Make no mistake, the Huffington Post does post content that is friendly toward the LGBT community. We’ve had our own blog posts featured there many times in the past. I don’t want the banality of this article to distract from two other pieces Tuesday - transgender advocate Ja'briel Walthour’s impactful essay on how we can work to end violence against transgender women of color, and former Baylor University professor Mark Osler’s call for his ex-employer to send a more positive message to its LGBT students.
But if you look over to the right just a bit from Osler’s column, you’ll find this piece by Amanda Fairbanks titled Sex For Tuition: Gay Students Using 'Sugar Daddies' To Pay Off Loan Debt.
In it, Fairbanks and her interview subjects happily play into several alarming and potentially dangerous stereotypes about the LGBT community – completely unchallenged.
The author quotes someone as saying these gay students “used the money to afford the extravagant and often lavish gay lifestyle,” while another said, “In the gay scene, all you really have is your age or your money.” Fairbanks herself writes, “Unlike in the straight world, many say they find working as an escort on the gay scene to be an accepted, even applauded practice.” Another person tells her, “The gay community were really the first to embrace the sugar lifestyle, even more so than the straight community.” She interviewed yet another person who told her that he “finds the gay culture more accepting of one-night stands and casual relationships.”
The “gay culture.”
The “gay scene.”
The “extravagant and often lavish gay lifestyle.”
The community embraces the “sugar lifestyle.”
These are not phrases that should appear in any piece of responsible journalism (that’s not debunking them as myths) let alone one published by an outlet that frequently publishes positive and affirming stories about the true diversity of the LGBT community. But this article doesn’t stop at just presenting the “gay scene” as a single-minded monolith – it also claims that this gay monolith supports prostitution.
Let us be clear.
These are the false stereotypes put forth by the staunchest opponents of marriage equality. These are the false stereotypes that were used as rationalization for "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and they're the false stereotypes that anti-gay activists used to fight against its repeal. These are the false stereotypes responsible for the bans on domestic partnership and civil union recognition. These are the false stereotypes put forth as reasons why gay and lesbian couples shouldn’t be allowed to adopt children.
These are the false stereotypes that drive parents to send their children to so-called “conversion therapy” -- So that their kids don’t end up a part of this ‘scene.’
It may be that a piece of responsible journalism could have come out of the idea for this story somehow, but this certainly isn’t it.
We expressed our concern to the Huffington Post. AOL Huffington Post VP of Communications, Mario Ruiz, told us:
Our coverage of students who sell themselves to manage their college debt has aimed to be sympathetic to their plight -- not sensationalistic. But based on our reporting, we found that young women and young gays are part of communities that often view the matter differently. We found that for many gay men, the use of escort services and the exchange of money for sex appear to carry less of a stigma, according to extensive interviews with gay escorts and members of the gay community.
Did Fairbanks interview members of the “gay community” who are parents? Who are teachers? Who have been together with their partners for decades upon decades? Who go to church regularly? Who are WOMEN? Who embody the diversity of backgrounds and experiences that would truly represent the “gay community”?
Of course she didn’t.
This version of the “gay community” is actually a tiny microcosm of gay America, in which she found people and opinions that apparently matched with the stereotypes Fairbanks has been fed her whole life about the “gay scene.” She felt no need to challenge these stereotypes, either in her interview subjects or herself.
"Arianna Huffington once envisioned her site as the newspaper of the future but this careless reporting makes one wonder if the new incarnation of the Huffington Post has the journalistic legs to sustain itself in the long run,” said Herndon Graddick, Senior Director of Programs at GLAAD. “With the Huffington Post editorial team standing behind an article riddled with such shoddy journalism and tired old stereotypes, it is clear that actual reporting comes second to exploitive ploys as a cheap effort to boost traffic numbers."
It’s not the first time Huffington Post has peddled these stereotypes either.
Take a look at this screenshot from a June article about marriage equality.
This is the type of stereotyped editorializing one would expect from the Drudge Report. Perhaps this pairing of headline and image is a reflection of a lack of understanding of the diversity of the LGBT community, or perhaps the editor intends for the receiver of the headline and image to draw their own conclusion. Or perhaps the “high click, low (or no) pay” strategy of the site just means no one is thinking about any of it.
Welcome to the new Huffington Post.
Is this indicative of a larger problem at the outlet, since it was bought by AOL? Is the importance of “accurately portraying the LGBT community” the latest victim of a media strategy that emphasizes page views above all else? We can’t accept this. We won’t let the LGBT community be just another tool used to drive traffic to a website that purports to be our ally.
Please take action to let the Huffington Post know that they should not stand behind this careless and derogatory approach to journalism. Shame on them for advancing a notion that, "unlike the straight world," the LGBT community "applauds" young people for engaging in prostitution. The Huffington Post should apologize for this story and retract it immediately.