Alex Blaze

Don't Act Straight

Filed By Alex Blaze | April 21, 2011 8:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Media
Tags: coming out of the closet, hate crimes against LGBT people, homophobic behavior, joshua esskew, rock hill, south carolina

Yesterday I posted a QOTD I found on the site for WBTV, a Rock Hill, South Carolina, local station. joshua-esskew.pngHere's the quote, attributed to Kelly James, a professor and advisor of her university's LGBT group:

"I've got to let my students know [about the attack], so when they're out and about in Rock Hill they act straight."

I previously posted WBTV's coverage of the brutal beating of Joshua Esskew on Bilerico, and that beating inspired a South Carolina legislator to introduce hate crimes legislation.

Q-Notes editor and Bilerico contributor Matt Comer emailed me that WBTV had put up a correction:

Kelly James, professor of Sociology and Criminology says her comments for our story have prompted a great deal of hate mail aimed at her. She feels her comments were taken out of full context. We wanted to make sure that readers fully understand the context in which she made that statement.

In an email to us today, Ms. James says, "I am receiving hate mail at work and on Facebook because of the way you presented a part of a sentence in my comments to you. I thought you understood that I meant it was ridiculous that I would have to tell my students to act straight, that I meant it ironically. "

She goes on to say, "I posted online on WBTV last night that my intent in commenting was to point out how ludicrous it was that gay kids had to fear strangers. I even mentioned to you (Reporter Steve Crump, WBTV) in our interview that homosexuality was removed from the DSM in 1973 and that our society should have moved on with tolerance and acceptance by now. It was blatantly obvious that I was not suggesting gays should be closeted."

This is the whole paragraph that the soundbite was clipped from for the broadcast story:

Kelly James says, "But, my first thought was that, "I've got to let my students know' so that when they are out and about in Rock hill that they, you know, act straight, And that's a sad lesson in 2011 to be teaching young people. I mean, it's been off the books as a mental illness since 1973."

Matt also sent in links to previous coverage of LGBT issues from WBTV that he found questionable.

Here's the video of the news segment that used that clip.

I don't think it's really obvious from her tone that she was being ironic, although it's the sort of thing that would require another question instead of making it the entire story under the title "Gay students warned to 'act straight' in wake of teen attacked by mob."

The QOTD feature, as always, is not meant as an endorsement or a criticism of the views quoted, but more as an idea that's interesting for whatever reason. I picked this quotation because I actually do think there's room for debate on this issue, that being out comes with risk and young people should know about that risk instead of being told to come out to everyone regardless of the consequences, although "acting straight" is a bit more ridiculous than just not coming out.

Bil is considering getting rid of this feature.

img a screenshot from video


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We should always be ourselves. Only in truth can we demystify the lies and hate brought against us. We don't have to proclaim our sexuality but we should never hide ourselves. That only fosters within us a sense of self hate and pain. I know its an old quote and a bit cliche but its is still true. "To thine own self be true."

As for QOTD: It is a nice addition. I don't always view it but it does add a certain character to the whole.

Irony or even plain humour appear to be beyond the reach of the average reader/viewer these days, anyway. Bill Ayers made a flippant comment about having written Obama's first book, followed by a joke that clearly indicated he was making a tongue-in-cheek remark, but the blogosphere is now afire with this as "fact."

That being said, there's nothing in her tone or facial expression that suggests she was being ironic. And there's nothing in that paragraph that suggests it either. She might think or have intended to say that it's ludicrous for students to act straight, but that does not preclude an endorsement of the idea that they should. To me, it still reads, at best (if you were to include these additions) more like, "It's unfortunate that I should have to say this, in the year 2011, but it's obvious that I need to tell my students to act straight." And that's still a bad idea.

Thanks for setting the record "straight", Alex. :)

ALWAYS use EXTREME caution when talking to television reporters.

Never use more than 8 words to make a point.

Every sentence should be its own paragraph.

Start and finish your point quickly.

No dependent clauses.

No irony, sarcasm, or jokes.

Just the facts, M'am.

That seems to be the crux of the issue here - someone wasn't experienced with the media enough to know not to use irony with them.