Editorial: The Chronicle's gay problem

  • by Editorial Board
  • Thursday May 25, 2017
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The San Francisco Chronicle is the region's largest daily newspaper and regularly covers the LGBT community. But when an article is not specifically about the community, the paper almost never identifies the sexual orientation of subjects, even when the detail provides relevant context if they are out public figures.

The most recent example occurred during last weekend's California Democratic state convention. There, delegates narrowly voted for Eric Bauman as chair, making him the first out person elected to head the California Democratic Party. That fact was conspicuously missing from several Chronicle reports. A profile of the two leading candidates - Bauman and former Emerge Executive Director Kimberly Ellis - failed to mention Bauman's sexual orientation. A story Sunday about the vote also did not state he's gay and carried the headline, "LA nurse to head state Democratic Party," which was misleading since Bauman most recently served as the vice chair for the state party and for many years has worked for various state lawmakers and officials. On Monday, in a follow-up article about the party chair election, reporter Joe Garofoli again neglected to note the historic aspect of Bauman's election. It's hard to believe that Garofoli and other Chronicle reporters at the convention didn't know Bauman is gay. Scott Lay, who pens the Nooner newsletter, reported over the weekend that Bauman's convention speech ended with, "Delegates, I am Eric Bauman, the son of Gayle Bauman, and husband of Michael Andraychak," whom he then embraced and kissed. In other words, Bauman certainly isn't hiding who he is.

The Chronicle wasn't the only mainstream news outlet to neglect the gay angle. On KPIX's Sunday newscast, political reporter Melissa Caen not only said nothing about Bauman being gay, but also mispronounced his last name.

The state Democratic Party did have a gay man serving as chair several years ago, but at the time, Art Torres wasn't public about it, only coming out after he stepped down from the position. That Bauman ran - and won - as an out gay man is newsworthy. He now joins Raymond Buckley, a gay man who heads the New Hampshire Democratic Party.

But this isn't the first time that the Chronicle has been guilty of "inning" an LGBT person. Last weekend's story about San Francisco Police Commissioner Petra DeJesus' effort to secure re-appointment omitted the fact that she identifies as a lesbian.

And there are other instances:

An article several months ago about City College of San Francisco trustees did note that Tom Temprano is "an LGBT activist," which itself is vague because it describes political activity not sexual orientation. Moreover, it did not mention that fellow Trustees Rafael Mandelman and Alex Randolph are gay and that Trustee Shanell Williams is bi.

A column by Beth Spotswood last fall about longtime photographer Bill Wilson, who has chronicled his trips to Italy, among other projects, referred to his husband as his partner (not the same thing).

An article last fall about the San Francisco school board race did not mention that candidate Mark Sanchez is a gay man. Sanchez went on to win, becoming the only LGBT school board member since he was last on the oversight body eight years ago.

An article about Elaine Forbes, the new director of the San Francisco Port, did not mention she is a lesbian.

The LGBT community's success is based on the simple but courageous idea to "come out" - which we embraced Monday on Harvey Milk Day. We embrace the proposition that it's important for self-acceptance and personal integrity to be open and honest, and come out to family, friends, and co-workers so we no longer remain invisible and mysterious to the rest of society. Yet when the major daily newspaper decides to "in" LGBT people who are out, it does us a disservice. We're not back in the old days of journalism when the New York Times described gay men as "avowed homosexuals."

The Chronicle recently reported that it was named the state's best large newspaper by the California Newspaper Publishers Association, and won numerous first-place awards in various categories. It's too bad that the paper keeps missing the boat when accurately covering LGBT newsmakers.

Readers sometimes ask us why we identify subjects of our reporting as LGBT. The answer is: because we're an LGBT newspaper covering the community and identity and public acknowledgment are core values. We don't expect mainstream newsrooms to do the same, but when it's an important aspect of the story, it would be nice if they didn't hide us.

With Pride Month beginning next week, we'd like to see Chronicle editors and reporters take that extra step and ask that question, "How do you identify?" In fact, for several years the Chronicle participated in the San Francisco LGBT Pride parade with the catchy slogan, "We come out every day." If only that were true.