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Does the New York Times have a problem with gay obits?

When Lou Rispoli, a well-known music administrator, was murdered on the streets of Queens in a gay hate crime, the Times failed to report the incident or to commemorate Lou with an obituary. We raised a quizzical eyebrow at the time.

Now we have the anomaly of Claude Nobs. Claude was the founder of the Montreux Jazz Festival. His death this week was duly recorded in the Times. However, the notice contained the following equivocation: ”Information on survivors was not immediately available.”


In fact, Claude was in a civil union with Thierry Amsallem, the festival administrator, with whom he had been together for 25 years. Their union is announced on Claude’s wikipedia site:  Claude Nobs est ouvertement homosexuel et en couple depuis 1987 avec son compagnon Thierry Ansalem.

It is also reported on and elsewhere:  Thierry Amsallem, Son compagnon depuis dix-huit ans. «On s’est rencontrés à Paris, je l’ai invité à Montreux voir le chalet, le pays. Il est arrivé au chalet, il a aussitôt appelé sa maman pour lui dire: “J’habite en Suisse.” Nous avons une complémentarité totale: il est tellement en avance dans son domaine. J’aime sa rigueur, sa précision, son honnêteté. Il est ma meilleure protection contre ma tendance à sauter du coq-à-l’âne.» Premier site internet, archivage, kiosque interactif: Thierry a fait passer le Festival dans l’ère de l’informatique. Il s’occupe aussi du protocole.

So why does the Times say he left no traceable survivors? Laziness, incompetence or prejudice?

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  1. Eric heinze says:

    Worthwhile question, but, in my view, more evidence would be required before the NY Times can be accused in such start terms. Obituaries are likely to be prepared hastily (except perhaps for some exceptionally famous people), and whether or not foreign-language sources will be examined, even for an easily accessible language like French, seems unpredictable. To make the case more persuasively, it would be necessarily to show either that English sources, too, were ignored, or that foreign sources were indeed consulted for a straight figure of roughly equal stature. A further question that arises is whether, or how, the NYT has in the past mentioned the gay life of any other prominent figures, as compared to straights.

    In a nutshell: The claim may be true, but a bit more homework seems required.

  2. Scott Amundsen says:

    This is disturbing on so many levels. It’s been some time since I was a regular reader of the Times but this is not the first time in recent days that I have seen warning signs that the once solidly-liberal paper is swinging to the right. I like to think it won’t turn into a wingnut rag like the Post and to a certain extent the Daily News, but this is unnerving. Though I do agree that some more homework is needed.

  3. John Parfrey says:

    For several years now, the Times has included same-sex nuptials in the “Weddings” section of their Sunday edition. Also, a few weeks back, a prominent gay man died (can’t remember his name) who had many friends in the arts and his partner of many years was prominently mentioned. I don’t know what happened here, but I’m not at all sure this is evidence of homophobia in their obituaries.

  4. paula brochu says:

    When it comes to obits, the Times is often late to publish because they wait for confirmation of the facts, directly by a family member or publicist. It’s hard to know what had been officially confirmed, or why they would omit what many consider a well-known fact. I was surprised how little attention Lou Rispoli’s death (and the subsequent efforts to raise awareness) received by the media — especially the Times.

  5. Petros LInardos says:

    II’d be surprised if the NYT have any anti-gay bias. I’ve seen plenty of the opposite. Not to mention that Anthony Tommasini is openly gay.

  6. David da Silva Cornell says:

    There have been too many LGBT individuals covered openly and respectfully as such in NYT obits for me to believe that this is anything other than a one-off slip-up. Show me a pattern, not a single data point, or two data points if you include the claim about Rispoli, except it is far from clear that Rispoli, as beloved as he was by many, warranted a NYT obit. (And if I understand the known facts correctly, it is not at all certain that his murder was in fact a hate crime. As an officer of a non-profit that educates on anti-LGBT hate crimes and memorializes those murdered in such crimes, I am not quick to dismiss any crime that might be a hate crime, but what I know of this particular crime leaves significant questions as to whether it was a hate crime.)

  7. Roberto Gonzalez says:

    Nothing new here… Gayness and news about gayness is not deemed desirable in most city newspapers. I had an interesting demonstration of newsroom homophobia with ALL the newspapers in my homeland, Puerto Rico, when I was named Music Director of the Lesbian/Gay Freedom Band in San Francisco, a few years ago. This 80-piece ensemble is the Official Band of the City of San Francisco, and notices were sent to all six newspapers on the island.

    None of the papers published ANY of the information.

  8. Welcome to the world of modern newspapers: Too few people trying to cover too much work. Details aren’t tended to, corners are cut, mistakes are made. It will only get worse until either the newspapers fail or manage to transform themselves into something sustainable.

  9. I agree with the commenters above. If you read the Times regularly it is impossible to assume that they suffer from an anti-gay bias. I think the Rispoli situation was merely an oversight or a decision that it did not warrant their attention; the other just shoddy, quick reporting.

  10. As a daily reader of the NYT and always of the obits and wedding announcements, I think the paper has gone out of its way to include notices about members of the gay community. Much more bothersome to me is their reportage on the wealthy and their ways of living, focusing on outlandishly expensive designer clothing and lavish homes.

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