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Some readers' intolerance is offensive to me

August 02, 2004|by LIZ THOMPSON

There are times I hate being right.

When we published two stories last Sunday about a local gay man and his role in a same-sex marriage lawsuit, I predicted some readers would find the stories offensive.

They did.

"No one wants to read stuff like that, especially on the front page," one caller to Mail Call said. For readers of The Morning Herald who may not be familiar with it, Mail Call is a feature in our afternoon paper, The Daily Mail. Readers can call in and leave a taped message. Most of those messages are transcribed and printed in the afternoon paper.

I say "most" because not all of the messages make it into print. Some - especially on the issue of this story - have been too hateful to ever see the light of day.

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Here's a sampling of what did make it in:

"The Herald-Mail must be hard up for stories when they have to write two main articles about the lifestyle of a gay person," one caller said.

For the record, the stories were about John Lestitian, a Hagerstown resident who is one of 19 plaintiffs in a suit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union against five Maryland circuit court clerks who "denied or would have denied" marriage licenses to same-sex couples. In the two stories published in The Herald-Mail on July 25, Lestitian talked about why he was involved in the lawsuit and what it was like to lose a partner and have no rights.

"So what if he doesn't have any rights to his lover's property? He was a friend. He isn't entitled to any of his property," one caller said.

Lestitian and his partner, Jim Bradley, were together for 13 years. I think that qualifies as more than "a friend."

I know a number of heterosexual couples who didn't stay together a fraction of that time. In fact, I know of a number of heterosexual people who have had multiple marriages in that time.

When Bradley died, Lestitian was denied the rights of survivorship that I, as a wife, know I would have if my husband suddenly died.

"He's trying to promote his lifestyle as normal and acceptable and it's not, in my opinion," another caller said.

I never had the sense Lestitian was trying to "promote" his lifestyle. Rather, I thought he was trying to explain to people what it is like to be gay and not have the same basic protections that heterosexual couples have.

Another caller to Mail Call said: "What are our teenagers going to think? They're not going to know which way they're going."

I wasn't sure what this caller was trying to warn against. I sincerely hope the caller was not suggesting that teenagers would become homosexuals from reading two newspaper stories.

Some people were offended by the stories. I'm offended by the intolerance.

Every single person I work with is different. None of them is like me.

In some cases, the differences are minor and almost unnoticeable. In other cases, they may be extreme. We are different ages, different colors, different genders, have different religious backgrounds and, yes, have different sexual orientations.

Don't wish for a world of people who look exactly like you with opinions that match yours. Don't wish for a world where people are not tolerated and anyone who wavers from the "normal" is shunned.

Lestitian wasn't seeking converts. He wasn't asking people to agree with him. He was hoping, I think, that people would try to understand.

The good news is, I believe most people did.




Liz Thompson is city editor of The Herald-Mail. She may be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 7682, or by e-mail at lizt@herald-mail.com.

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