Adam Polaski

LGBT Groups Protest AR Paper's Obituary Policy

Filed By Adam Polaski | June 29, 2011 2:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Action Alerts, Living, Marriage Equality
Tags: Arkansas, Batesville, GLAAD, John Millican, LGBT, obituary, same-sex partners

newspaperobituary.jpgGLAAD has joined the Human Rights Campaign, Queerty, and the Center for Artistic Revolution in Arkansas in a campaign against The Batesville Daily Guard, the Arkansas newspaper that removed James Terrance's name from the obituary of his partner, John Millican, who died of spinal meningitis on June 11. The newspaper's obituary policy was that only spouses, parents, children, grandparents, and siblings would be included in the free obituary. Same-sex marriage is not available in the state of Arkansas. Extended obituaries including people surviving their same-sex partners are available with the Guard for a fee.

Last week, the Guard said it would consider its obituary policy and make changes to be more inclusive. It appears, however, that the newspaper's editors or publishers have since changed their mind.

A new editorial ran in the newspaper on Friday. It reiterated the paper's discriminatory policy.

It was brought to our attention Terrence James had a problem with our policy because he was not listed in the free obituary as a life partner. Once again, free obituaries do not list life partners or significant others, nor does it list in-laws or ex-spouses."

The Batesville Guard's editorial (full text at link), which ran on the page opposite a full-page advertisement from the Human Rights Campaign refuting the obituary policy, goes on to explain that James was "repeatedly told he would not be listed in the free obituary" and that James "made it clear to the funeral director he did not want to be out the expense of a paid obituary" [obnoxious capitalization removed]. James also listed two cats as daughters and a dog as a son for his deceased partner.

Because of James' knowledge of what would be published, the Guard's editorial concludes in large, bold print, "The Guard does not owe Mr. James a free obituary or an apology."

Regardless of whether James knew about the policy before the newspaper's publication, the fact remains that the policy is discriminatory. Since same-sex couples can't get legally married in Arkansas, there is no way that grieving same-sex partners can be listed in free obituaries, per the rules of the Guard. Whether the newspaper had removed the cats and dog from the obituary was their prerogative, but removing the name of the dead man's partner is not OK.

James is now in the hospital after being treated with spinal meningitis, the same illness that killed his partner. He is now considering taking legal action against the newspaper. It should be noted that the funeral home has revised its obituary for Millican on its own website to include James as a survivor of Millican.

GLAAD issued a press release about the situation, writing:

The Batesville Guard has gone from insensitive to downright mean-spirited and repugnant. Please join us, HRC, and CAR in calling on the Guard to correct its policy and to use its pages to make things right - not to make things worse.

GLAAD has also launched an online petition to demand that the Guard change its discriminatory policy. Sign that petition and get contact information for the Guard editors at GLAAD's release.

The HRC reported yesterday that since the controversy began, 2,200 supporters of the LGBT community have written to the Guard in protest.

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I'm not so sure that I agree with HRC on this one. True Arkansas doesn't allow for gay marriage but does it allow for a business to refuse service without giving a reason? The reason I ask this is although the paper charges a fee to list the life partners of LGB and some Transsexual and Transgender identified people they don't outright refuse to. I'm concerned that rather than blame the state of Arkansas your shooting the messenger a messenger that might I remind you hasn't refused to cover the obituaries but instead simply asks a fee for doing it. Hope the paper doesn't decide to just refuse to print them now because of this.

This may not be an earth-shatteringly important story (except to the surviving partner of course), but the fact that the paper charges for listing same sex life partners (while Arkansas bans marriage equality), while opposite sex spouses can be listed for free, is discrimination. Plain and simple. And I'm glad it's being challenged.

Brad Bailey | June 30, 2011 12:30 AM

Lisa: GLAAD paid the $85 fee to re-issue the obituary, the money from which the Guard supposedly allowed Mr. James to donate to the charity of his choice. The corrected obit was never run.

Christopher | June 30, 2011 7:37 AM

Some people in our community criticize our organized political action groups, but you see - these are the things that they do ...they are important and they are personal to us, as a community. I wish those that have a problem with them would either join them and make a change from within or start their own.