Star Telegram has GLBT-positive non-discrimination, benefit policies, but still won’t publish same-sex wedding announcements
The Fort Worth Star Telegram has come a long way in its policies on GLBT issues through the years. But the North Texas daily still has a long way to go, according to Bob Ray Sanders, a vice president, associate editor and columnist for the newspaper.
Sanders, guest speaker at the North Texas GLBT Chamber of Commerce dinner meeting on Tuesday, said the Star Telegram would mark its 100th anniversary on Feb. 1. He first joined the newspaper staff in 1969 after graduating from the University of North Texas in Denton.
“I am proud of my newspaper now. But there was a time I couldn’t say that,” Sanders told chamber members gathered at the Pour House restaurant in Fort Worth.
Although he is a Fort Worth native and a descendant of a family that has lived in Tarrant County for more than 140 years, “There was a time when the Star Telegram wouldn’t even print a picture of someone who looked like me,” said Sanders, who is African American.
When he first joined the newspaper staff, Sanders said, his father was surprised to see his name and photograph on the Star Telegram’s front page. “And I hadn’t even shot anyone,” he said.
Back then, he said, the newspaper’s management didn’t want ethnic minorities on staff, and they didn’t want women on staff. “And when you think about gay and lesbian issues, well, there just weren’t any issues. As far as the newspaper management was concerned, there weren’t any gays and lesbians in Fort Worth, and there certainly weren’t any on the staff. If you were gay or lesbian, you sure didn’t let anybody know,” Sanders said.
“Now, the Star Telegram is one of the most progressive newspapers in the world. We haven’t progressed to the point I want us to, but we have progressed,” he said.
Sanders said the Star Telegram is often called “the most liberal newspaper in Texas, which isn’t hard,” and that he is often called the most liberal writer in the state. He said the Fort Worth paper was one of the first major newspapers in Texas to editorialize against passage of Proposition 2, the anti-gay-marriage amendment approved by voters last November.
“We called it what it was, a stupid political idea,” Sanders said of the amendment. “We knew it would pass. But we took that stance against it anyway. But at the same time, there are stances we have not taken.”
Although the newspaper criticized the Boy Scouts of America for excluding gays and atheists, “We did not take the next step” and stop contributing to the United Way, one of the largest financial supporters of the Boy Scouts.
Sanders noted that the Star Telegram includes protections for gays and lesbians in its nondiscrimination policies and that it offers benefits for the domestic partners of its gay and lesbian employees.
But, Sanders acknowledged, the newspaper will not accept wedding or commitment ceremony announcements from same-sex couples.
“I think we should publish those announcements, Most of the people on our staff think we should accept them. However, our publisher, Wes Turner, says no,” Sanders said.
When the Dallas Morning News began accepting same-sex wedding announcements in 2003, Turner told Dallas Voice the Star Telegram would not publish the announcements because gay marriage and sodomy were against Texas law.
Sanders said Tuesday night he believes Turner’s stance is prompted by financial concerns.
“I think he expects that if we published those announcements, there would be a backlash from our advertisers, and he doesn’t want to have to deal with that,” Sanders said.
Sanders said there are two people in Fort Worth who repeatedly press the newspaper to begin publishing same-sex wedding announcements. But if there were more people pushing for the change, Turner might take more notice.
“If you want change, you have to make your voice heard,” Sanders said.
Sanders also said that the Star Telegram tries to cover GLBT issues effectively, but that such coverage is integrated into the newspaper’s general coverage.
“We don’t separate it put a big stamp on it. Maybe that’s something we should do? Maybe that’s a discussion we should have,” he said.
He added that sometimes the newspaper does not cover events and issues in the GLBT community “not because we are insensitive, but because we don’t know about it. “
Sanders said he has seen politics in Tarrant County go through many changes over the years, and that he sees even bigger changes on the horizon.
“Something is happening. I can see it,” he said. “You look at what happened in the 2004 elections in Dallas County. They elected a woman as sheriff – a woman who just happens to be Hispanic, who just happens to be a lesbian.”
He continued, “Look at what happened at the Golden Globes this week, with movies like “‘Brokeback Mountain’ and “‘Capote’ and “‘TransAmerica.’ Change is coming. It’s not happening yet, because the Democrats are so disorganized.
But change is coming. It’s coming.”
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition of January 20, 2006.