Editor's Note: Mark Madrak is a self-proclaimed late bloomer. He was born in Philadelphia and came out at the age of 41, quickly becoming active in gay rights. He appeared on a regional Comcast news show: "It's Your Call with Lynn Doyle" in 2003 to argue for gay marriage rights against a representative of Concerned Women for America, and two "ex-gay' representatives. He started his blog My Gay Nerve in 2005 after a move to Florida exposed him to even more bigotry that he hadn't experienced in the north. He and his partner of 10 years reside in Tampa.
The St. Pete Times, a former bastion of fair and balanced reporting, took a sharp turn to the right recently in my view. In an 'above the fold' front page story, The Times published a 'how-to' article on helping to turn back the currently successful efforts of people in Florida who are pouring their hearts into stopping Amendment 2 from becoming law in the state.
Amendment 2, for the uninitiated, is an amendment to the Florida State Constitution to ban same-sex marriage from ever being allowed in the state by 'activist judges'. In addition to the 'jumping off' hate text, it also says that nothing that is similar to marriage in rights or privileges will be allowed in Florida. Here's the full text of proposed Amendment 2: "Inasmuch as marriage is the legal union of only one man and one woman as husband and wife, no other legal union that is treated as marriage or the substantial equivalent thereof shall be valid or recognized."
That means that, in addition to the codified discrimination against gay people, all the hundreds of thousands of retired people living here and are not married for financial reasons (keeping a pension from a deceased spouse, etc) will lose that too.
So, the article is all about how to rally the 'Jesus' troops against gay marriage, oh and anyone else living in a domestic partnership, gay or straight. There is detailed information about how, specifically, a group of pastors (dubbed "The Pastor's Briefing") who met this week in the state are going to try their darnedest to get their congregations to vote on hate and make it legal to treat gay people as second class citizens.
There is legal advice quoting David C. Gibbs III, the attorney who represented the parents of Terry Shiavo in extending her agonizing last days. He assured the gathered ministers that they would not lose their tax exempt status for telling their parishioners to go out and vote to ban gay marriage- that status is only questioned when you promote a political candidate. Isn't that nice?
The story also mentions that there is a "church action pack" available ($150) that provides the group of frightened sheep with a DVD to play during services, 25, (count 'em), 25 yard signs, 50 bumper stickers and a CD 'loaded' with promotional fliers and bulletin inserts to help them in their campaign to insert discrimination into a document meant to protect its citizens.
I could literally feel my face getting redder and redder as I read this crap. I called my sister, who is not gay, to ask her if I was just being 'gay sensitive'. She gave me some great advice, make some calls to the paper and express my views. She also pointed out that the story is structured so that you think that this is the only position that churches are taking on this issue. There are many mainstream churches who welcome people with open arms and are not actively trying to change the Constitution of Florida.
I got home, sat down, and called Sherri Day (813-226-3405), one of the co-authors, and told her what I thought. How I felt that she'd written a 'how-to' for people who want to get organized. I pointed out that her words sure got my blood boiling, on the wrong side of the issue from the target audience, but just the same, seeing "no gay nuptials" just below the masthead of the St. Petersburg Times had to grab the attention of many who feel differently. She assured me that 'was not her intent' and that she was simply covering an event assigned to her by her editor (Jennifer Orsey 813-226-3371) as a newsworthy event!(?).
When I questioned the 'newsworthiness' of the story she told me that a group of pastors had gathered to talk about how to fight against gay marriage...of course that was newsworthy. She also asked me if I would have preferred that it wasn't reported at all(?). I told her that I felt she could have maybe gone out and gotten some quotes from some gay couples and I then commented on how this issue is always presented in the media as a religious issue, when it's really about civil rights.
It's about how the fact that I pay the same taxes as my straight brothers and sisters means that I DESERVE the same rights and privileges. I reinforced with her that no one in the gay community, despite reports to the contrary, has any interest in forcing priests, ministers or rabbis to perform religious ceremonies if they don't desire to do so, that this was about civil rights.
The most surprising thing of all was that she told me she'd received a call from 'Florida Red & Blue' telling her that it was the most balanced story they'd read about the issue! Finally, I heard the words that explained it all: the reporter explained to me that her usual reporting is on religion and that she wasn't all that familiar with 'this issue'.
So The Pulitzer Prize winning St. Pete Times now makes front page news of a story that is, admittedly, written by an ill-informed reporter under the 'guise' of a 'standard event' story. It's sickening to me and I hope it is to you too. If you didn't notice, I put the phone numbers up above of the reporter, her editor, and the political editor here (Joanie 'something' 727-893-8739). Ask them when they're going to run a story on churches that don't have a problem with gay people like the Unitarians and the Catholics (who look at it as a sin but welcome parishioners). Ask them how a Pulitzer Prize winning newspaper can plead ignorance on the significance of running this story at all, and on putting it on the front page.
Feel free to drop them a line and let them know how you feel....really, I don't mind.