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From the Ottawa-Carleton Regional Police Liaison Committee
for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Communities
How Responsible is the Media About Deep-Rooted, Outing Concerns?
by Carroll Holland,
Community Worker

THE outing fears that weigh heavily on lesbians, gays and transgendered individuals appear to be off the awareness radar screen of the average newsroom editor, judging from a discussion with an editor from the Ottawa Citizen at the January 17, 2000 meeting of the Liaison Committee.

The newspaper has a bias to publish regardless of consequences. It wouldn't have occurred to the newsroom that its coverage might be putting the victim in danger.
-Randy Boswell, Senior News Editor
Randy Boswell, Senior News Editor, spoke with the Committee to address concerns about the Citizen's coverage of an August 1999 shooting, including printing the victim's entire RSVP (personal) voice ad in an article entitled "Gunshot victim met shooter through ad.  Man says he was seeking 'fishing buddy', not homosexual partner."

Twenty-five committee members, including representatives of groups such as Pink Triangle Services and Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, plus police personnel such as the co-ordinator of the Victim Services Unit and the Director of Community Development, expressed concerns about victim safety.  Many also took issue with the Citizen for taking a sensationalist approach (printing the personal voice ad, emphasizing the victim's sexual orientation) instead of focusing on the crime.

Police personnel in the Hate Crime Section and the Partner Assault Section recognize that fear of being outed by the media prevents many victims of hate crimes and same-sex partner abuse from reporting incidents to the police.  Liaison Committee minutes document the loss of same-sex partner abuse victims who have accessed the system and then backed off in fear of being outed by the media during court proceedings.

Beth Lynch, coordinator of the Victim Services Unit, asked if the Citizen has policy guidelines to apply in situations where identification could endanger a victim.

"The newspaper has a bias to publish regardless of consequences.  It wouldn't have occurred to the newsroom that its coverage might be putting the victim in danger," Randy replied.

The historical framework for queer community crime prevention work in Ottawa-Carleton includes the suicide of an Ottawa man on March 17, 1975; the 34-year-old man, who worked for the government, jumped from the roof of an apartment building after the media published information about him in connection with charges stemming from a morality squad investigation when the age of consent for gay men was 21, compared to 14 for heterosexuals.

Action outcomes:

  • The Liaison Committee will invite members of the Citizen editorial board to attend a Liaison Committee meeting to discuss documented examples of outing concerns as a first step in addressing this public policy concern;
  • The Liaison Committee will generate a list of community contacts, to be available to every reporter in the newsroom;
  • Randy will e-mail the list to all reporters (and editors), with a covering letter summarizing concerns raised at the meeting and the need to use the list to obtain a balanced perspective;
  • Randy will also add the contact list to the Citizen's main contact list;
  • Randy to return for a meeting in three months, to report back on how the personal ad was obtained.

The next Liaison Committee meeting, the annual information exchange one, is Monday March 20, 2000.  The bilingual open meeting will be held in the training room at the Hull Police Service at 777 Blvd. de la Carriere in Hull.  To get there from Ottawa, take the MacDonald-Cartier Bridge, exit at Blvd. du Casino, and turn left at the Casino light onto Carriere.