Talk with the Editor: Do news stories suggest gay stereotypes?

Updated 5/10/2012 7:16 AM

Last week, I wrote about a discussion editors here had about whether to identify a dean at Stevenson High School who resigned amid allegations that he had sent "inappropriate" text messages to an 18-year-old student.

You provided me with good feedback. Most commenters disagreed with our ultimate decision to identify him, and those sentiments certainly will be reflected in the newsroom debate the next time an issue like this comes up.

But there's one other aspect of the text-messaging story that wasn't debated in the newsroom and probably should have been.

The follow-up story about the inappropriate text messages from the male dean referred to the 18-year-old student as a "young man."

Here's a delicate question to ask: Does it matter that the student was male?

Would the text messages have been any more or less appropriate had they been sent to an 18-year-old female student? Isn't the student's age and the fact that he's a student what's important?

The press often reports this way. And for the most part, I don't think it dawns on many of us to even pause, to stop and talk about it.

Let me be clear: This was not a case of rape or sexual molestation. Not even a hint of anything like that.

But when newspapers do report on cases in which a man is accused of raping another man or a man is accused of raping a boy, the genders almost always are pointed out.

But is it necessary in every case to point that out? Isn't a rape a rape? Is the victim of a so-called "gay rape" any more devastated or any more violated than the victim of a heterosexual rape?

Reporting information is what we do. From that standpoint, there is an argument to be made for the distinction. And of course, the individual circumstances of a particular case may make the argument stronger or weaker.

But isn't there also an argument to be made that reporting this distinction subtly plays into our sexual stereotypes, that to some degree it may suggest that one kind or rape, or one kind of rapist, may be worse than another?

I'd like to know what you think. As always, please keep the discussion civil. I know that for a lot of people, this is an emotional issue, but let's make it a respectful conversation and debate. Thanks so much.

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