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Top Stories This Week in the Chronicle.
January 7, 2005

Obituaries 'de-gayed' the lives of Sontag and White

by Anthony Glassman

New York City--Two celebrity deaths at the end of 2004 illustrated the ease with which the mainstream press sweeps LGBT issues under the rug.

Author Susan Sontag died on December 28 of leukemia at the age of 71. Obituaries often mentioned her ex-husband, from whom she was divorced in 1958. However, two of the largest papers in the nation, the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times, both neglected to mention her relationships with prominent female artists, including playwright Maria Irene Fornes, choreographer Lucinda Childs and photographer Annie Liebovitz.

Sontag referred to herself as bisexual in the New Yorker magazine, for whom she wrote for three decades, yet her sexual orientation and other cogent details of her life were ignored by most obituaries. (The two Times obituaries also appeared in Ohio papers.)

The New York Daily News noted that Liebovitz was her �longtime companion,� but for the most part, it was left to LGBT news sources to discuss her love life after 1958.

The heterosexualizing of her obituaries was ironic, as well, since one of her best-known essays was �Notes on Camp,� an in-depth look at the mainly urban, mostly gay aesthetic that was �serious about the frivolous, frivolous about the serious.�

Steve Koval, a correspondent with Window Media, the company that owns the Washington Blade and other LGBT papers, noted, �Writer Edmund White . . . thought he understood why she would not want to come out. She identified strongly with the French universalist tradition, in which �one is first and foremost a citizen, and to put any finer point on it is to lose the freedom to define oneself�.�

Footballer�s anti-gay crusade ignored

On the flip side of the coin, obituaries and television memorials for Reggie White, the former football player who died on December 26 at age 43, completely glossed over his history of making homophobic and racially insensitive remarks.

White, who struggled with the respiratory ailments of sarcoidosis and sleep apnea,� was a minister when he was not on the football field. He made an infamous speech before the Wisconsin legislature in 1999.

�I don�t regret anything I said,� White noted on March 27, 1999, two days after the speech. �I�m not going to back off what I know God has put in my heart to share.�

White was invited to speak to the legislature about a recent trip to Israel he had undertaken and his work with inner city youth. Instead, he went on for an hour talking about races working together, using offensive stereotypes about every race, including his own, and bashing gays.

During his time on the floor, he said that blacks �like to dance,� white people �know how to tap into money,� Latinos �can put 20, 30 people in one home,� Asians �can turn a television into a watch� and Native Americans were good at �sneaking up on people,� which is why they weren�t enslaved by white people.

White claimed he was indicating the various races� and ethnic groups� �gifts,� illustrating that together, they comprise �a complete image of God.�

During the same speech, he said, �People from all different ethnic backgrounds live in this [gay] lifestyle. But people from all different ethnic backgrounds also are liars and cheaters and malicious and back-stabbing. Homosexuals are trying to compare their plight with the plight of black people. In the process of history, homosexuals have never been castrated. Millions of them never died. Homosexuality is a decision, it�s not a race.�

His wife later told ABC�s news magazine show 20/20 the CBS would not hire White as a commentator because the network was �too scared of the sodomite community.�

He also appeared in his Green Bay Packers uniform in religious right anti-gay advertisements.

Richard Sandomir of the New York Times reported on a panel discussion on ESPN in which reporter Andrea Kremer said that White told her that his remarks before the Wisconsin legislature �was one of the biggest regrets he had,� and that he was studying Hebrew to better understand what the Bible says.

According to Sandomir, ESPN�s coverage of White�s death was the only on-air mention of White�s comments, and that CBS, Fox and ABC all �remembered him as a great football player but an even greater man, and a man loved by everyone.�

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