Count me in the camp of those who aren’t crazy about using the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. to make points about LGBT rights. Oh, I understand the comparison and it makes sense. But there’s something uncomfortable about white, LGBT activists using the King holiday to make points about LGBT rights.
Which leads me to a column by Eric Deggans, the media critic for the St. Petersburg Times. Deggans isn’t white and he isn’t gay. Yet, he makes an impassioned argument that the memory of Dr. King is harmed when the media–especially CNN–invites anti-gay activists on their show because they can’t find any other balance or experts.
Back in Dr. King’s time, when debates over issues of civil rights were covered by the media, they also dutifully included those who favored segregation or denying black people the vote or banning interracial marriage. But eventually, the news media concluded that such views were prejudiced and stopped presenting them as equal arguments — reasoning that treating racists like equal participants in such debates only granted them a power they should not have.
So when will media take similar action with anti-gay activists?
It seems a simple question. Either there’s an open question about whether being gay is harmful or hurtful — and no reputable psychologist or mental health professional says there is — or there isn’t. And if the act of being gay isn’t harmful, then why are otherwise reputable news organizations giving voice to people whose only expertise is their continued resistance to the mainstream acceptance of homosexuals?
It isn’t the first time the Deggans has made the comparison between civil rights and gay rights and we need more voices like Deggans questioning who is an appropriate guest or “expert” to represent voices opposed to gay rights. He also suggests that the media will soon regret giving voice to anti-gay voices who are extreme and vitriolic.
Still, perhaps CNN — and other media outlets worldwide — could consider honoring Dr. King today by changing its policies. Because, as I think about the history of America’s civil rights struggles, I’m reminded of all the newspapers which had to apologize for how they gave into prejudice and racism while covering Dr. King’s work more than 40 years ago.
CNN could avoid a similar apology by acting now. Maybe, just once, we could learn from our worst history instead of repeating it.