Update: An Arkansas newspaper that omitted the name of a gay man’s surviving partner from his obituary has apparently gone back on its promise to reprint the obit with the partner’s name included, and it has published an editorial that gay rights groups characterize as defaming the partner, Terrance James.
The Batesville Daily Guard had agreed to rerun the obit after receiving pressure from groups including the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. When John Christopher Millican died June 11, James, his partner of 10 years filled out paperwork to have his obituary run in the Daily Guard. When the obit was published, however, it did not include James’s name, but it did list Millican’s deceased parents and surviving siblings, with whom he had little contact, according to the Center for Artistic Revolution, an Arkansas gay rights group.
James complained, but an editor for the Daily Guard told him the paper has a policy against printing names of unmarried partners and cited the fact that Arkansas does not recognize same-sex unions. She told him, however, that the paper would run a paid obituary for $85 that would include any information he wanted. (The Daily Guard offers both free obits, which contain limited
information, and paid ones, which contain any information survivors
wish to include.) This led to an action call from Change.org plus coverage in many gay news outlets.
GLAAD contacted the Daily Guard, which agreed to rerun Millican’s obit with James included, with GLAAD paying the $85 fee and the paper donating it to the charity of James’s choice. Officials at the newspaper also said they would revise the obit policy to avoid this situation arising again. Oscar Jones, a spokesman and attorney for the paper, told GLAAD, “When a gay person loses their partner, the loss is no less, and they need to be treated the same.”
The Daily Guard’s Friday editorial, however,
lambastes James and attacks his motives. It claims the funeral directors who dealt with James told him he would not be listed in a free obituary and that James said he did not want to assume the cost of a paid one. It also asserts he wanted to list pets as survivors and concludes, “The Guard does not owe Mr. James a free obituary or an apology.”
A post Friday on GLAAD’s blog reads, “Now the paper has not only backtracked on the promises their spokesman and attorney made to us just yesterday, they’ve dug in their heels even deeper. And rather than printing a respectful obituary as promised, the paper is using its pages to insult Terrance, insinuating that he’s a liar with an ‘AGENDA’ (their scare-bolding and capitalization) in an announcement.”
The Human Rights Campaign has taken out a full-page ad in the newspaper and launched an online petition demanding that the Daily Guard change its obituary policy. The Center for Artistic Revolution is carrying on a grassroots local campaign of calls to the paper. Find more information here.