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The second-day story, with your help. Call Gazette reporter Adam Belz at (319) 398-8273 or e-mail him: adam.belz@gazcomm.com

A lesbian, but not a “known” one

My editor has posted a blog item stating that it was a poor way to put it when I wrote that Amy L. Gephart was a “known lesbian.” Considering the multitude of objections to the phrase, I agree with him. It has distracted and detracted from a story that I worked hard on and was proud of.

People have interpreted “known” as a pejorative, like a “known bank robber,” “known philanderer,” or “known failure.” I guess I can see that, but I would like to point out that the word also has a literal meaning. Gephart is “known” to be a lesbian. The words are a hedge, to show that it is not the reporter, Adam Belz, who is claiming this is a fact. Instead of attributing Gephart’s sexual orientation directly to my own imagination or to any of the several people who begged me not to attribute it to them, I tried to couch it in terms of a fact that is well-known in a small town.

That was my mistake and what brought out all the boo-birds. I should have said simply that she is a lesbian, which brings me to the other objection that’s been raised: Why mention it at all?

There are crazy, but strong rumors in Marengo that Amy Gephart’s sexual orientation may be extremely relevant in her killing. That’s why.

Hope that helps explain the usage. All that being said, the word “known” has been removed from the online version.

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Filed under: Public Safety, , , , , ,

9 Responses

  1. Boo-bird #1 says:

    Instead of limiting your reporting to verifiable facts and attributable sources (best option), or stating outright that there are rumors (questionable journalism but at least honest), you just dropped in a context-free mention of her sexual orientation. And 6 grafs later is an unexplained quote about how her private life was private. So you’re doing nothing but inserting innuendo and fanning rumors that you yourself are describing as “crazy but strong.”

    Sorry, but there was and still is way more wrong with that piece than just the word “known.” This boo-bird is calling you out on poor reporting, not just word choice.

  2. Suzi Steffen says:

    Hey Adam, thanks for taking the time to blog about this. I like watching the Gazette go through its online adaptation, and of course it’s a model for much of the rest of the country. And now …

    I think the thing that most of us — including fellow known heterosexual or known lesbian/gay journalists — have objected to is something that neither Mr. Muller nor you have written about yet, and it’s this: the marking of only one person’s sexual orientation. It’s not the same as, but similar to, mentioning the race only of a person of color in a story that includes both white people and people of color.

    I understand what you were implying and why, and I understand that there are what you and Mr. Muller called rumors about the relationships of the adults in the story. My point is that Gephart’s sexual orientation is no more pertinent to the story than is the shooter’s sexual orientation. (And both may be.)

    Is the shooter “a known heterosexual,” and if so, why not call him that in this story? The Gazette should not treat it as a weirder, more marked or different status for Gephart than for the shooter. It’s a sexual orientation. We each have one.

    In addition, I think, Gephart’s sexual ORIENTATION is not “relevant in her killing.” What seems to have been relevant is several people’s sexual BEHAVIOR, which I know you’re trying to get at and wil probably write about eventually.

    You’re probably working on a follow-up story right now, and I wish you luck with it. I have enjoyed, if that’s the right word, looking at your flood follow-up stories; painful and important. Good luck, and thanks for reading, and now go have a beer or two on me after a hard day,

    Suzi Steffen
    Eugene Weekly
    Eugene, OR

  3. Adam Belz says:

    This is an e-mail from a reader who is friends with the Gepharts and is deeply frustrated with the story I wrote for the June 9 edition of The Gazette:

    If the police haven’t made implications about her sexual preference, then why did you?

    It appears to? I’m no detective, but my first thought, and many others is that HE was a worthless trailor trash asshole who enjoyed abusing his wife and like most other small town losers……owned a gun. Maybe a domestic abuse occured and maybe Amy got into the middle
    of it. I didn’t see you write anything about that. No, you write about her sexual preference.

    Look Adam, I want honest and accurate reporting. Just like the family does. So why does your story slant to the sexuality side of her life? If and when there is evidence of sexual activity between these people, then you can report
    on it. Until then, she is innocent until proven guilty. She is an innocent victim until proven otherwise.

    Report the facts, not your ratings driven ideals. She was murdered in cold blood. And her friends and family are in shock. Maybe you should report on this loser and expose him for what he is.

    Writing articles that offend a greiving family is in poor taste.
    What if it was your wife or daughter? Would you have worded it the same way? No, you wouldn’t have.

    Edit it or apologize, I won’t ask again.

    And yes, apparently you guys can write whatever you want (unedited) and our replies ARE edited. Feel free to post this on your blog. Let the people decide.

  4. M Davies says:

    Mr. Belz…. Do you know Tonch and Mandy? And have you ever heard the phrase “two sides to every story”? I completely feel for Amys family and friends! This is a horrible thing that has happened and something that no one should have to go through!! But were standing in that room? Do you know for sure what happened and what led up to this horrid event? There are two families going through hell right now! And there are children who could possibly read everything that is being written! Please for their sakes do not spew even more hurt and hatred than they are already going to have to endure!! I understand your anger but there are more people to think about here than just your own pain!
    I pray that both sides are able to some day find the healing and strength of forgivness that only God can give!
    I for one will keep BOTH families in my prayers!

  5. K. Erger says:

    Dear Mr. Belz:

    I fully understand that print news is on a tight deadline, and that mistakes happen, including the use of the word “known” to describe someone’s sexual orientation.

    But you can’t be serious in suggesting that “known” as used in your story has anything but a negative connotation. I have never heard someone called “a known genius,” or “a known humanitarian.” The typical usage is well demonstrated in today’s slate.com article about the recent Holocaust museum shooting, titled “Known Supremacist Attacks Holocaust Museum.”

    Your explanation that this usage “show[s] that it is not the reporter, Adam Belz, who is claiming this is a fact” can’t be right. I would not expect the Gazette to print “non-facts” or “rumors” without identifying them as such. “Known” is a cop-out, and I suspect that you do know that.

    I have to say, too, that it’s not fair to call me or the other people who criticized your language “boo-birds.” I’m an ardent supporter of print news, have subscribed to the Gazette since I arrived in Cedar Rapids, and will continue to do so. News happens fast, and I appreciate it being reported to me every day by the Gazette. I expect mistakes to happen in the process. Identifying them, civilly and fairly, is not being a boo-bird. Speaking out when something is unfair or wrong is an important exercise of the same free speech right that enables the Gazette to bring me the news in the first place.

  6. slim shady says:

    The whole thing is gay

  7. M Davies says:

    I appoligize Mr. Belz, my remark was not for you, It was for the “friend of the Gephart family” that wrote the response to you and put your name in instead of their own!

  8. slim shady says:

    She was a known lesbian! Known to try and get straight women to hook up with her. I have known her a long time and that was her pattern. It is part of the story! Both parties involved were trash! And as far as Suzi Steffin goes stick to your news, do not try and act as if you know anything about it. You’re in Oregon, not Iowa.

    I edited out a portion of this comment. -Adam Belz

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