 2009 5:34 PM

Too general of a platitude to be of much use to me. Sorry. I had expected better.

I think that what you're asking for Don isn't necessary. Donna doesn't need to have a complete strategy for keeping Indiana amendment free; that's not the point of the posts The Word is angry about.

The topic is IE's opposition to ENDA. While I'll let Alex speaks for himself, I think his whole point there is that the marriage amendment has nothing to do with ENDA and is being presented as a red herring. It's fantastic that IE (and you - both as part of IE and outside of the org) worked hard at fending off the amendment. What's at issue is their stance on ENDA. They're exclusive of each other.

Well, since IE is effectively criticizing orgs that have done lots of good work before that are now pushing for ENDA, like HRC, PAW, and NCTE, do they have "fresh and comprehensive ideas" for passing an amendment to the Civil Rights Act? I haven't seen much in terms of strategy from them, and if anyone who criticizes an LGBT org that's done good work has to have a full strategy themselves, I'd be happy to read IE's strategy to pass federal antidiscrimination legislation.

Instead, all I've seen from them so far are platitudes. Well, worse than platitudes, they've had principles. Dallas Principles. But no strategy.

Personally, though, I don't think they have to have one to speak up.

A. J. Lopp | July 9, 2009 5:43 PM

As critical as I have been of IE in the past, I must say that even if the only thing they are successful at is preventing the passage of the Indiana marriage amendment, then that achievement alone justifies their existence.

And I agree with Don that it might be unrealistic to hope that IE could prevent the marriage amendment from coming up year after year. After all, our opponents have the same access to government that we do, and it is not our goal to cut any group of people out of the process, just as we as a group do not want to be cut out of the process.

Honestly, while I'll have my own post about a couple of the items, I think you've handled this perfectly. The sheer amount of their actual article space spent on personally attacking me over expose articles I've written is amazing.

I did the math last night and out of the 64 pages they printed this month, almost 72% is advertising. Only a few items are actually written for the paper while the rest is filler pulled from wire services. The paper doesn't do any journalism. Instead, it just fills the space with fluff like a gossip column and what you called "Oh no he didn't!" stories. It's sad.

Nothing I've written hasn't been factual and fully quoted by on-the-record sources. I've tried to keep my own opinion out of it and just report the story. I think enough people are outraged that I don't have to insert my own opinion.

Ted can print all the scurrilous allegations he likes to try and prop up the IE leadership now that they've been caught with their pants down. I'll stick with the facts - and the topic of ENDA and IE's history and stance on this issue.

Yeah. I can understand that there are constraints for local lgbt papers outside of the big, gay metro areas. But there are still some papers, like Q-Notes in North Carolina, JustOut in Oregon, and the Michigan Messenger in Lansing, that are doing incredible work on shoe-string budgets (special shout-out to Todd Heywood who's been uncovering that large story about police corruption in the park crack-downs in Lansing). There's no excuse into turning their paper into a "Where's Waldo" for original content.

Especially when this story wouldn't be that difficult to write. Call up IE, call up someone who disagrees (like you), call up a national org that's been working on ENDA, like NCTE or HRC or PAW, and voila, a story. I don't think that IE was really caught with their pants down here - this is their stated, voted-on, considered opinion and they sound like they want to defend it. Or at least Benge did when she was on BloomingOUT. They're an advocacy group and their political opinions are up for discussion and they should be ready to defend them.

I haven't read the word in a while since I've been out of indiana, but they seem to be the same as ever. One would think that people who write a gossip column with no paragraph breaks from the perspective of cats wouldn't be so quick to judge other people in media, but....

Speaking of which, who were they talking about? The first blogger is obviously you, the second I'm guessing is Gary Welsh, but what about the third?

Apparently someone else really didn't like this issue of The Word as well. The editors sent a notice to advertisers that hundreds of issues had been stolen from public stands and would be replaced as soon as possible. They've really struck a nerve.