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Monday, February 22, 2010

Madison Daily Leader Shuns Homosexuals, Even in Death

The Madison Daily Leader runs an obituary for MHS alumnus William Charles Elliot Clarke:

He was born on Feb. 23, 1962, at Lennox to Erhard and Lily Borchardt. He grew up in Madison and graduated from Madison High School. He attended the University of Arizona at Flagstaff and was a music and art major. In 2004, he received his nursing license.

He was preceded in death by his parents; a sister, Sharon Lampson; and a brother, Ray "Butch" Borchardt.

Hmm... no spouse or family to survive him? I have to turn to a paid obituary, lower left, page 2 of Friday's print edition, to learn about Mr. Clarke's significant other:

He was a true friend, caring brother, and loving partner to his life partner Bob Schmitz. Bill and Bob were together for 21 years and through all times their deep love and support for each other was apparent.

So Mr. Clarke had a partner of 21 years, and our local newspaper chooses not to mention him in the formal obit?

This is not the first time Madison's newspaper has chosen to omit mention of a gay partner from an obituary. Consider this 2003 obit for Douglas Richard Larson (emphasis mine):

He was a member of the Kiwanis, Elks, Lions Club, Toastmasters, Madison Chamber of Commerce and the Area Development Board.

Survivors include his wife Victoria of Brookings; two sons, Sean and Kenneth, both of Brookings; his father, Richard of Brookings; a brother, Brent of San Francisco, Calif.; a sister, Linnea (David) Bradbury of Plano, Texas; two nieces and a nephew.

He was preceded in death by a grandfather and a grandmother.

Now view the obit from Rude's Funeral Home:

He was a member of the Kiwanis, Elks, Lions Club, Toastmasters, Madison Chamber of Commerce and the Area Development Board. He enjoyed riding motorcycle, sailing, photography, computers, writing and philosophy. He was also an ordained minister. He especially enjoyed spending time with his family. Doug is survived by his wife Victoria of Brookings; two sons Sean and Kenneth both of Brookings; one brother Brent Larson and his partner Joseph Driste of San Francisco, CA; one sister Linnea Bradbury (David) of Plano, TX; his father Richard Larson of Brookings; nieces Andrea Lovoll and Stephanie Simons and nephew Nick Simons. He was preceded in death by his grandfather Ferman Feeney and grandmother Pearl Larson.

The MDL obit mentions the husband of a sister, but not the partner of a brother.

As I've said before, the Madison Daily Leader is a private business. Publisher Jon Hunter can choose to print or not print whatever he wants (and he usually does, regardless of any stated "policy").

But the choices Hunter and his staff make tell us something about our local culture. The Leader will mention fiancées in obituaries. Compare also the coverage of the death last week of MHS alumnus Benjamin Bundy. Along with Bundy's formal obit, Hunter publishes a tribute article that, in Friday's print edition, features a color photo of Bundy "with his long-time girlfriend, Laura Niedert."

Long-time. Bundy was 20. Long-time means what, six years, tops? Clarke shared his life with a man for 21 years, and the Leader won't mention that unless it's paid.

I guess some meaningful relationships are acceptable for news coverage, but some remain unspeakable to our "free" press.


  1. I think you're stretching far and beyond this time, looking for a sensational headline. It makes more sense to assume a newspaper obituary is focusing on the person who expired, rather than any titillating tidbits about the relatives.

    Most newspapers restrict the length of a basic obituary (Argus) and charge extra for lengthy personal history. Maybe that's why the family decided to purchase an advertisement that could encompass the entire life history.

  2. I guess I don't see where they've considered it a "lengthy personal history" to include mention different-sex spouses as survivors, so I don't really see why it would be burdensome length to mention a same-sex partner, especially when lots of other family is mentioned.

    Thanks for posting this, Cory! GLAAD, which does LGBT media work, has done projects to work with papers on announcements before. I don't know whether they've focused on obits, but I know they've worked with papers to get same-sex wedding announcements included. Maybe an obit project is in order as well.

  3. GoldMan, I hardly think that having a same-sex partner is a "titillating tidbit."

  4. If MDL was given information about his 21 year relationship and they chose to leave that out, then they did a disservice and are behind the times. But we don't know, do we? Legacy.com has a complete obituary but also an abbreviated version that appeared in the Pioneer Press.

  5. Brent Larson2/23/2010 11:57 AM

    Goldman, all the families involved in this article hardly look at the omission of a loved one as a 'titillating tidbit'. Obituaries most certainly are about the life of one who has passed, but those reading the obituary as well as the memorial services are clearly for the survivor.

    John Hunter's 'policy' communicates a tone of intolerance of the community of Madison, South Dakota at large. If I were a business owner or involved in civic politics within this time of deep recession, one would think they'd they'd put pressure on this guy or muzzle him. Folks have options where they choose to create business, or spending their dollar and one would think Madison would want to be open on all fronts.

  6. The MDL WAS given information about Bill and Bob's 21 year relationship; they just chose NOT to print it because too many people would be "offended". Everyone that knew Bill, knew he was gay;time to grow up and join the rest of the world. Madison may not do this as it's nothing but another payton plade


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