Learning to Read
Earlier this month, the story of Constance McMillen caught the nation’s attention when her attempt to bring a same-sex date to her prom led to the Itawamba County School District’s decision to cancel the entire prom. However, buried in the media that same week was the story of Air Force sergeant Jene Newsome. Newsome served nine years in the military and never revealed her sexual orientation to anyone. During a police search on issues relating to her wife, the local police alerted the Air Force base, where Newsome worked, after discovering that she was in a same-sex relationship. As a result, the outing led to her ‘honorable discharge’ and Newsome was let go by the military.
The media coverage on this particular incident was especially faint because this was not the picture-perfect-repeal-Don’t-Ask-Don’t-Tell story. The situation involved a nasty investigation– an arrest warrant of a same-sex partner, wanted for theft charges in Alaska, and whose spouse happens to serve in the military. It is troubling that this story failed to gain much traction both in the mainstream and LGBT media, especially at a time when the Pentagon moving towards finally reviewing its DADT policy.
Of course, there are always two sides to a tale: the Rapid City Police Department argues that Jene Newsome was harboring a fugitive and an Iowa marriage license obtained by Newsome and her wife that was on display in their kitchen proved both women’s residency. As part of the investigation, the police followed its own internal policy in turning over the relationship status information over to the base. However, Newsome argues that the police department reported her relationship status to her superiors out of her refusal to cooperate with the police by not going home right away and assisting with their searches.
While the situation McMillen and Newsome faced both highlight the discrimination LGBT community continues to confront today, the community must also remain vigilant of the media’s coverage on the stories that are coming out of our community. Newsome’s story deserves just as much attention as McMillen’s did, especially when the Pentagon and our national leaders are in the process of reviewing and possibly repealing DADT policy. Her story begs an important question: “Can a third-party’s outing of a military personnel lead to his or her eventual discharge?” Third-party’s outing is especially heinous; it is unthinkable that people’s freedom to love their same-sex partner can be used as leverage or even blackmail at their job.
If it was not for the Associated Press’ coverage, the injustice Newsome faced would have gone virtually unnoticed. A quick news search online shows that only a few hundred articles even mentioned Jene Newsome’s story and most of the articles were the same syndicates from Associated Press. On the other hand, McMillen’s attempt to achieve a fairytale ending to her high school career, received international media attention and even a guest spot on the Ellen Degeneres Show. With tools such as Facebook, Twitter, and other social networking sites, the LGBT community must continue to share those stories of injustice that are often overlooked by media. In order to achieve eventual equality, we must also continue be critical of the media’s reporting on such stories and ask ourselves and those in leadership positions: “what happened to the people in these stories? What can I and the LGBT community do about it?” We need to learn how to read.
Alice Tech/Newsletter Committee