In 2010, friends of GLAAD Jay & Laura Phillips of Fayetteville, Arkansas, supported their son Will, who was 10 years old at the time, when he refused to stand and recite "The Pledge of Allegiance." His reason? The ideals enshrined in the concluding words of the pledge - "with liberty and justice for all" - are not yet realities in this country, specifically for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people. The story made national news headlines in late 2009, and on March 13, 2010, Will accepted the award for Outstanding TV Journalism Segment (of which he was the subject) at the 21st Annual GLAAD Media Awards in New York City.
Now Jay and Laura are the ones whose names are making headlines - for a Change.org petition they started in support of friends Cody Renegar and Thomas Staed, a loving and committed Arkansas gay couple who are planning to marry in June 2012. When the couple reached out to share the great news of their engagement with readers of the Northwest Arkansas Times , they were advised that their engagement announcement would not be printed. The paper justified this by reiterating that Arkansas is not yet a state that legally recognizes the marriages of loving and committed gay and lesbian couples.
Though that is indeed the case, GLAAD knows from our previous work, with papers such as the Dallas Morning News, that newspapers aren't obligated to discriminate against gay and lesbian couples even if located in a state that unfortunately still does. Case in point: even though marriage equality is not yet a reality in Texas, Dallas Morning News Publisher James M. Moroney III announced on July 1, 2011 that the newspaper (Texas' second largest) would begin to print the wedding announcements of gay and lesbian couples in the paper's "Weddings" section. Of the paper's decision to make their wedding announcements policy fully inclusive, Moroney said simply, "[It was] the right thing to do." The paper quickly followed through with their decision on July 18, 2011 when they printed the wedding announcement of longtime partners Mark Reed-Walkup & Dante Walkup.
In a nutshell, the Northwest Arkansas Times' excuse is just that - an excuse.
As do all papers, the Northwest Arkansas Times has an important choice to make here. The paper's leaders can sit idly by while they wait for Arkansas to catch up with the strides being made toward equality in this country OR they can help Arkansas to get there more quickly by setting an example that discrimination has no place in The Natural State.
In 2008, the paper went with the latter, better choice, when they responded favorably to our Announcing Equality survey. At that time, the paper responded to us by saying YES, they were willing to print the wedding announcements of gay and lesbian couples. (They also indicated at the time that they had not printed an announcement in the past.) Clearly something changed between now and then, a move that has set the paper back rather than move it forward.
In a conversation with Rusty Turner, the publisher/editor of the Northwest Arkansas Times, GLAAD was reminded of at least two more occasions in which the paper was a leader in inclusive coverage. Turner reminded us that the paper editorialized in opposition to the proposed Arkansas constitutional ban on adoption by gay and lesbian couples. Around the same time, the paper also featured the profiles of several gay and lesbian couples, all of whom were thriving in their roles as parents. We applaud Turner and the Northwest Arkansas Times for its accurate and inclusive news and editorial coverage, and given its history, we're hopeful that a gentle nudge from you will lead the Northwest Arkansas Times to reaffirm their commitment to inclusivity, particularly with regard to their policy on engagement/wedding announcements.