Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

Despite glowing coverage of local gay events in the Post-Dispatch, bigotry is alive and well

The lead article in Sunday morning's St. Louis Post-Dispatch "Metro" section made much ado of how an upcoming national gathering of 38,000 youths downtown was going to discuss social justice, diversity and have six panel discussions "to examine their stereotype of gays and lesbians."

On the same Sunday morning, on the second day of PrideFest, down on South Grand Boulevard, thousands watched the annual gay and lesbian pride parade. It's easily the best parade of the year, with candy and condoms tossed from floats. Sure beats watching a bunch of green-sweatshirted strangers walk Irish setters on St. Patrick's Day. More and more politicians -- most, admittedly, running for office -- have joined the PrideFest parade. Yes, Mayor Clarence Harmon showed up. No, he didn't wear a "hot-pink pageboy wig" as predicted in the June 21 RFT's "Night & Day" section. (OK, now repeat after me: That was a joke. Get it? Oh, never mind.) Harmon opted not to ride in the parade, but Hizzoner, despite having some difficulty reading his speech, addressed the Sunday-afternoon crowd in an inclusive, we're-all-in-this-thing-together manner. Maybe he is running for mayor after all.

The serendipitous nature of the Post-Dispatch's coverage of PrideFest and the gathering of Lutherans in the same "Metro" section turned out to be a bit misleading, at least as far as the Lutherans go, which apparently isn't very far. Yes, the national Lutheran meeting will feature panel discussions about "stereotypes" of gays and lesbians, but for the first time in 12 years, a booth sponsored by Lutherans Concerned North America will not be allowed. The group, which supports inclusion of gays and lesbians in Lutheran Church activities, was told last week it couldn't participate.

Yes, Mayor Clarence Harmon showed up at this year's PrideFest, and no, he wasn't wearing a "hot-pink pageboy wig."
Yes, Mayor Clarence Harmon showed up at this year's PrideFest, and no, he wasn't wearing a "hot-pink pageboy wig."

Mary Cavanagh, local co-chair of the group, says the group is "very upset" about being banned from the meeting because it has participated in previous meetings, which are held once every three years. Cavanagh, an ordained Lutheran minister who says she "is not allowed to serve a congregation due to her sexual orientation," says no clear reasons were stated for the reversal.

"For the last 12 years, there's been a Lutherans Concerned North America booth there. All of a sudden, there isn't," Cavanagh says. "It's a real slap in the face."

Part of the problem may be a letter from one minister to ELCA congregations claiming that Lutherans Concerned North America is not so much concerned about inclusion of gays and lesbians in the church as it is about "recruitment" of young Lutheran men and women to adopt the gay and lesbian orientation. That's a charge Cavanagh sees as ridiculous.

"At the last gathering, the youth were requesting more of a presence on the issue of gay and lesbian rights and inclusion in the church," with a focus on how that gets played out in a life of faith, says Cavanagh. "The response eventually was, 'We're going to make it less.' They didn't want to have that be an issue."

The gathering, which is sponsored by the 5.2 million-member Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, will still have panel discussions about the issue, but there will be no booth to promote Lutherans Concerned North America. One of the panels will discuss Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, a group that supports gay and lesbian rights.

"But PFLAG is for 'parents and friends' of lesbians and gays," says Cavanagh. "It's a little less threatening."

Cavanagh is a member of the Bethel Lutheran Church at Big Bend and Forsyth boulevards, a church that she says "welcomes and is affirming of gays and lesbians." She views the decision to by the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America as a "setback."

So despite the progress evidenced by the ever-bigger PrideFest parade and festival, despite all the Bud Light ads and other courting of the gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender community by corporations, despite the realization on the part of politicians that not only can everyone vote, they have rights, too, some folks still don't get it.

JUST DON'T KILL "TOWN TALK": The much-rumored Pulitzer buyout of the Suburban Journals finally went down Monday, with Pulitzer CEO Robert Woodworth drilling the point home in internal memo and in a page 1 Post-Dispatch article (the two being virtually the same) that the editorial sides of the Post-Dispatch and the Journal papers would remain separate. Too bad. The Journals' verbatim voice-mail messages from irate or delusional readers, known in some of the papers as "Town Talk," are easily as good as anything else in local print journalism. It would be a positive addition to the Post, say, alternating with Bill McClellan's and Greg Freeman's columns. Woodworth says Pulitzer will benefit through savings in "real estate, newsprint and purchasing costs." Reporters at the Journals, who work long hours for short pay, should be doing cartwheels in the hope that some of the P-D's upscale salaries will spill over to the new acquisition. Herb Goodrick, executive secretary of the St. Louis Newspaper Guild, is waiting until the smoke clears. "We had organizing activities at different levels at the Suburban Journals for a long time. We're interested in organizing those papers through any avenue we have," says Goodrick. "Given the fact that the Post-Dispatch has not been an anti-union employer and the Suburban Journals' previous management was an anti-union employer, it should increase our chances. But it will have more to do with the attitude of those employees themselves whether they want the representation of the Guild. It's a free choice." Even though the buyout makes Big Brother bigger, the former owners of the Journals cared so little about editorial content and decent working conditions that the move likely will improve the papers, giving people a higher-quality paper to throw away.

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