“They asked that we just use their first names.”
About a minute into a story about a lesbian couple reacting to Maryland coming one-step closer to legalizing same-sex marriage, the phrase shows up in the report by WAMU (an NPR station in Washington, D.C.). The story goes on to use the couple’s first names, the name of their child and dog. We are told what town the couple lives, in, that they’d already been married in DC, and a lot of other details about their lives. They are well-educated and very fluent in the politics of same-sex marriage and the legal implications. When you go to the website about the story, there is even a picture of the women and their family.
So why was it necessary to pick a couple who didn’t want their last names used? If there are concerns about safety or being “outed,” they weren’t mentioned in the story. Maybe they are protecting their child, but why then would they agree to have their picture on the website?
So here’s the journalism question. In 2012, why illustrate a story about same-sex marriage and LGBT families with a couple who don’t want their last names used when there is no rationale given for doing so? It seems that there is a subtle message when LGBT people are interviewed–and want to be cloaked in some level of anonymity–that the reader/listener isn’t being told the entire story or the reporter is trying to signal something about risk, danger, and the closet. If that’s the case, why not be more intentional about that risk. If it’s not the case, why pick people to profile who insist this level of anonymity when there have to be many other families who are willing to be profiled without the cloak of anonymity.
For those of you with greater familiarity interviewing LGBT families and writing about LGBT people, what is your policy on giving a “just first names, please” agreement to interview subjects?