Way back when during my waning days at UCLA, not long after I came out, the Daily Bruin did something unconscionable. Buried in the paper appeared a story about the campus police arresting some guys cruising each other in a men’s room. And the paper printed their names. I was mortified. And livid.
With youthful, righteous indignation, I marched to Kerckhoff Hall and raised hell in the Daily Bruin’s office. I found the reporter who wrote the story and called him on it. “This type of shit ruins lives!” I said. Even freshly out of the closet, I knew of this history. In large cities and small towns, countless gay and bisexual men lived in fear of discovery. In a bar, in a bathhouse, in a park, anywhere, police could arrest them and the papers could print their names. They printed their names as a form of public shaming, a latter day scarlet lettering. The men often lost their jobs and families. Some had to move out of town. Some ended up taking their own lives. Society purposely destroyed these men, because of their same-sex attractions.
And before going on an indignant tangent and claiming that “well, no one can have sex in public” just stop and have a seat. I had two friends admit that they had sex in classrooms and even a phone booth on campus. Straight folks having sex in public get shooed away, maybe a ticket. They don’t get their names published in the paper for the purposes of a public shaming.
That the Bruin would do this in 1989 dumbfounded me. Why? The reporter stubbornly insisted that they just reported crimes that happen, and that’s that. His lack of social consciousness was appalling, but not uncommon at that time. We had a president who ignored AIDS and only begrudgingly admitted its existence. We had anti-sodomy laws on the books in many states. We had nothing resembling domestic partnerships, much less marriage. We had a very homophobic and queer ignorant society. On October 11, 1987, hundreds of thousands of LGBTQ folks and their straight allies marched in Washington, DC, for equality and freedom and the mainstream press said NOTHING. I only knew about it because I knew folks who went. That event helped to propel me out of the closet.
Overall, invisibility still overtook visibility, in ways big and small.
It’s 2016 now. We don’t live in that world anymore. We don’t live in a perfect world, to be sure. Folks getting married Sunday can still lose their jobs or rented housing Monday, because many states lack employment and housing protections for LGBTQ folks. But visibility today is lightyears ahead from the late 80s.
So in this enlightened world that we live in, why did the Daily Beast feel the need to publish a story about a straight journalist pretending to be gay, picking up athletes via Grindr, then writing about his experience? Why, indeed.
The writer, Nico Hines, thought it would be funny (HA HA!) to explore the horniness of athletes competing during the Olympic games in Rio. He largely chose to write about those looking for same sex contact, claiming that he received better pickings with Grindr. (HA HA!) Of course, he immediately inoculated himself by stating that he has a wife and child. (HA HA!)
Two problems. I find the very premise of his story patronizing and insulting. Queers are not zoo animals to be looked at and mocked. And hyper-healthy teens and 20-somethings have large sex drives. Big deal. It’s a non-story. Move on.
Most horrifically, however, the story as it originally appeared outed people. Hines gave enough basic info about the athletes he encountered — or more accurately entrapped — that, as Mark Joseph Stern at Slate notes, “anyone with basic Google skills [could] uncover their identities.” Some of these athletes come from highly oppressive counties that treat homosexuality as a crime. Hines’s article literally put their lives in danger. They could end up homeless after family rejection. They could lose their jobs, their homes, or even their lives in acts of state-sponsored sadism.
First Daily Beast defended the story and condensed it by removing parts that could identify any of the athletes. Eventually, they took it down altogether and apologized. Nico Hines, meanwhile, has yet to say anything about the controversy.
Hines’s pathetic piece mimicked the outing/shaming newspaper articles of old. It matters not that he wrote it with supposed humorous intent. No one is laughing. His article could have already done lasting damage. Why couldn’t he have instead written about the plight of LGBTQ athletes from oppressive countries? Such a story, done properly, could have been moving and informative. Instead, he went for cheap thrills. #Fail
As with the Daily Bruin story of many years ago, I took this story and its consequences very personally. Because I belong to the tribe of folks who first explored their sexuality in public restrooms. I lived a horrible life where I had strong same-sex attractions, but denied having them, even with myself. Like many who live or have lived such a life, I sought refuge in the anonymity of tearooms. When I did have sex, I immediately felt shame, disgust, and self-loathing. But while living in shame and hiding, at least I was not outed. I found peace with myself and came out in my own sweet time. Everyone should have that right.
Had Hines written his piece 30 years ago, there would have been outrage, but it would have been ignored by the larger, non-queer community. That this article received the quick, severe, and universal backlash it deserved heartens me. But it never ever should have existed in the first place.