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Post Ombudsman Reports on Hero’s Orientation

Timothy Kincaid

March 30th, 2008

On the 22nd, the Washington Post ran a story on the death of a war hero omitting the fact that he was gay. We, among others, found that this did a disservice to Maj. Rogers.

Rogers had been very active in the efforts to overturn Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and I have little doubt that he would want his death to serve the same cause as his life.

Today Deborah Howell, the post’s ombbudsman wrote a column that clarified the process that went into striking this part of his life from the story. It reads as a tale of casual institutionalized heterosexism.

The reported knew of Maj. Rogers orientation and of his efforts to fight against DADT. She knew that he would want the world to know that gay men and women were fighting in Iraq with honor and dignity and giving their life for their country. The editorial staff said, “no”.

St. George first wrote a story that included his friends talking about his orientation; some at the paper felt that was the right thing to do. But the material was omitted when the story was published. Many editors discussed the issue, and it was “an agonizing decision,” one said. The decision ultimately was made by Executive Editor Len Downie, who said that there was no proof that Rogers was gay and no clear indication that, if he was, he wanted the information made public.

It is difficult to know what proof Downie required.

But within this story is, I believe, an illustration of how many heterosexuals view gay people.

Rogers’s cousin, Cathy Long of Ocala, Fla., said that she was the closest in the family to him. To her, “The Post did a wonderful job. Personally, as far as the family is concerned, we really didn’t know about this until after his death. It was in the back of our minds, but we didn’t discuss it.” She is glad The Post story did not say that he was gay. “I really feel Alan was a lot more than that.” She thought the Blade story was “self-serving whatever their cause is and that they’re trying to use Alan to do that.”

Shay Hill, his beneficiary and University of Florida roommate, said that he and Rogers were “like brothers” and that he knew Rogers was gay. “He worked to change the system from within. You don’t out yourself to make a point. Just because he’s gay should have no more relevance than I’m straight. It’s not fair to make a bigger deal out of this than it needs to be.”

Much was made that Rogers “didn’t have family”. Because to heterosexuals, decisions about life and death should be made by those with the same genes – or those linked by marriage (from which we are excluded). So a distant cousin – one Rogers didn’t feel comfortable discussing his life with – gets to decide that Rogers was “more than that”. And it matters little to her, or the straight college roommate or the straight editorial staff that the “self-serving cause” that the Blade was advocating is a cause that Rogers fought for.

Yet again straights get to decide that being gay is irrelevant and a bit of a dirty little secret. And those people that Rogers spent time with… well they are gay or socialized with gays so obviously they are just activists and their opinions can be dismissed. And the straights can hide behind “proof” and the notion that telling someone’s orientation somehow diminishes them.

Thank you Deborah Howell for giving dimension to Maj. Rogers’ life. Perhaps some day such exclusions will not require the help of an ombudsman.

(thank you to Jason Cianciotto for bringing this column to our attention and for giving his own testimony for his friend Maj. Alan Rogers)

Comments

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Ephilei
March 30th, 2008 | LINK

When a gay person commit a crime, suffer emotional problems, or do anything questionable, heterosexuals usually think that their sexual orientation is relevant. When they do something admiral, its not.

I’m trans and I do out myself to make points.

By the way, I watched The Martian Child last night after reading about it on the Box Bulletin. There was definitely a lost dimension in changing the main characters orientation. But even in liberal Hollywood it’s ok to make someone straight, but I don’t imagine their characters are changed to become gay for any reason (besides comic relief).

eric
March 31st, 2008 | LINK

I think his orientation should have been mentioned in light of the current DADT policy and his efforts to change them.

eric
March 31st, 2008 | LINK

otherwise it would not be necessary to single him out for being gay.

http://www.queersunited.blogspot.com

stanman
August 10th, 2008 | LINK

A very sad sad story. Brings tears to my eyes.

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