“Gays in the Military – The Debate over Lifting the Ban”

DIGNITY & RESPECT (2001) is a U.S. Army training guide on the homosexual conduct policy. PROBLEMS DEALT WITH:

 

In 1992, presidential candidate Bill Clinton specifically addressed gays and lesbians in his campaign speeches and made the promise to lift the ban that prevented homosexuals from serving in the U.S. military once he would be elected into office. Unfortunately, he didn’t anticipate the strong opposition that existed towards this issue. Due to this strong opposition, once, elected into office he couldn’t keep his promise. Clinton was forced to modify his proposal and find a compromise that didn’t necessarily satisfy everyone. “Under the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, military officials wouldn’t ask new recruits about their sexual orientation , which meant that gay soldiers would be allowed to serve as long as they didn’t tell anyone in the armed forces about their sexuality(Streitmatter, 65).

As pointed out by Streitmatter, the issue was discussed all over the news. Some of the messages sent were positive others rather negative. More specifically, two of the negative messages were that “gay men are sexual predators, thereby making it unsafe for straight soldiers to be anywhere near them”, and secondly “the presence of gay men in the military was depicted as being disruptive in so many ways that it would be impossible for the armed forces, if their ranks were officially opened to homosexuals, to function effectively” (Streitmatter, 66). Two positive messages conveyed by the media were that “discrimination against gays is unacceptable” and that “gay people can be exemplary soldiers” (Streitmatter, 66). In the following we look at some specific examples.

Gay Men Are Sexual Predators and Disruptive for the Military

Many newspapers joined the debate on lifiting the ban of homosexuals in the military and conveyed rather negative messages. For instance, several conservative news outlets picked up the stereotypes that were coined in the newspaper articles of the 1950s that depicted gay men as being very sexual, unable to controle their sexual desires, a danger for young boys and as being “sexual predators” in general. Below is an excerpt of an article that appeared in the conservative Chicago Tribune newspaper on January 2,1993. The article is titled “A Battle for the Military’s Soul“.

“… The U.S. military is bracing itself for perhaps the most important fight of its history. I contend that if we lose this, American Desert Storm sharpness combat readiness and ethical soul will be dulled forever.

The fight is about President-elect Bill Clinton’s campaign promise to lift the military’s 50-year ban on homosexuals. The military and its conservative supporters have drawn a line in the moral sand. If the ban is lifted, many professional soldiers and leaders will leave, and recruitment will drop through the safety net

…..But granting legal status and access to the military to homosexuals who choose their lifestyle doesn’t wash with soldiers. Homosexuality is a choice. Research to prove otherwise is as deeply flawed as it is highly touted. If that were not the case, groups like Exodus International and Regeneration would not have helped thousands of former homosexuals return to their normal, heterosexual lifestyles.” (Maginnis, 1993).

I was really shocked when reading this article. The article is only 14 years old, but it depicts homosexuality as being a “danger” for society, unnatural and as being a personal choice people make. The article depicts homosexuality as some sort of “sickness” that can and should be “healed”. The article goes on stating that “the vast majority of homosexuals are highly promiscious” and hence reinforces many of the stereotypes mentioned above (Magininnis, 1993).

In addition to the newspaper coverage on the issue, TV news also picked up the story. As pointed out by Streitmatter, the TV coverage also reinforced lots of existing stereotypes. For instance, when covering stories about homosexuals in the military and lifitng the ban, some of the major news programs showed soldiers walking out of the communal shower rooms.

While the images of young men wearing nothing but towels – their bare chests and legs exposed – were more graphically interesting than other shots, they also reinforced  the idea of gay men being obsessed with sexual pursuits” (Streitmatter, 67).

Other newspaper articles and TV news programms went on talking about the idea that it would be very disruptive for military operations to allow homosexuals in the military. Several sources made it clear, that they consider it to be very problematic to have straight soldiers and homosexual soldiers living together in crowded barracks, sharing the shower rooms and living so close together. Below is an excerpt from an editorial titled “Keep the Military’s Homosexual Ban” that was published in the Wall Street Journal in the heat of the debate.

Service members live together, shower together, sleep in cramped quarters together, and – in an emergency – share blood with one another. There is no way that such arragements would not be severly compromised by the presence of homosexuals” (Streitmatter, 68).

Several interviews and comments by active military members where used in these articles to reinforce the idea that homosexuals should not be in the military because it is “unnatural” and would scare away straight soldiers.

Discrimination against Gays is unacceptable and Gay People Can be Exemplary Soldiers

More liberal newspapers, such as the New York Times and the Los Angels Times, emphasized in their coverage on the issue that they consider the discrimination against homosexuals in the military as unacceptable. Their coverage seems much more plausible. For instance, the New York Times emphasized in several articles that homosexuality is not a choice but a matter of genetics (Streitmatter, 69).  An article in USA Today looked at all the other countries world-wide that allow homosexuals to serve in the military, with the Netherlands and Germany being two of them. “Give each man or woman who wants to serve a chance” (Streitmatter, 69).  Several news outlets that supported the cause made it clear that U.S. citizens should not be punished for who they are. Everyone in the United States should be able to join the armed forces and not be discriminated based on sexual orientation.

Picture of Margarethe Cammermeyer

 

In addition, several articles pointed out that homosexuals can certainly be exemplary and good soldiers. The picture above shows Margarethe Cammermeyer who served in the US military for 27 years and had the rank of a colonel, when she was discharged for being a lesbian. Throughout her military career, Cammermeyer was honored for her exemplary work as a military nurse and received several medals. When Cammermeyer went public with her story, the media started also to slowly incorporate the stories of lesbians in the military in their coverage on the issue. For a long time, the coverage only focused on gay men.

I thought it was very interesting to find out more about the debate on lifting the ban of homosexuals in the military. Conservative and liberal newspapers depicted the stories in two very distinguished ways. I was a little bit shocked when I noticed how hostile several conservative newspapers were towards homosexuals. They used lots of stereotype sin their articles and depicted homosexuals as a threat to society and national security. As mentioned above, one article even mentions that homosexuality is a choice and that they should be “healed” from it.  In addition, I was also very sad to find out how many great and exemplary soldiers, such as Margarethe Cammermeyer, were discharged from the military because they talked about their sexual orientation.

For my blog post next week, I will take a closer look at the development of the DADT policy and the media coverage on the issue.

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Maginnis, R. L. (1993, January 2). ChicagoTribune.com. Retrieved March 11, 2011, from http://articles.chicagotribune.com/1993-01-02/news/9304100124_1_homosexuals-gays-exodus-international

LESBIAN COLONEL REMOVED BY GUARD :Official Reluctance Attends Discharge of Army Officer in Washington State. (1992, May 29). New York Times (1923-Current file),A16.  Retrieved March 11, 2011, from ProQuest Historical Newspapers The New York Times (1851 – 2007). (Document ID: 116167305).

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“Aids Enters the News – Reporting on the ‘Gay Plague'”

(New York Times article from 1981)

In the summer of 1981, the country’s major newspapers and magazine started covering stories about a “mysterious disease” that struck especially members of the homosexual community, gay men in particular. The mysterious disease which was unknown until that time was AIDS.

Published in the New York Times on July 3, 1981.

Gay Plague“; “Started with Gays  – Mysterious Fever Now an Epidemic“; ……..”A Pneumonia that Strikes Gay Men“; ………………………”The Mysterious and Deadly Disease Called AIDS May Be the Public-Health Thrat of the Century” ……………….”A mysterious , often fatal illness is breaking out in epidemic proportions among young homosexual men” (Streitmatter, pp.50- 56).

 

 
 
Above are only a few of the headlines that appeared in various U.S. newspapers and magazines beginning in the summer of 1981. Most stories made it very clear that the majority of the infected people were gay men. Newspapers even referred to the disease as “gay plague” (Streitmatter, 50). Many stories, even though not all of them, depicted gay men in a negative light and helped to foster negative stereotypes once again. For instance, lots of the articles made connections between homosexuality and promiscuity. “Most cases involve homosexual men who have had multiple and frequent sexual encounters with different partners, as many as 10 sexual encounters each night up to four times a week” (Streitmatter, 54). According to another article that was published in the prestigious New York Times, “the median number of lifetime male sexual partners for homosexual men who did not have the syndrome was 524, while  the comparable figure for men who had the syndrome was 1,160” (Streitmatter, 54). These numbers are alarmingly high and made me wonder where exactly the New York Times got these numbers from. Personally, I do not believe that those numbers were an accurate representation of the average homosexual man. Certainly, articles like the one cited above sent a very clear message cocnerning gay men to its readers.

 

…”Homosexual AIDS patients had listed more than 1,000 sex partners” (New York Magazin). ……………..”One thousand one hundred and sixty! That’s the median number of sexual partners the guys getting the disease have had. Can you believe that? One thousand one hundred and sixty! Good God!” (Rolling Stone)……… “For many homosexuals accustomed to having many partners, staying faithful to one lover is not an option” (Time Magazin). ….“The tradition in the gay community is that you have sex first, then talk” (Time Magazin).

 

As the New York Times was one of the most influential news outlets at that time, other newspapers and magazins soon covered similar stories. Above, I listed some of the headlines that foster the stereotype that homosexuals, gay men in particular, can’t live in committed relationships and are only interested in having sexual encounters with as many partners as possible.

“Even gay men who eluded the virus were suddenly shunned by their neighbors and co-workers, as perfectly healthy men  were routinely evicted from their apartments or fired from their jobs because a frightened American public  was taking desperate measures to distance itself from this deadly menace” (Streitmatter, 55).

Because there was not much known about AIDS and the way it spread during that time, the public started to become really scared of the virus. As gay men were among the majority of people diagnosed with the disease, a strong feeling of homophobia and fear of gay men started to develop in society. Gay men were discriminated against, as stated in the citation above, because people automatically assumed they could get the disease by simply being to close to homosexuals.

Personally, I thought it was very intriguing to learn more about the early news coverage about HIV/AIDS and how it relates to the coverage on homosexuals in the U.S. media. While reading several newspaper articles on the issue from 1981, it became apparent how scared the public was of this “new” disease. Because there was not much known about it during that time, people were looking for someone to blame, a scape goat. Even though not all articles depicted homosexuals in a negative light, lots of them did. For instance, by calling the disease “gay plague”, a clear and biased message was sent.

 
 
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Canadian Said to Have Had Key Role in Spread of AIDS. (1987, October 7). New York Times (1923-Current file),p. B7.  Retrieved March 3, 2011, from ProQuest Historical Newspapers The New York Times (1851 – 2007). (Document ID: 115017369).
 LAWRENCE K. ALTMAN.  (1981, July 3). RARE CANCER SEEN IN 41 HOMOSEXUALS :Outbreak Occurs Among Men in New York and California –8 Died Inside 2 Years First Appears in Spots Viral Infections Indicated. New York Times (1923-Current file),A20.  Retrieved March 4, 2011, from ProQuest Historical Newspapers The New York Times (1851 – 2007). (Document ID: 112083967).
 Other 6 — No Title. (1981, June 5). Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File),p. oc2.  Retrieved March 3, 2011, from ProQuest Historical Newspapers Los Angeles Times (1881 – 1987). (Document ID: 665212802).
 Robin Marantz Henig.  (1983, February 6). AIDS :A New Disease’s Deadly Odyssey. New York Times (1923-Current file),SM28.  Retrieved March 3, 2011, from ProQuest Historical Newspapers The New York Times (1851 – 2007). (Document ID: 283437902).
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“Homosexuality comes to the big screen”

The Boys in the Band – 1970

 The Story Line

It’s Harold’s birthday, and his closest friends throw him a party at Michael’s apartment. Among Harold’s presents is “Cowboy”, since Harold may have trouble finding a cute young man on his own now that he’s getting older. As the party progresses the self-deprecating humor of the group takes a nasty turn as the men become drunker. Climaxed by a cruel telephone “game” where each man must call someone and tell him (or her?) of his love for them” (imdb.com, 2011).

–> Here is a short clip from the movie http://www.imdb.com/video/screenplay/vi2507512345/

Why Am I interested in this movie?

I was very interested in watching this film, because Streitmatter talked about it in “From Perverts to Fab Five”, and I read about it in several online blogs. The film “The Boys in the Band”, which is based on an off-Broadway play written by Mart Cowley,  is considered to be a significant piece, because it was the first feature motion picture that was centered around homosexuals, more specifically a group of homosexual men in New York City in the 1970s. Before the movie’s release, there might have been films in which a homosexual character appeared, but there was no U.S. motion picture out there that exclusively focused on this issue. This was a very interesting time in society. Homosexuality was still not much talked about and it was still unacceptable for most homosexuals to openly come out to their friends and family. Most people thought of homosexuals as being a very small group in society only and didn’t know anything about this group. Hence, most people had their perceptions and ideas about gays and lesbians from the newspaper or magazine articles which I mentioned in my early posts. Now, with the release of “The Boys in the Band”, people were able to actually see homosexuals on the screen. That was a whole different experience, and certainly more real than simply reading a newspaper article. Hence, this movie played a very significant role in the shaping of the general attitude towards homosexuals in society

The New York Time announced that the popular play was turned into a movie.

 

So how did the movie depict the homosexual characters?

The most frequent criticism has been that Boys communicated – and consequently helped to popularize – denigrating messages about gay men” (Streitmatter, 34).

I really enjoyed watching the movie. In my opinion, the movie played a very important role, as it was the first feature motion picture centered on homosexuals. Nevertheless, I can definitely see how it includes many of the popular stereotypes towards homosexuals that existed in society during this time, and many of them still exist today. For instance, several of the characters are depicted as being overly emotional and depressed. The idea of homosexuals being too emotional was also one of the prejudices that were brought up in the newspaper articles of the 1950’s. In addition, the characters seem very unhappy, dissatisfied with their live and almost miserable. One of the characters, Harold, is even talking about his plan to kill himself with an overdose of pills.  Furthermore, another character, Donald, criticizes his parents for being overly protective and basically blames them for “turning him gay”. Certainly, this statement supported the popular belief that existed in society during that time, that homosexuality is a “choice”,  “not natural”, “a mental illness” and can be “healed”. According to Streitmatter, “it is highly regrettable that the media product that possessed such extraordinary potential  for informing the American public about this largely invisible segment of society was dominated by negative messages” (Streitmatter, 36).

Nevertheless, in my opinion, the movie also includes some positive messages about homosexuals. For instance, the group of gay men in the movie is very diverse. Hence, it shows the audience that homosexuals come from all walks of life and are not much different than everyone else in society. In addition, several characters in the movie seem just like the “average guy next door” and might inspire the audience to think about the idea that they might even personally know a homosexual but don’t even know about it.

I am not as pessimistic as Streitmatter. In my opinion, the movie was very significant because it brought homosexual characters to the big screen and the topic was more openly discussed  and visible in society. No doubt, the down side of the movie was that it fostered many negative stereotypes which were embedded in society for a long time already. Many of those stereotypes still exist today and can be seen in many new movies. Soon in this blog, I will start looking at some of the current movies and TV shows featuring homosexual characters.

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Friedkin, W. (Director). (1970). The Boys in The Band [Motion Picture].
Display Ad 371 — No Title. (1970, March 8). New York Times (1923-Current file),D12.  Retrieved March 2, 2011, from ProQuest Historical Newspapers The New York Times (1851 – 2007). (Document ID: 129343952).
 
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The 1960s – The news coverage on the “Stonewall Rebellion”

(Wikipedia.com, 2011).

This week, I would like to talk a little bit more about the early represenation of gays, lesbians and transgenders in U.S. media.

The picture above shows the ‘Stonewall Inn’, a  little bar/hotel in New York City in the 1960s, certainly not a very nice or special place. So you might ask yourself what this bar has to do with the topic of this blog? What does this place have to do with the representation of gays, lesbians and transgenders in the media?  Last week, I talked in great detail about the negative and vilifying representation of homosexuals in the country’s major newspapers in the 1950s. Unfortunately, this kind of coverage didn’t change and continued also up into the 1960s. On June 28, 1969 an important event happened at the Stonewall Inn that brought homosexuals on page one of every major newspaper of the country again. Unfortunately, nothing really changed about the coverage. Still, homosexuals had to deal with strong and very negative stereotypes. They were depicted as dangerous for children, violent, “sick’, unable to control their desires and so on.

So what happen at the ‘Stonewall Inn’ on June 28, 1969? 

– “The Stonewall Rebellion or Riots”.

The Stonewall riots were a series of spontaneous, violent demonstrations against a police raid that took place in the early morning hours of June 28, 1969, at the Stonewall Inn, in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of New York City. They are frequently cited as the first instance in American history when people in the homosexual community fought back against a government-sponsored system that persecuted sexual minorities, and they have become the defining event that marked the start of the gay rights movement in the United States and around the world” (Wikipedia.com, 2011).

Above an excerpt from a New York Times article on the Stonewall Rebellion published on June 29, 1969.

 

"Police force people back outside the Stonewall Inn as tensions escalate the morning of June 28, 1969" (Wikipedia, 2011)

 

How did the media’s coverage on the Stonewall Inn incident look like?

Streitmatter dedicated one chapter in his book “From Perverts to Fab’ Five” to the Stonewall Rebellion and the news coverage following the event. According to Streitmatter, many major newspapers of the time such as the New York Times or New York Daily News depicted homosexuals in a very negative light as mentioned above. Their coverage was not very objective, very sensational and resembled the early yellow journalism.

“One media historian has said of the paper’s account: ‘Written in an entertaining and dramatic fashion, the story evoked the days of yellow journalism, when newspapers put a premium on telling a story rather than finding the facts  – or providing  the truth'” (Streitmatter, 24).

Similar to the coverage in the 1950s, many newspapers still commonly referred to homosexuals as  “queers”, “faggots” or “queens”, just to name a few of the derogatory terms used (Streitmatter, 19). For instance, when reporting on the Stonewall Inn incident, the Village voice newspaper referred to the riot as “fag follies” and the homosexuals involved as “forces of faggotry”(Streitmatter, 19). Furthemore, the New York Daily News titled the first article after the incident “Homo Nest Raided, Queen Bees Are Stinging Mad” (Streitmatter, 19). Most coverage only mocked the individuals involved and presented them according to common stereotypes of the time, instead of featuring objective stories on the event.

As Streitmatter points out, one development of the Stonewall Inn incident and the news coverage around it was that some articles also started to mention lesbians and drag queens now , not exclusively gay men only anymore. This was the case because there were not only men in the crowd ,but also several women.  Another major change concerning the news coverage was that homosexuals were depicted as very dangerous and violent due to the Stonewall Inn incident. According to Streitmatter, one could almost say that homosexuals were perceived as “terrorists” in society (Streitmatter, 24).

Conclusion

After taking a close look at the news coverage on homosexuals in the 1960s and more specifically the coverage on the Stonewall Inn riots in 1969, I have to admit that I am very shocked. It was very intriguing to see how many of the major newspapers misrepresented the stories invloving homosexuals and commonly used derogatory terms when talking about the people involved. The coverage in the 1960s ,similar to the coverage in the 1950s, still seems very negative and certainly helped fostering negative stereotypes in society.

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4 POLICEMEN HURT IN ‘VILLAGE’ RAID :Melee Near Sheridan Square Follows Action at Bar. (1969, June 29). New York Times (1923-Current file),33.  Retrieved February 18, 2011, from ProQuest Historical Newspapers The New York Times (1851 – 2007). (Document ID: 89004281).
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The 1950s – “Homosexuals enter the news arena”

The 1950s – “”Homosexuals enter the news arena”  –> Stories about “queers”, “perverts” and “degenerates” … !

In the 1950s the country’s newspapers and magazines barely mentioned the issue of homosexuality at all. If they did mention it, only in small minor articles somewhere hidden within the newspapers and most definitely the articles had to do with some sort of crime or immoral behavior. Reading about the topic/ issue of homosexuality on the front page was unthinkable during that time. Homosexuality was not openly discussed and certainly unaccepted in a society dominated by very rigid gender roles. Hence, newspaper publishers were afraid of scaring their readers away if they would write about the issue.

Nevertheless, all of a sudden the issue got more media attention at the beginning of the 1950s, during a time in the U.S. coined by the Second Red Scare, when a certain government official talked about an alleged connection between homosexual government employees and communism during a hearing of the U.S. Senate.

The argument went kind of like this: “homosexuals are perverts à perverts can’t be trusted à they must be communists à hence, they are un-American, a security risk and we need to get rid of them” (Streitmatter, 11).

According to the government official questioned, 91 State department employees had been removed from their position because they were found to be untrustworthy and belonging to “the shady category”. When he was asked to clarify what exactly he meant by that term, he said that “they were homosexuals” (Streitmatter, 6). The morning after the hearing, the comment made during the hearing received lots of media attention. “The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and Washington Times-Herald, the most influential newspaper in the nation’s capital at the time, all placed the story on page one” (Streitmatter, 9). The common argument was that homosexuals are not able to work in government positions because they are “emotionally unstable” and “morally corrupt”, which makes them an easy target for the “enemy”. This time of American history was dominated by great fear of communism and people were looking for scapegoats.

After this event, the coverage on homosexuality continued to be very negative. As Streitmatter mentioned in his book “From Perverts to ‘Fab Five’”, the nation’s leading newspapers and magazines depicted homosexuals in a very negative light. For instance, the prestigious New York Times commonly used terms such as, “perverts”, “deviates” or “degenerates” when talking about homosexuals in several articles. As a result other newspapers picked up the same mood and attitude towards homosexuality. “The hundreds of newspapers published in the United States look to the most highly respected dailies for guidance on what topics to report on, as well as what approach to take in dealing with those topics” (Streitmatter, 9).

For instance, 2 of the headlines in the New York Times in 1950 read:

–  “Perverts Called Government Peril”

– “Inquiry by Senate on Perverts asked – Hill and Wherry Study Hears There are 3,500 Deviates in Government agencies”

Hence, the mood towards homosexuality in society was pretty much set, by the use of derogatory terms in all those articles. Homosexuals in government positions were not only seen as easy targets for communist spies, but homosexuals in general were also openly depicted as very immoral and a great danger for the nation’s children because they are unable to control their sexual desire according to many articles.

As mentioned by Streitmatter, during the 1950s being a homosexual was not only condemned by U.S. society but also punishable and illegal:

“According to the laws in place in 1950, any man living in Washington, D.C., who had sexual contact with another man had committed an indecent act and would be punished with a $500 fine and six months in jail” (Streitmatter, 11).

In my eyes, this fact really points out the the vilification of homosexuals in society during that time of U.S. history and how little was known about homosexuality in general.

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In conclusion, Streitmatter poses a very intriguing question taking the popular saying “All publicity is good publicity, as long as an issue is talked about in the media” into consideration :

“The belief evolves from the argument that it is better for a particular topic to be talked about – even if it is criticized or portrayed in a negative light – than for a topic to be invisible” (Streitmatter, 16).

In my opinion, this is a very intriguing thought. Did homosexuals benefit from the early news coverage about homosexuality after all, even though it depicted them exclusively in a very negative light? Was the fact that the issue made it in the news at all, a “move forward” ?

According to  Lucretia Mott, an early women’s right advocate, “the press goes through three stages in regard to reforms; they first ridicule them, then report them with comment, and st last openly advocate them” (Streitmatter, 16).

Certainly, it will be interesting to examine the development on the media coverage on homosexuals in the years following the 1950s, which I will pay close attention to in the following couple of weeks.

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Special to THE NEW YORK TIMES.Special to THE NEW YORK TIMES..  (1950, April 19). PERVERTS CALLED GOVERNMENT PERIL :Gabrielson, G.O.P. Chief, Says They Are as Dangerous as Reds–Truman’s Trip Hit Gabrielson Warns Industry. New York Times (1923-Current file),25.  Retrieved February 11, 2011, from ProQuest Historical Newspapers The New York Times (1851 – 2007). (Document ID: 86432041).
By WILLIAM S. WHITE Special to THE NEW YORK TIMES..  (1950, May 20). INQUIRY BY SENATE ON PERVERTS ASKED :Hill and Wherry Study Hears There Are 3,500 Deviates in Government Agencies A Quick Guess,” He Says 12 “Whereases” Struck Out Finds Deviates Everywhere. New York Times (1923-Current file),p. 8.  Retrieved February 11, 2011, from ProQuest Historical Newspapers The New York Times (1851 – 2007). (Document ID: 113156266).
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Introduction

Hi everyone,

Let me start off by explaining the purpose and idea behind this blog briefly before I start talking about the actual issue.

What am I going to talk about? – The purpose and goal of this blog is to examine the representation of lesbians, gays and transgenders in the U.S  media from the past up until today.  I will take a close look at the way different media formats, such as newspaper articles, TV shows, books, as well as films portray lesbians, gays and transgenders and how this portrayal contributes to the images of and preconceptions towards lesbians, gays and transgenders in society. As a part of this investigation, I will shed light on the dramatic changes of the representation of gays, lesbians and transgenders in U.S. media that took place throughout the years.  

 

Why do I care? – I am a college student majoring in Mass Media and I decided to create this blog as part of an independent study project. As a Mass Media major, I am very interested in the uses of different media formats and their effects on the audience. I took a course that dealt with media representation of social class before and I was really intrigued by this subject. It was interesting to learn how the way certain social classes are depicted in the popular media can influence how they are viewed by society and foster prejudices and preconceptions. Now, I would like to take the knowledge I gained in this course and take it a step further by examining the representation of lesbians, gays and transgenders in the media, as I have a strong interest in social issues. I  am very excited to explore this issue more thoroughly and expect a very interesting  and exciting “journey”.

Streitmatter, R. (2009). From ‘Perverts’ to ‘Fab Fives’ – The Media’s Changing Depiction of Gay Men and Lesbians. New York and London: Routledge – Taylor and Francis Group.

I found many great books which are trying to shed light on this issue and I will be using a variety of different sources for this blog. One book I liked in particular and which I will be referring to a lot in this blog is the book From “Perverts” to “Fab Five”: The Media’s Changing Depiction of Gay Men and Lesbians by Rodger Streitmatter, a Professor and Senior Associate Dean in the School of Communication at American University in Washington, D.C. In From “Perverts” to “Fab Five” Streitmatter explores the changing depiction of gays and lesbians in the U.S. media within the last 50 years. As the title of the book indicates homosexuals used to be depicted and characterized by the media as “being weird” and “perverted”. In the past those terms were commonly used by the media when talking about gays and lesbians. Throughout his book Streitmatter explores four important questions:

 

  1. “What factors caused the media’s depiction of gay men to be    transformed so radically in a mere fifty years?”
  2. “What impact did that seismic shift have on the nation’s collective attitude toward people who are attracted to members of their own sex?”
  3. “Did the portrayal of lesbians follow the same route as that of gay men, or did the media treat gay women differently? If there was a difference, why?”
  4. “Finally, which genre of the media – journalism, film, or TV – has been the most effective in changing the public perception of gay people?” (Streitmatter, 2009).

 

As I will explore in this blog, the attitude towards gays and lesbians certainly changed within the last decades but it has been a bumpy ride with a lot of challenges and there is certainly still a lot of work to do. Next week, I will start off by looking at specific newspaper articles from the 1950’s and 1960’s talking about homosexuals and analyze their attitude towards homosexuals and the message they sent to their readers.

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