From: Rod Swift
Subject: More on Paducah shootings...
Date: Wed, 7 Oct 1998 11:40:23 +0800 (WST)


Yesterday, Michael Carneal, the Paducah-area teenager who shot and killed three of his fellow students at a prayer meeting last December and wounded five others, plead guilty but mentally insane to charges stemming from that incident. His expected sentence -- life without parole for 25 years -- will be handed down in two months.

This past June, Carneal told his psychological evaluators that he fired into the crowd in an effort to stop his fellow classmates from directing anti- gay teasings and taunts against him (Carneal says he's not gay). At times this harassment grew intense, ranging from daily verbal taunting to physical assaults.

So you'd think that the mainstream press would mention that problem in its coverage yesterday. But the newspapers as well as the television stations in Louisville -- the state's largest city and its most important media market -- made no mention whatsoever of the nature of this abuse. And neither did his attorneys in a statement released after the hearing yesterday.

The most the Courier-Journal would say is that Carneal's family hired experts who determined that he "suffered from low self-esteem and that ridicule from other teen-agers led to feelings of inadequacy...." If he'd been of a religion different from the majority of students there, my guess is that the newspapers would be falling over themselves to mention it. But since it was anti-gay harassment, there wasn't one word. This is very frightening to me.

The same newspaper did reprint a statement from Carneal's attorneys, but the attorneys compounded the problem. "He had lost any sense of self-esteem, self-worth or self-love," they wrote. "Like many teen-agers, he was hypersensitive to his classmates' statements about him. He felt inadequate, unworthy, unloved, unrespected and unaccepted by his peer group...Michael felt as if he were a massive failure, doomed to be different and recognized as a 'nobody.'"

The closest the attorneys came to describing the anti-gay harassment was: "Things that were said about Michael challenged his manhood and ultimately resulted in his being stamped as 'odd and different' and to some extent an outcast from the student body.'" Evidently they consider being called gay a challenged to one's "manhood."

I don't know yet how the local paper, the Paducah Sun, handled this; in all respects they've been much better than the state's leading newspaper, the Louisville Courier-Journal, which used to be at the forefront of social progress in Kentucky but of late has been refocusing its news toward conservative Christian readers.

I myself am furious -- and a bit scared -- by this total lack of coverage of such an important issue. And in talking with the school district where Carneal was a student, I've found there are no plans to address anti-gay harassment per se in the schools. They have a blanket policy against harassment of any kind, but I seriously question how well that's being managed for gay and lesbian students, or those perceived to be gay (as in Carneal's case). I doubt that counselors are being educated on how to handle gay issues, and there is probably no set policy on how teachers and principles should handle anti-gay harassment in the classrooms and hallways.

And so the problem continues, thanks to Carneal's attorneys (who seemed to want to cover over the gay aspect of this case) and the Louisville Courier- Journal and electronic media, which decided to go along with the coverup and therefore help the problem to continue.

If you'd like to complain to the Courier-Journal, its address is 525 W. Broadway, Louisville, KY 40202. Its ombudsman's phone number is 502/582-4600. (E-MAIL: ) --David Williams, Editor, The Letter - Kentucky's gay, lesbian, bisexual & transgender newspaper

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