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Gay group criticizes ‘homophobic’ editorial

By John GeluardiDaily Planet staff
Thursday August 16, 2001

East Bay Pride, the largest gay organization in the East Bay, announced Wednesday that it has severed its relationship with the Oakland Tribune because of a “homophobic” editorial attacking Councilmember Kriss Worthington. 

The editorial, which appeared on the front page of the Tribune’s Opinion Section on Tuesday, criticizes Worthington’s role in the cancellation of an annual visit by a group of Japanese scouts with Mayor Shirley Dean. The Tribune is owned by the Alameda Newspaper Group, which owns 10 other newspapers in the Bay Area including the Vallejo Times-Herald and the Marin Independent Journal. 

The editorial begins with a definition. “DESPICABLE: deserving to be despised, contemptible.” It then suggests that if readers want a visual image to accompany the definition, they could use a “mug shot of Berkeley Councilmember Kriss Worthington.” The piece also calls Worthington a “coward” and a “small-time politician.” 

Worthington, who is gay, said he simply raised questions about the annual event because the Japanese scouts were to be accompanied by members of the Mt. Diablo-Silverado Boy Scout Council of America, the same troop that was the subject of a widely-covered lawsuit when it kicked out Eagle Scout Tim Curran for being gay in 1980.  

Founder and director of EBP, Peter King, said the language used in the editorial was clearly homophobic and was more than an attack on Worthington. “That editorial said more about how the Oakland Tribune feels about gay rights than anything it had to say about Kriss Worthington,” King said. “The tone and phraseology in that editorial exposes the Tribune’s thinly veiled contempt for the gay community.” 

King said that words like “despicable,” “cowardly” and “contemptible” are traditionally used to describe gays. 

Nancy Conway, vice president and executive director of the Oakland Tribune, admitted the language was strong but insisted it was not meant to be homophobic. “We wouldn’t run something we thought was homophobic,” Conway said. “We had a good relationship with East Bay Pride and I regret this has escalated to this point.” 

Conway declined to say who wrote the piece and would only say it was one of the Tribune’s editorial writers. 

King said the decision to end the Tribune’s sponsorship was not made lightly because the paper was the largest sponsor of the Gay Pride Festival. 

“But in the end the decision was easy because the bottom line is our organization fundamentally represents a community that’s still struggling to gain rights against people that have a deep-seated prejudice,” King said. 

Kind added that shortly after sending out a press release about the cancellation of the Tribune’s sponsorship, EBP was contacted by two San Francisco newspapers offering to sponsor the festival. 

King said the EBP’s decision to cancel the Tribune’s sponsorship was not in support of Kriss Worthington, but was intended to make a stand for the larger gay community.  

“We are not only angry but we’re deeply disappointed and hurt because we thought these were our friends,” King said. “This was not an attack on Kriss Worthington, this was a homophobic attack on the gay community.” 

Worthington said he was surprised at the intensity of the editorial. “I’ve certainly never seen an attack that was so ferocious,” he said. “I would say it’s so beyond the pale that it was worse than the things the Berkeley City Council (members) usually say about each other.”  

Worthington said he was surprised at the editorial’s insinuation that as an elected official, he pursues only gay issues. “Anyone who goes to City Council meetings knows that I have fought hard for Latinos, Asians and African Americans, all of which are underrepresented on city commissions,” he said. “Gay issues are about 1 percent of what I work on.” 

Worthington added that in addition to the harshness of the attack, he was misquoted in the editorial. “They have me adopting an tiquated language,” he said about being quoted using the word ‘homosexual.’ “For them to fabricate a quote using old-fashioned language, which I never use, calls into question their journalistic integrity.” 

Conway said the Tribune sometimes likes to take strong stands on certain issues. “We run pieces that are controversial,” she said. “The editorial was not an attack on who Kriss Worthington is but we found faults with his methods and we stand by that.” 

King said Conway’s explanation was hard to believe and that the Oakland Tribune should apologize. “They clearly owe the gay community an apology and I would like to see a retraction and an editorial that is just as strongly worded denouncing the Boy Scouts of America’s anti-gay policy,” he said.