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Wedding Bell Blues
It is often the small, everyday actions that define the cutting edge of political movements and the burgeoning movement to get newspapers to print the marriage or civil-union announcements of gay and lesbian couples is an example of a seemingly simple request for fairness inspiring political action and social change.
Gay-marriage proponents, as well as the National Lesbian and Gay Journalist Association, have been lobbying newspapers across the nation to print announcements of gay nuptials. Many smaller papers, including the Sun Journal of Lewiston, Maine, the Sunday Citizen of New Hampshire, the Fayetteville Observer of North Carolina, and local Massachusetts community weeklies, such as the Melrose Free Press, the Somerville Journal, and the Cambridge Chronicle, have recently begun carrying such announcements. As of now, however, no big-market papers print gay or lesbian wedding announcements, although several are in the process of re-evaluating their current policies.
Theres no question that printing gay wedding and commitment announcements is a break from tradition, but the reluctance of papers such as the Boston Globe and the New York Times to do so now is baffling. These papers have no trouble printing editorials promoting legislation that counters discrimination against gay men. The Times has editorialized in the past in favor of anti-gay-discrimination legislation on both the city and the state level and has argued for coverage of transgendered people under the states anti-discrimination bill. The Boston Globe has editorialized in favor of domestic-partner benefits, as well as endorsing Massachusettss Safe School initiative, which supports the rights and safety of gay kids and students. Both papers published editorials attacking the culture of queer-hating that led to Matthew Shepards death.
On some level, the refusal to print these notices seems petty, even as the fight to get them printed comes across as frivolous. Lets face it, the decision to print gay-nuptial notices is a battle of society-page protocol that hardly seems germane to the everyday lives of lesbians and gay men. It doesnt, for instance, address the hatreds and inequalities that gay people face daily. What it does do is question the most profound organizational principles of a functional society: manners, etiquette, social protocol, and civility. Perhaps the real revolution wont happen in the courts or in the streets, but in the society pages, the columns of Dear Abby and Miss Manners, and the newest edition of Emily Posts etiquette.
A look at the history of wedding announcements explains why the question of whether to print gay-nuptial notices so vexes newspaper editors and publishers. To begin with, marriage announcements are a public manifestation of a private relationship that is regarded as a central pillar of what we like to call the civilized world. Their earliest form took place as banns, the Christian ecclesiastical mandate that upcoming weddings be announced three times in advance of the ceremony to make sure that no one has any objections to the union. In the mid-19th century, the practice morphed into the secular tradition of first announcing an engagement and then the wedding on the society page of British and American newspapers. Wedding announcements transition from the church to the newspaper was ascribable to the always-aspiring-upward middle class. The rich thought it vulgar to announce engagements and weddings in the popular press (after all, anyone who actually mattered would find out the happy news from their servants) and the poor didnt have the social standing, or the economic clout, to make their personal lives matter to the newspaper-buying middle class. From the 19th century onward, U.S. media supplied readers with narratives of current events and set the terms of socially acceptable behavior, proper language, child-rearing, gender norms, andthrough the womens pagesfashions. Along with this, they reinforced the limits of social aspirations and fears: they told you who was invited to tea at the homes of the upper-middle class, and where the bad part of town was located; they continually demonstrated (through news stories and features) the gentility of white people and the physical, social, and moral impropriety of African-Americans and poor white people. To an extraordinarily large degree, they were the most potent gatekeepers and reinforcers of social norms, prejudicial thinking, and discriminatory behavior. At their best with, say, the muckrakers like Ida Tarbell and Upton Sinclair, who exposed political and business scandals, they fought the system. But for the most part, they capitulated to enormous social, political, and economic pressures, often refusing to confront, or expose, the myriad ills of society. After all, newspapers are driven by advertising and business interests. To a large extent, this hasnt changed.
In a July 29 column, Boston Globe ombudsperson Christine Chinlund wrote about the Globes intent to review its gay-wedding-announcement policy with an eye toward possible change. Underline possible. While Chinlund supports such a change. In my view, the issue of gay partnership is indeed a civil-rights matter; by extension, so is its cultural treatmentnewspaper notices included. She also acknowledges how difficult such a change will be to make. While she may have her own opinion, Globe editor Martin Baron has quite another: Some may see this as an easy issue, but I see it as a difficult issue. He goes on to say, Community standards are something we cant ignore, but what a community standard is is hard to say. Barons fancy footwork obscures the issue at hand. Of course you cant ignore community standardsi.e., pretend they dont existbut you can certainly decide to cross or change them. But more problematic is the idea that community standards exist in any uncontested, authentic, sense. Mainstream newspapers in this country function under the myth that they speak for the majority or plurality. And maybe papers are or should be, voices of their communities. The problem is, of course, whose community do they speak for, and who decides?
Newspapers acceptance of community standards has been at times horrific and appalling. In the 1920s, for example, it was not unusual for some Southern papers to print notices of an impending lynching of an African-American in legal custody. A way of getting a good crowd, it was most certainly in line with the prevailing notion of community standards. In 1965, Alice Crimmins of New York, who worked as a cocktail waitress and was accused (with almost no convincing evidence) of murdering her two small children, was essentially convicted during her trial by every paper in Manhattan (including the New York Times) because she refused to shed tears in public, a clear violation of community standards about how women should behave. In 1991, Paul Reubens (aka Pee-wee Herman) was arrested for masturbating in a adult-movie theater. Newspapers (and other media) vilified him and essentially destroyed his career: community standards dictated that childrens-television stars shouldnt have sexual lives. In January 2002, the Providence Journal printed the names and addresses of men who had been picked up on misdemeanor charges of engaging in consensual sex in an adult-movie theater, even though this was antithetical to accepted journalistic practice of at least two decades standing. One of the men committed suicide.
These examples, of course, represent the extreme. Far more common are the instances of newspapers reinforcing the social status quo. Up until a few decades ago, Southern newspapers had long followed a practice of referring to African Americans by only their given and last names, rather than by the titles of miss, missus, or mister with their surnames. It had long been a community standard in the South, after all, to refer to Negroes by their first names alone. (This community standard practice gave rise to some African-American parents naming their infant boys Mister to ensure that they were given respect, however unintentionally.)
The battle over languagewhich is, of course, a battle over etiquette and appropriate behavioris profoundly political. In the 1950s and 1960s, civil rights activists fought long and hard with newspapers to get them to stop referring to African-Americans as colored. During the same period, fledgling homosexual rights groups didnt have the social or political clout to effectively lobby newspapers to stop using words like perverts and queers when referring to gay men and lesbians. By the 1970s, however, gay activists were fighting to get newspapers to stop using the more old-fashioned and clinical term homosexual in favor of gay. The New York Times put up an often-acrimonious, eight-year battle against using gay, finally relenting in 1982. Of course, the fight for Ms. (instead of Miss or Mrs.) went on for years in almost every newspaper across the country before it became accepted usage. Newspapers reinforce societal standards all the time. A look at social coverage in American newspapers over the past 50 years chronicles how overtly wrong and insulting many of these papers policies have been. Until the late 1960s, for example, the New York Times printed notices of Jewish weddings on Mondays, while those of Christian weddings were published on Sundays. As recently as 30 years ago, most major dailies devoted considerable space on their society pages to debutante coming-out parties and activities. Only white debutantes and their parties were given any notice, even though middle- and upper-middle-class African-Americans were engaging in almost identical activities. In New York City, for example, the Times was the place to have ones coming-out proclaimed. Yet the parties of African-American debutantes were written up in the Amsterdam News, a large and influential paper published in Harlem, even though these affairs were as formal, expensive, and hierarchically structured as those of the white debs.
Ten years ago, only the brides (very formal) photo appeared in wedding announcements; now, it is perfectly acceptable, even mandated, to have a photo, usually informal, of the smiling bride and groom. It is not unheard of, although still not very common, to see photos of non-white or even interracial couples in major newspaperssomething that wasnt done 20 years ago. It is also now common for gossip columns to mention, in passing, the homosexuality of such openly queer celebrities as Sir Ian McKellen, Ellen DeGeneres, or Sir Elton John, along with their date du jourunacceptable just 15 years ago. Ten years ago, it was unacceptable in obituaries, whether paid announcements or news stories, to use the word lover or partner for the deceaseds unmarried (gay or straight) survivor. The more liberal papers might have been willing to say is survived by... without a specific relationship designation, but most would not even allow that.
Community standards change. That much is obvious. Whats less obvious, however, is that these changes are not just the reflection of societal evolution, but the very enactment of such change. To a very large degree, we arent just who we say we are, we are who the society pages say we are. The reason newspapers like the Globe are unwilling to print notices of gay and lesbian weddingsor at least are wrestling with the decisionis because they understand full well that such a change in policy is not just cosmetic. Its meaningful on a societal level. The political point here is not that publishing gay-wedding notices and announcements constitutes capitulation to a noisy, demanding minority, but that such a move would be another important step in granting homosexuals access to a public space that is open to everyone else.
In this, newspapers have a clear choice: they can follow or they can lead. The argument that community standards are at issue here, as put forth by the Globes Baron, is a not only false, its also pernicious. Most of what passes for community standards in America todaycasual acceptance of a pathetic minimum wage, the social tormenting of kids who dont conform to appropriate gender roles, the continued harassment faced by many women in the job force, the ongoing scapegoating of African-American youth by policeprevents people from leading healthy, productive, and happy lives. If those who run our countrys biggest newspapers followed their best instincts and traditions, they would spend most of their energy combating community standards, not pandering to them.
Z Magazine Archive
AnnouncementsLABOR - May 1 is May Day. Workers of the world will celebrate the 124th anniversary of International Worker’s Day. Born out of a call for an 8-hour workday in the United States, this day is an opportunity for all workers to show their solidarity with one another, as well as to renew the call for labor rights.
FARM CONFERENCE - The Farm Conference on Community and Sustainability will be held May 24-26 in Summertown, TN, in partnership with the Fellowship of Intentional Communities. Tour green homes, see sustainable food production, learn about solar installations, alternative education, midwifery, and more.
Contact: Douglas@thefarmcommunity.com; http://www.thefarmcommunity.com/.
PALESTINE - The Conference of the Palestinian Shatat in North American will be held June 3-5 in Vancouver. The conference will examine the future of the Palestinian liberation movement.
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LABOR - The Pacific Northwest Labor History Association’s 45th annual conference will be held May 3-5, in Portland, OR. This year’s theme is Labor Under Attack: Learning from the Past and Preparing for the Future. A call for presentations, workshops and papers is currently underway.
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MARIJUANA - On the first Saturday of May marijuana legalization activists will hold informational and educational events, rallies and marches in over 300 cities around the world.
ECONOMICS - The Union For Radical Political Economics will hold its 39th annual conference May 9-11 in New York City.
RECLAIM THE DREAM - The 2013 Poor People’s Campaign & March from Baltimore to Washington D.C. will be May 11. Communities, schools and unions interested in participating are encouraged to contact the Baltimore People’s Assembly.
Contact: 410-500-2168; 410-218-4835; BaltimorePeoplesAssembly@gmail.com; Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Baltimore and the Baltimore Peoples Power Assembly, 2011 N. Charles St., Baltimore, MD 21218.
MOTHER’S DAY - The 17th Annual Mother’s Day Walk For Peace will be May 12th, in Dorchester, MA. The walk began in 1996 for families who had lost children to violence. The day has become a way for thousands of people to financially support the work of the Louis Brown Peace Institute.
Contact: http://www.ldbpeaceinstitute.org/; http://mothersdaywalk4peace.org/.
NATO 5 - An International Week of Solidarity with the NATO 5 has been called for May 16-21. Supports call on supporters to raise awareness of the NATO 5 and support funds for the defendants on the one-year anniversary of their preemptive arrests.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; https://nato5support.wordpress.com.
MOUNTAINTOP - The 2013 Mountain Justice Summer Activist Training Camp will be held May 19-27 in Damascus, VA. It will be a week of workshops, field trips to view Mountain Top Removal coal mines, direct actions, and service project.
FEMINIST SCI-FI - The feminist science fiction convention WisCon 37 is scheduled for May 24-27 in Madison, WI.
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ANARCHY FEST - A month-long Festival of Anarchy is scheduled for May in Montreal. The festival includes The Montreal Anarchist Bookfair (May 19-20).
Contact: http://www.anarchistbookfair.ca/; http://www.radicalmontreal.com/.
LABOR - The International Labor Rights Forum will present: Down the Supply Chain, Driving Corporate Accountability, on May 22 in Washington, DC. The Labor Rights Awards Ceremony and Reception will honor pioneers in supply chain worker organizing, working solidarity and international labor rights policy.
MULTICULTURE - The 26th annual National Conference on Race & Ethnicity in American Higher Education (NCORE) will take place May 28-June 1, in New Orleans.
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MEDIA - The 2013 Alliance for Community Media Annual Conference will be held May 29-31, in San Francisco, CA. Participants will include educators, community leaders, media professionals, journalists, nonprofit leaders, policymakers and students.
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BRADLEY MANNING - On June 1, a rally will be held at Fort Meade in support of Bradley Manning.
BIKES - Bikes Not Bombs is holding its 24th annual Bike-A-Thon and Green Roots Festival in Boston, MA on June 3, with several bike rides scheduled, music, exhibitors and more.
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LEFT FORUM - The 2013 Left Forum will be held June 7-9, at Pace University in New York City.
Contact: 365 Fifth Avenue, CUNY Graduated Center, ? Sociology Dept., New York, NY 10016; http://www.leftforum.org/.
VEGAN FEST - Mad City Vegan Fest will be held in Madison, WI, June 8. The annual event features food, speakers, and exhibitors.
Contact: 122 State Street, Suite 405 B, Madison, WI 53701; email@example.com; http://veganfest.org/.
ADC CONFERENCE - The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) holds its annual conference June 13-16, in Washington, DC, with panel discussions and workshops on civil rights, media and other topics.
Contact: 1990 M Street, Suite 610, Washington, DC, 20036; 202-244-2990; firstname.lastname@example.org http://convention.adc.org/.
CUBA/SOCIALISM - A Cuban-North American Dialog on Socialist Renewal and Global Capitalist Crisis will be held in Havana, Cuba, June 16-30. There will be a 5 day Seminar at University of Havana, plus visits to a cooperative, urban garden, community development project, social research centers, and educational & medical institutions.
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NETROOTS - The 8th Annual Netroots Nation conference will take place June 20-23 in San Jose, CA. The event features panels, trainings, networking, screenings, and keynotes.
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MEDIA - The 15th annual Allied Media Conference will be held June 20-23, in Detroit.
Contact: 4126 Third Street, Detroit, MI 48201; http://alliedmedia.org/.
GRASSROOTS - The United We Stand Festival will be hosted by Free & Equal, June 22 in Little Rock, Arkansas. The festival aims to reform the electoral process throughout the U.S.
SOCIALISM - The Socialism 2013 Conference is scheduled for June 27-30 in Chicago, featuring talks and panel discussions.
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LITERACY - The National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) will hold its conference July 12-13 in Los Angeles under the heading, Intersections: Teaching and Learning Across Media.
Contact: 10 Laurel Hill Drive, Cherry Hill, NJ 08003; http://namle.net/conference/.
IWW - The North American Work People’s College will take place July 12-16 at Mesaba Co-op Park in northern Minnesota. The event will bring together Wobblies from branches across the continent to learn new skills and build One Big Union.
PEACESTOCK - On July 13th, the 11th Annual Peacestock: A Gathering for Peace, will take place at Windbeam Farm in Hager City, WI. The event is a mixture of music, speakers and community for peace. Sponsored by Veterans for Peace.
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CHILDREN’S DEFENSE - July 15-19, join clergy, seminarians, Christian educators, young adult leaders and other faith-based advocates for children at CDF Haley Farm in Clinton, Tennessee, for five days of spiritual renewal, networking, movement building workshops, and continuing education about the urgent needs of children at the 19th annual Proctor Institute for Child Advocacy Ministry.
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ACTIVIST CAMP - Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp will have sessions in July and August in Ben Lomond, CA; Portland, OR; Charlton, MA. YEA Camp is designed for activists 12-17 years old who want to make a difference in the world.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://yeacamp.org/.
LA RAZA - The annual National Council of La Raza (NCLR) Conference is scheduled for July 18-19 in New Orleans, with workshops, presentations and panel discussions.
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LABOR - The Eastern Conference For Workplace Democracy: Growing Our Cooperatives, Growing Our Communities, will be held at Drexel University in Philadelphia, PA, July 26-28.
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WOMEN/LYNNE STEWART- Radical Women is asking for support letters and cards to be sent to Lynne Stewart. Stewart is a civil rights attorney and political prisoner who is currently in jail. She has breast cancer and authorities have denied her request for transfer from her Texas prison to the New York City hospital where she received medical attention during a prior bout of breast cancer. Send messages and cards to: Lynne Stewart 53504-054, Federal Medical Center Carswell, P.O. Box 27137, Fort Worth, TX 76127.
Contact: 747 Polk Street, San Francisco, CA 94109; 415-864-1278; RadicalWomenUS@gmail.com; http://lynnestewart.org/; http://www.radicalwomen.org/.
HAITI/WOMEN - Haiti’s government is considering a legal reform measure that would prohibit and punish all sexual assault, including marital rape. MADRE and the International Campaign to Stop Rape & Gender Violence in Conflict are launching a petition to raise international support for this push to address violence against women in Haiti.
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SYRIA/MIDDLE EAST - The Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA) is currently seeking funds to assist more than 200,000 refugees fleeing violence in Syria.
FOLK FESTIVAL - The Falcon Ridge Folk Festival will be held August 2-4, in the Berkshires, NY.
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WAR RESISTERS - The War Resisters League will hold its 90th anniversary conference, Revolutionary Nonviolence: Building Bridges Across Generations and Communities, August 1-4, at Georgetown University. The event will focus on the U.S.’ long history of antimilitarism.
Contact: 339 Lafayette Street, New York, NY 10012; 212-228-0450; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.warresisters.org.
POPULAR ECONOMICS - The Center for Popular Economics is holding its 2013 Summer Institute August 4-9 at Hampshire College in Amherst, MA. No background in economics is needed for this intensive training. This year’s theme is, The Care Economy: Building a Just Economy with a Heart.
Contact: Center for Popular Economics, PO Box 785 Amherst, MA 01004; 413-545-0743; email@example.com; www.populareconomics.org.
VETERANS - Veterans for Peace is holding the 28th annual convention August 6-11 in Madison, WI. This year’s theme is, Power To The Peaceful.
DEMOCRACY - The Democracy Convention will take place August 7-11 in Madison, WI. The convention brings together nine conferences including topics such as media, education, defense, race, environment and others.
MEN - The 38th National Conference on Men & Masculinity: Forging Justice: Creating Safe, Equal and Accountable Communities, presented in partnership with HAVEN, will be held in Detroit, MI, August 8-10.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.nomas.org/.
OCCUPY - An Occupy National Gathering will be held in Kalamazoo, MI, August 21-25.
Contact: email@example.com; http://occupynationalgathering.net/.
COMMUNITIES - The Communities Conference is a networking and learning opportunity for co-operative or communal lifestyles, with workshops, events and entertainment; scheduled for August 30-September 2 at the Twin Oaks Community in Louisa, Virginia.
LABOR DAY - The 29th annual Bread and Roses Festival, a celebration of the ethnic diversity and labor history of Lawrence, MA, will be held September 2, in honor of the 1912 Bread and Roses Strike. There will be music, dance, poetry, drama, ethnic food, historical demonstrations, walking & trolley tours.
Contact: PO Box 1137, Lawrence, MA 01842; 978-794-1655; http://www.breadandrosesheritage.org/.
OCCUPY WALL STREET - September 17 is the two-year anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Events are planned in New York City and worldwide.
TEACHERS - The 13th Annual Conference, “Teaching for Social Justice: The Politics of Pedagogy,” will be held October 12 in San Francisco, CA. The free event features workshops, resources, and free childcare.
Contact: 415-676-7844; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.t4sj.org/.
HAITI - International Action, which brings clean water and chlorinators to Haiti, seeks office space capable of housing up to six people and their office equipment.
Contact: Zach Bremer, Zbrehmer@haitiwater.org; 202-488-0735; http://www.haitiwater.org/.
MEDIA - The Union for Democratic Communications and Project Censored are sponsoring a joint conference on media democracy, media activism and social justice to be held November 1-3 at the University of San Francisco. Proposals for presentations, workshops and panels from activists and critical scholars are invited.