For the last few months, I’ve been working on a media history project involving the fire at the Upstairs Lounge in New Orleans. The fire caused the death of 32 men and women–most of whom were gay. The death, the fire and the aftermath are often marked as the “Stonewall of New Orleans” meaning that the fire and the loss of so many from the gay community sparked the modern movement in New Orleans.
I originally read about the UpStairs Lounge arson while I was working on my master’s thesis. There was a 20-page paper, which reminded me of the many class assignments I’ve completed in the last five years, stuffed into a file box with many other New Orleans LGBT historical artifacts. The paper didn’t seem overly academic—there was no reference page or in-text citation, the byline wasn’t accompanied with an institution name, and the writing was a little rough.
But what the paper lacked in structure and “authenticism” it more than made up for in information. I used the paper to go digging for more information. To my surprise, other researchers had also cited the paper, written by Johnny Townsend, in their work. Since returning to the topic, I’ve stumbled across Townsend’s more complete work—a book title Let the Faggots Burn: The UpStairs Lounge Fire.
A harsh title, but it seems to accurately encompass the thoughts and actions of many in New Orleans at the time of the fire and deaths of 32 people, who were mostly gay men.
In a short forward to the book, Townsend wrote:
I simply wanted the story to be recorded and told before too many people were lost to AIDS and age. I thought at the time that I should write the book in a “popular” fashion, and so I did not include footnotes, only a bibliography . . . I understand now that all this probably lessens the value of the material . . . I finally decided that whatever the book’s failings, I wanted it to be more widely available to scholars who might be able to write a more definitive work, and to the public, who need to know what happened that dreadful day in June of 1973.
I honestly felt as though Townsend imagined someone like me doing research with few outlets available for information. I’m not so romantic as to suggest that this was all part of some divine intervention, but as a writer you always hope that your work may mean something to someone. Townsend’s work is invaluable to the LGBT community even if there are no footnotes and it was written in a “popular” fashion. He captured history before it was lost to time.
After Dr. Phil stepped in and set the world straight (no pun intended), the Manti Te’o story seemed to fade into the abyss—kind of like Notre Dame’s undefeated season in the national championship game. But on Monday Te’o’s name again popped up on my Twitter feed.
Towleroad and Outsports both posted a clip of an interview with NFL analyst Mike Florio on the Dan Patrick Show. Florio, who was speaking about Te’o’s performance at the NFL Combine, claimed that NFL teams want to know if Manti Te’o is gay. Florio called it the “elephant in the room.”
The big news last week was that college football great and NFL no-so-great Tim Tebow had cancelled his April speaking engagement at the First Baptist Church of Dallas—if you haven’t heard by now it’s a megachurch headed by pastor Robert Jeffress, who isn’t really keen on gays and lesbians, the Mormon, Jewish or Muslim faiths, or President Obama. And of course the media is now being credited and, in some cases, blamed for Tebow’s decision.
I have to say I’m surprised by Tebow’s move. Do I think it is a good move? Yes! But I’m still surprised. I think even three years ago this would have been one of those instances that a evangelical Christian in Tebow’s position would have milked dry. Being bullied about his beliefs and all. I’m surprised the narrative didn’t go something like, “I’m not going to be told by the media or any one else how to serve, God!” I imagine that he would have then gone on every available news and religious program to talk about how he was being railroaded for his beliefs by the evil, liberal media and the “gay agenda.”
But times have changed. Tebow knows that a speaking engagement like the one he had booked for April in Texas could damage his image for years. However, his manner of announcement, with a vague, at best, post on Twitter and Facebook (at least that’s where I saw his post announcing the cancellation). He kind of eased out of the appearance with very little to say about it.
So what happened next? Well you’ve seen it. Stories from both those who have a new found appreciation for Tebow and those who felt disheartened by his announcement. The one side congratulating him for his courage and standing up to what many have called hate speech and the other side calling him a coward, who has succumb to the pressures of the wicked world (I’ve actually seen the word wicked thrown around).
All that to say, yes I do think the media holds athletes and public figures more accountable when it comes to LGBT community. We’ve seen story after story in the last year, where folks are learning that difficult way that even indirect hate doesn’t play out in the media. I would credit Greg Doyel’s February 18 column on CBSSports.com with shedding some mainstream attention on the Tebow speaking engagement. If you missed it, you should read it. Doyel sums up the entire argument in the first sentence—“Tim Tebow is about to make the biggest mistake of his life.” I don’t see anything wrong with the media “scaring” Tebow into a good decision. Isn’t the media supposed to hold public figures accountable for their actions? I don’t think everyone has the same opinion. A post and the comments that followed on The Blaze is evidence that some folks feel pretty strongly the other way.
What do you think about Tebow’s decision, and what was the media’s role?
Oh and here’s a video from The Right Wing Watch that show cases the American Family Association’s reaction to Tebow’s news.