A story recently circulated on-line, predominantly on LGBT blog-sites, about a Kentucky bus driver making fun of a child for having lesbian mothers. According to a press release from the Kentucky Equality Federation (KEF):
The issue centers on the suspension of the child from the bus simply because she was offended when others on the bus were making fun of gay and lesbian people. When she brought this to the attention of the bus driver, the driver thought it was humorous[my italicization] and told the child she was a 'contradiction' according to the report filed with our organization.
For some reason this on-line story--which seems to come solely from the press release of KEF in the case of many LGBT posts--lacks important details, not only from the side of the child’s mother, but also the point of the view of the bus driver. It hardly seems worth the type of petitioning and circulation it has been getting on-line from the view of an outside observer.
No where can you find interviews from the side of the bus driver. And, only one article at WLKY in Louisville, officially gave an adequate explanation for the 'contradiction' comment made by the bus driver which was in the form of a quote from the mother. The child’s mother responds with a similar explanation in the comments sections of Pam’s House Blend and on the press release page for the Kentucky Equality Federation, but only after another person and myself asked what was meant by calling the child a ‘contradiction.’
There are other possible explanations for the comment (especially when you consider a noisy bus full of school kids), but the point is we are given only one explanation--the view from one of the girl’s mothers. But, enough LGBT websites felt that point of view from one press release about this confusing incident outweighed the need for careful reporting of the story. Some even felt that it warranted a petition for the bus driver to be fired.
I’m not trying to take sides on this story, but I don’t believe there is enough information to warrant these actions. Now I get it, I really do. We bloggers are busy people. Some of us have full-time jobs that don’t always allow us the luxury of checking our facts and sources to the same degree as the mainstream press. Sadly, I’m sure I’ve made similar mistakes in my own blog-posts. But this story, in particular, should prompt us to consider the implications of how we report on complicated and controversial incidents.
My intent here is not to question the validity of the mother’s statements. And, like many who have read this story, I have no doubt that incidents like this one do happen and it may have in this case. Unfortunately, I know all too well the importance of verifying the facts of a story and getting alternative points of view in case what we think we know turns out to be wrong. Homophobes are constantly taking situations involving us and blowing them out of proportion to fit their own agenda, twisting facts and opinions to make our community look bad. That’s not to say that’s what’s happening here, but I for one don’t want to go around making similar accusations about people or incidents without questioning their validity beforehand. It’s this kind of care and compassion that should separate us from the bigots and fraudulent elements of the racist/homophobic press and is my whole intent for pursuing this article.
For example, it took me all of ten minutes to contact alternative sources for this story (all of these sources chose to remain anonymous, and spoke off the record so I will not include what I heard here, but I heard enough to assure me that other points of view are needed). When something simple, like a supposed comment, seems unclear or doesn’t make sense, that should be the first clue that details are lacking in a story. I believe this is the case with the ‘contradiction’ comment. More importantly, I don’t believe a press release from an obviously biased source (which is true of most press releases) should be the sole source of facts and information about any news story, even when we’re talking about posts on blog-sites.
Some in my family have argued with me, saying that bloggers are not journalists. But I have to disagree with them. Considering how the mainstream press isn’t keeping up with its responsibilities in how it reports the news (with ‘freedom of the press’ should come responsibility to the people), I feel we bloggers have a responsibility to make up for all that is lacking in the mainstream press.
So why, as ‘progressive’ bloggers, are we not asking and pursuing better questions about this incident like:
- What was actually said by the bus driver to the student and parents according to the bus driver (since we know what the family’s view is which I’ve included further down)?
- What was the full nature of the discussion with Assistant Principal Angela Allen at Crosby Middle School, which the KEF press release says took place?
- Why didn’t Allen take the issue seriously enough to have a meeting between the parties involved? To me this implies the school administration neglected to take adequate steps in response to the incident and they should therefore be held accountable.
- Why, when this happened on March 31st is the principal of Crosby Middle School only now hearing about the incident as stated in the WLKY news piece?
- And why, assuming the bus driver did make a homophobic comment, are we calling on a possibly working class bus driver to be fired or her route changed? Is her position of a nature that demands this type of action or should we be focusing on the school administration as I’ve stated above?
Then there are certain facts between the KEF press release and comments section, Pam’s House Blend and their comments section, and the interview at WLKY in Louisville that concerns me most with the story’s presentation on-line:
- The initial KEF press release claims the child was offended by what seems like homophobic statements made by other children on the bus, which led to her approaching the bus driver, presumably while the woman was driving. Yet the press release lacks details about what was said to offend the child. Why then does the WLKY interview (six days after the KEF press release) quote the mother as saying:
Someone used the word 'fag' very loudly and [the daughter] thought it was coming from the bus driver...Why did the mother wait until the WLKY interview to mention this when it would seem relevant for the KEF press release?
- The incident occurred on March 31st, and we’re told in the press release that the mother was asked to call the bus driver at her place of business due to the daughter’s response to the bus driver after the incident, all of which presumably occurred before the May 11th press release.--why then is no explanation given in the press release for what the driver meant by calling the child a ‘contradiction?' Depending on where you look, we are given three different wordings by the mother in explanation of the bus drivers statement, each of which imply the bus driver is calling the mother a contradiction and not the child as is originally stated in the KEF press release.
KEF press release website comments section: Evon [the mother] 05/14/10 7:12 am--To Tamra: I asked the bus driver the same thing "What do you mean by contradiction" The bus driver said that " you cant be a mother and be gay, you have to be with a man to be a mother" That is why this is insulting.
Pam’s House Blend comments section [in response to me]: To Bricar1632--I can see where some might think this may be a misunderstanding. My partner and I did as well until I spoke to the bus driver myself and she said to me " Well you are a contradiction, you can't be a mom and gay, you have to have been with a man to be a mom!" That statement is wrong and should have been kept to herself and to ridicule and embarrass my daughter for sticking up for her parents is horrible!--by: er2231 [the mother] @ Fri May 14, 2010 at 08:22:31 AM EDT.
WLKY Interview posted 4:48pm EDT May 17, 2010: I said, 'Can you explain to me what you mean by contradiction?' so she stated, 'You had to have relations with a man before in order to be a mom. You can't be gay and be a mom,'" the mother said. 'You can't say that to a child.'
- This could be nit-picky on my part, but why was only one mother interviewed for the WLKY news article? Didn’t the reporter feel it was necessary to get the other mother’s point of view for the story? And why did the mother ask for her name to be left out of the article when she had no problem using it in the KEF press release, and finally, why did she choose to pursue this course of action two weeks before the end of the school year (that’s not to say there is ever a perfect time to pursue actions like this because there isn’t, but why this moment in time). She states in the press release:
My daughter has enough to deal with such as peer pressure, growing up, homework, etc. and should not be subject to bigotry from a school bus driver who is suppose to be driving the bus and protecting children, not arguing with a child.What about the pressure the daughter may be feeling at school from the issuing of the press release, and later, the local news report?
- Finally, I have to wonder what the Kentucky Equality Federation (KEF) hopes to gain from the pursuit of this story in the manner presented by their press release. If they interviewed the bus driver, they never make that known, and yet, they felt it was acceptable to state,
When [the child brought the offense] to the attention of the bus driver, the driver thought it was humorous...Why isn’t KEF trying to pursue a reasonable discussion between parties rather than this aggressive and antagonistic approach to the situation? Why is the mother so insistent on the bus driver getting fired? Would she consider alternative solutions?
Now that an investigation is being conducted by the school administration, it may be difficult to get any answers to these questions, especially if we assume lawyers are involved--but not impossible. These questions need to be asked, if not by the mainstream press than by us. But again, the point of my post is not to question the facts or validity of the incident. My concern is the approach we bloggers took with the story. More importantly, what standards can and/or should we adopt in our presentation of stories with questionable elements like this one (why not state it as an alleged incident for example or emphasize the lack of mulitple points of view in the story)? This is especially true before creating a petition for a person to be fired from their job. Whether or not I agree with the approach of the Kentucky Equality Federation or the child’s mother, it’s bloggers that I feel hold a larger responsibility when reporting the facts of story.
If you were to double-check the information about this incident, are you sure you wouldn’t have you’re own misgivings about our approach to our blog posts?