Monday, February 8, 2010

Chron Hardly 'Outed' Judge Vaughn Walker

Posted By on Mon, Feb 8, 2010 at 1:40 PM

click to enlarge It doesn't appear Judge Vaughn Walker is in this closet, either
  • It doesn't appear Judge Vaughn Walker is in this closet, either
Same-sex marriage advocates are chagrined by Chronicle columnists Matier and Ross' piece yesterday that "outed" U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker -- the federal decision-maker in the same-sex marriage case. San Francisco's top gay newspaper, the Bay Area Reporter, wrote a straight-up news story about the revelation -- yet used the loaded terms "out" and "outed" when describing the Chron story. Meanwhile, the Courage Campaign rued the fact Walker's sexual orientation would be held against them by right-wingers, writing on its Prop 8 Trial Tracker: "In 2010, we can, and should, be allowed to pursue whatever

relationships, sexual or otherwise, without somebody discussing it as

some sort of tawdriness."


If nothing else, Matier and Ross' column brings up an interesting koan for the 21st century: Can you "out" someone who isn't in the closet? As the Chron story itself noted, Walker never took pains to conceal his sexuality. And any derision tossed the paper's way has to come with the caveat that the Chron is only factually confirming what others had publicly speculated about.

In fact, all the way back in July of last year, local gay blogger Michael Petrelis penned an article titled "Gay Judge for Bois/Olson Prop 8 Lawsuit?"  Within this entry, Petrelis noted that, upon viewing a photo of Walker's dapper visage, "my gaydar's bells and whistles went off." After watching Walker preside at an earlier hearing on the same-sex marriage case, Petrelis wrote: "I was convinced the judge was a gay man."

Petrelis went on to note that Walker's "chipper demeanor, and low-key humor that several times set off loud

laughter from lawyers and spectators, gave me the feeling Walker would

make an excellent entertainer at a gay piano bar for refined mature

gentlemen." The blogger also remarked that the fact an earlier story about the judge in the Chron

had no mention of a wife "raised rainbow flags." Plus two "LGBT

community reporters" told him they that Walker "was considered

'family.'" Petrelis' blog was picked up by the popular gay blog Queerty three days later

Needless to say, the Chron article makes no mention of chipper demeanor or piano bars; the columnists relied upon news-gathering tools such as the telephone rather than the gaydar.

"I went online and I really couldn't find much other than some gay blogs speculating about this," said co-author Andy Ross. "There wasn't anybody coming out and saying it. In the midst of this big trial, being nationally watched, I found that incredibly ironic. The biggest part was, once this trial is over, one side or the other might have tried to make an issue out of this for their own reasons. And the question would have been asked, 'Did local media know about this? Were they hiding it?' So, I felt like, in a way, there was a responsibility to not be complicit in all that."

Matier

and Ross made no mention of the aforementioned rumblings in the blogosphere about the

judge's sexual orientation in their column, merely noting it was an

"open secret."

Ross told SF Weekly that "there certainly was a great debate" whether to run their story -- but the columnists, backed by the paper's editor and publisher, won out. "I really felt, in this case, there was relevance. If I had some reason to believe that coming out with this information was going to be particularly hurtful to this judge ... that's another reason to consider perhaps not publishing it. But that's not the case here," said Ross. "Could this have been written in a way that would be particularly inflammatory? Yes, but I don't think we did that. And we haven't really gotten a lot of complaints."

Joe Eskenazi contributed to this report.

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