by Fred Kuhr
San Francisco-based Bay Area Reporter took to its own opinion pages to defend running a controversial op-ed about a controversial comment made at a gathering of LGBT journalists.
“When B.A.R. publishes a Guest Opinion column, we don’t expect everyone to agree with it. Sometimes we don’t agree with it,” the newspaper’s editorial board wrote in the September 19 issue. “The point of the opinion page is to provide a public forum.”
So what exactly caused the firestorm?
In early September at the national convention of NLGJA: The Association of LGBTQ Journalists, gay cisgender Ohio weathercaster and longtime NLGJA member Marshall McPeek was speaking at the confab’s closing reception. He opened his remarks, seemingly as a joke, with, “Ladies and gentlemen, things and its.”
Outrage was swift, both inside the room and on social media. “There were no ‘things and its,’” in that hotel conference room, TransGriot blogger Monica Roberts wrote on Twitter. “There were trans, gender non-non-conforming and non-binary people in there.”
|Marshall McPeek, whose
comment started the firestorm
McPeek apologized within the hour, as did NLGJA. “During the closing reception, Marshall McPeek, a volunteer emcee, made an inappropriate, unscripted remark that does not reflect our values. He returned to the stage and apologized. He has also voluntarily resigned his membership in the organization,” the group said in a statement. “We’ve worked hard for many years to make NLGJA an inclusive organization for transgender and non-binary journalists. People were understandably hurt and offended by last night’s remarks. As journalists, we understand uniquely that words matter. We apologize and are committed to working to make NLGJA more inclusive and diverse.”
Enter Steve Friess, another longtime NLGJA member, who wrote an op-ed that was published in the Bay Area Reporter. In the op-ed, Friess called McPeek “a nice man [who] said a stupid thing.” He also blasted “pitchfork-wielding trans Twitter.”
“Obviously, McPeek was wrong,” Friess wrote. “According to at least one prominent colleague back in Columbus, Ohio, where McPeek is a weatherman, the ‘things and its’ construction is a dumb gag people there say with no reference to gender identity. That doesn’t make it OK in this context, but it also doesn’t make it a premeditated act of malicious emceeing or an important insight into McPeek’s views on transgender people.”
Friess also took on NLGJA for its statement. “NLGJA itself has behaved so shamefully here. That merry band of cowards had a chance to both apologize and vouch for McPeek’s integrity and contrition. Instead, after a quarter century of service, their statement distanced the NLGJA from McPeek by referencing him as merely a ‘volunteer emcee.’ As the NLGJA doesn’t pay any of its emcees, everyone’s a volunteer. But McPeek is one of the group’s most generous, selfless leaders.”
Angry readers then blasted the newspaper for carrying the column. But as the editorial put it, “We reject the criticism levelled at the Bay Area Reporter over our decision to publish an opinion piece last week that discussed a timely, topical issue about a mistake, an apology, and anger by the transgender community. Contrary to what some commenters said online, …our pages were not ‘darkened’ by the presence of [the] op-ed….
“We, as a community, must figure out a way to understand each other because we do have common goals, like equality, the ability to use a restroom that matches our gender identity, and being treated with respect. We’re going to have to figure out how to work together, not alone, in order to achieve those basic human rights, especially while Donald Trump is president. So, if you disagree with what we publish, fine. Send us a letter to the editor, pitch your own op-ed, or fire away online. But please understand that our role as a queer newspaper is to foster dialogue – on all sides – and focus on our real enemies.”
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