In the middle of July, television and print media outlets in Tulsa, Oklahoma covered the story of an East Tulsa couple whose home and vehicle were targeted because of their sexual orientation. Though Oklahoma’s hate crimes law does not include sexual orientation or gender identity, the first round of coverage in the Tulsa World and the local FOX affiliate FOX 23 demonstrated inequity within the current statue. In addition to vandalism, the perpetrator(s) warned Robert Stotler and his partner that “I’ll be back” after setting their truck on fire and spray painting “Gay Must Go” and “Gay Go Away” on both their home and vehicle.
Outlets investigated the number of hate crimes targeting gay people each year, and determined that several of such crimes go unreported. Reporters allowed community leaders to correct false claims that hate crimes statutes infringe on free speech. Further, widespread coverage of Stotler’s crime generated local concern, and over 100 residents attended a forum on hate-crimes legislation hosted by the statewide advocacy group Oklahomans for Equality. Though legislators made five unsuccessful attempts to include orientation in the state statute during the last general session, sponsoring legislators joined this forum signaling they wouldn’t give up, and garnered further media coveragethat functions to broaden support for the issue.
When media focus on the stories of victims of harassment or violence, audiences personally relate to the injustices that affect the security of their local communities. Journalists’ accurate, detailed and compassionate exploration of this crime educated audiences and laid the groundwork needed for widespread change. Though these issues must ultimately be resolved legislatively, media attention to the lack of protection for gay citizens ensures that constituents are educated on current problems before lawmakers return to the capitol.
Paul Karr is Director of Media Field Strategy.
(Photo credit: Aram Boghosian/Tulsa World)