A very strange few days in the world of LGBT blogs, capped by news that the founder of LezGetReal is a straight, married man who has been masquerading as a lesbian. The news that “Paula Brooks” is a man comes days after news that the blogger “A Gay Girl in Damascus” was also a straight man in the U.S.
The story went viral after the Washington Post disclosed the deception.
Over the weekend, as journalists, bloggers and fans of Amina hunted for clues to the identity behind the blog, Brooks came under review as a possible suspect. Liz Henry, a Web producer at BlogHer.com, questioned Brooks’s involvement with Amina, as Amina had started to write about the Syrian uprising on Lez Get Real before starting her own blog.
MacMaster came forward Sunday to admit that he was behind the persona of Amina, but questions still remained about Brooks.
Brooks had told reporters at The Washington Post that she could only speak on the phone through her father because she was deaf. She provided a photograph of her license as proof of her identity, which showed a woman named Paula Brooks.
On Monday, we continued to question her identity. We spoke to the man who identified himself as her father, who finally admitted after numerous telephone conversations: “I am Paula Brooks.” That man turned out to be Bill Graber.
Graber said he started the site to write about gay issues after seeing the mistreatment of close friends who were a lesbian couple. He said the site was “done with the best of intentions.” As a former Air Force pilot, he also said he used the site to argue in favor of the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell repeal.
At LGR, the other writers on the blog appear to have been stunned to find out that their editor was not a woman or a lesbian.
The past three days have been devastating for all of us on LezGetReal. “Paula Brooks” has been a part of our lives for three years now. I’m still trying to wrap my mind around this. It has been especially hard for Bridgette because theirs was a very good friendship.
Ownership of the site is being turned over to me and Bridgette. Nothing has ever appeared on this site that wasn’t factually based. Yes, we post opinions, but we don’t post fiction. The issues remain – the disenfranchisement of Americans for race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, poverty – these things are still happening. In 18 months we will have one of the most important elections in our nation’s history, an election that will determine the future of our nation and possibly the world. That has not changed just because Paula Brooks turned out to be guy who let an on-line persona get away from him. Bill has been trying to ease out of the site for a couple of months now. He would have been “retired” in late August.
Of course, this isn’t the first time that an LGBT blogger has been exposed as a fraud. A year ago, the blog Outsports explained that a teen gay hockey blogger it had featured turned out to be a fake.
From a journalism perception, the deception at Lez Get Real is a more serious concern than the more personal or vanity blogs because Lez Get Real serves as a news and information source. I’ve read the blog on and off and always found the information to be interesting and, arguably, “reliable.” Now, unfortunately, it’s credibility is in jeopardy. The site is one of the few LGBT blogs that appeared to have a lesbian perspective on news events and now it all appears to have been a sham.
Pam Spaulding, on her Facebook page and blog, expressed a similar concern.
what’s damaging about this nonsense is the impersonation, not the political position of “Paula.” It’s bad enough that the mainstream media is getting mileage out of this as proof that independent bloggers are rogues without any checks and balances…or integrity. This only makes it harder to be respected by the dead-tree media.
What situations like this do is create uncertainty for the readers about the credibility of their information sources. This has always been a struggle for minority journalists and is not limited to just online journalists. When a new print publication first shows up, it has to prove itself. When you do a search online and you get a website you’ve never heard of, you are going to be suspicious. The same is true for bloggers (both independent and those working for organizations or commercial outlets). What’s worse, however, is building a reputation and following and then violating that relationship with readers by perpetuating a scam.
UPDATE: Some interesting commentary from people who worked with “Brooks.”
– Renee Gannon at Lesbiatopia
Is the message here, trust no one? That, in itself, is disheartening, but it certainly makes me question my own naivety I am glad the truth is finally out there, though. They are right when they say that the truth will set you free. I hope that Bill Graber can finally get the help that he needs.
– Heather Fitz at The Wishful Writer.
I KNEW something wasn’t right with Paula. So did my blogging buddies who are doing exactly what I’ve done which is cull through all their emails to help expose this guy. He didn’t just start pretending to blog from a lesbian perspective three years ago and with good intentions, no matter what quote he gave to the Post. Sure, Paula’s articles were timely and informative, but there was an aggression to Paula and those of us who interacted with “her” quickly got the sense that something was off.