After an avalanche of outrage, The Daily Beast last night removed a wretched article from its website which it had published on Wednesday and which had luridly exposed the sex lives of gay Olympians who were easily identifiable in the article and who were meeting on dating apps in Rio.
At first, however, the editors had tweaked the article yesterday, hours after a full day of harsh condemnation, removing the identifying information, and adding an editor's note which explained their intent was to publish a trend piece about sex at the Rio Olympics and not to harm anyone gay. That only further raised a question many of us were asking the moment the article went up: What the hell are they thinking, and how could this article even be assigned and written?
I put some of the blame on victory blindness. We live in a time when LGBT equality is more accepted than ever before and in which talking about LGBT people and writing about them is quite common, which could lull many into the idea that full acceptance has arrived. But, as I've written over and over again, the fight for full equality in every sphere of American life is far from over. And that surely includes how LGBT people are treated in the media.
There' still a "both sides" mentality in much of the media, for example, in which anti-LGBT bigots are brought onto talk shows as if their hatred needs to offset the call for equality for the sake of "balance." (And too many of us, caught up in victory blindness, just accept this rather than demand an end to it.) And, there's still an appalling amount of ignorance about LGBT life in much of the media, and about the discrimination, violence and brutality many people face. It's as if marriage equality has, in many reporters' and editors' minds, ended the battle, and that the fact that people every day are thrown out of their apartments, fired from the jobs, and turned away from businesses because they are queer -- all legal in most U.S. states -- is some minor detail. And when we look at the world, beyond the U.S., the reality is even more stark and much more grim: In many countries, including many from which these LGBT Olympic athletes come, homosexuality itself is still "illegal" and sometimes even punishable by imprisonment or death.
Writer Nico Hines of The Daily Beast thought he was doing a fun trend piece when he decided to go on Grindr and see how the gay Olympians were meeting and having sex, posing as someone seeking to hook up, even though he is a straight married man. And in writing his piece he might even have believed that being gay is so accepted today that it's not a big deal to allow people to figure out who the individuals in his story were via the details he gave -- and anyway, all of these people are on public apps, looking for sex, so they're exposing themselves, right? It's an argument that, in fact, is similar to that which people like myself have made when talking about individuals such as the gay billionaire and PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel, and why discussing the fact that he is gay, as a Gawker site did a few years ago (which led him to eventually back a lawsuit against Gawker), wasn't an "outing," since he was a public figure who was very out in Silicon Valley, known to be gay to a wide circle.
But note that I used the word "similar" because these situations are not in the slightest equivalent. Thiel, for example, is a public figure in the broadest sense -- not an athlete who may for the first time be competing in the Olympics. He's a person who has been actively, vocally involved in politics as a prominent businessman, supporting anti-gay politicians such as Ted Cruz. Public figures, particularly those trying to influence public policy, have forfeited their privacy, and when it is relevant - the very key term -- sexual orientation should be reported. Moreover, Thiel was public far beyond any dating apps: He was out socially and known to be gay among Silicon Valley's movers and shakers, including to those in the media who cover Silicon Valley, and did not try to hide it. There was no ferreting out, or tricking him into identifying himself that needed to be done.
Hines, on the other hand, had to actually go undercover to lure people on a dating and hook-up app -- people who were for the most part not showing their faces until they trusted this deceptive individual -- to tell him about their sexual desires, activities, preferences and tastes at a given moment (one man, for example, wanted to engage in specific sexual activity by 5:30), which is something far more personal and invasive than simply identifying sexual orientation.
This is where the appalling ignorance comes in. A hook-up app is a 2016 version of a gay bar, a gay bath or even a 1950s' public restroom (the only place some gay men could meet for sex in many places in this country during that era), depending on how and why individuals are using the particular app. What Hines did is equivalent to going undercover into a public restroom or a gay bar or sex club and luring people into revealing information about their sexual lives -- people who may be deeply closeted because they could be fired, ostracized or arrested -- basically entrapping them, and then making the details public.
It serves no purpose journalistically, however interesting it might be to some people, as there's no reason we need to know the information -- surely not if it means someone's life might be terribly affected. That's far different from a politician or another public figure with enormous power who is closeted and is doing something harmful to queer people. And it's different from the public figure who may not be doing anything harmful but is actually out and open to a wide circle and not necessarily hiding his or her sexuality -- even if it's not been announced -- and yet whose personal details are reported on every day because of the choice that person made to go into public life.
And again, it's going far beyond revealing someone's sexual orientation, as is often alluded to with celebrities and others in much reporting, and instead is revealing lurid details about someone's sexual activity. All of these distinctions are ones that many in the media obviously still don't get. They're still ignorant about the fight for LGBT equality, perhaps believing that the greater acceptance in society allows them to both continue to give a platform to those who are anti-gay, while also having carte blanche to report on our lives with little awareness or sensitivity to the dangers still faced by so many.