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An essay donated by "RHC"

Ethical aspects of photos
of GLBT persons & couples

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I read your essay about the publishing of a photo of a lesbian couple with great interest.  My congregation in Texas had a similar issue when we began an ad campaign.  The paper, following your thinking, chose not to publish an actual gay couple, but used models instead.

First some background.  We are a very liberal congregations.  After integrating in the 60's we began to welcome gay members.  Many of my religious education teachers were gay.  We suffered death from HIV/AIDS early on.  For many years we had a gay minister.

A few years ago when we wanted to advertise ourselves, we  hired the local paper to help us set up the campaign.  One thing we wanted to do above all was show that we welcomed all people using real members.  This worked well until we wanted to show gay men.  We had many willing members, but the newspapers decided to use models.  To add insult to injury, the models were those that pushed the stereo types of gay men as buff men, not the diverse shapes and size that categorized the gay men of our congregation.  Since a particular billboard was on display near our church, these models became known as the "gay.com guys."  To make matters worse, while most of our ads were set with children to emphasize the family focus of our church, these men were without children, even though we have many gay couples with children.

This is my opinion on the matter: In most cases, editorial decisions are made on the basis of the comfort level of the customers rather than any consideration oft the persons involved.  In an ad campaign, real lesbians were acceptable in the same way that lesbians are acceptable in straight pornography, but gay men had to be reduced to a characture.  The argument, as is often made, is that we should not "out" people.  I never understood this as it seems like if we take a picture of a straight couple, might they have issues as well?  Might they be cheating on their significant other?  Might they be from a Christian or Muslim home that does not want them to hang out with persons of the opposite sex?  Might the person be in high school instead of college-aged (it is hard to tell) and be somewhere that they should not be?  And, if indeed the persons are over 18, are they not responsible for their behavior in public?

Further, this appears to be the same logic that we once applied to all women.  Women had to be controlled, guided, and protected for their own safety.  They had to told what to wear.  Only out during the day, or with their husband.  They were incapable of making their own decisions or protecting themselves.  This was, as we found out in Houston in 1977, because they were never allowed to gain the experience that would teach them.

Just so you know, I am not heartless or without experience.  I have met kids who have been thrown out of their house.  Since a kid is dependent on the parent, and since some parents are stupid, it seems that kids should try to follow their parents wishes.  On the other hands, I have worked with kids enough to know this will not happen, and even straight kids get kicked out of the house and even choose to fail out of school to pursue a romantic relationship that seems absolutely critical at the moment.  Kids sometimes make choices that are probably unwise, and there is only so much we can do to protect them. I have also been around when picture were taken that could be detrimental, and have seen those pictures not used when the person involved asked it not be used.

In an ideal world, no picture would be printed without the consent of all the people involved.  This would make the world so much better as we would not have to deal with the excessive number of Spears and Hilton and Timberlake pictures that clogs otherwise useful media with drivel.  Because we do not live in a perfect world, there has to be some personal responsibility combined with a minimum level of discretion.  Otherwise, where would be?  No beach or festival pictures because the semi-clad participants never intended their semi-clad bodies to be plastered on the front page?  That would seem quite boring.

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Initial posting: 2009-OCT-04
Latest update: 2009-OCT-04
Author: "RHC"

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