Cheers And Jeers p. 14

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By: DOROTHY GIOBBE

THE SALT LAKE Tribune heard both cheers and jeers from readers last month after running a profile of a gay male couple who are parents to a nine-month-old girl.
The couple, Troy Duty and Maughn Rollins, came to the attention of the Tribune last fall when they tried to place a wedding notice in the newspaper to announce their impending commitment ceremony.
The Tribune agreed to run the notice ? with a few restrictions. The newspaper stipulated that the ad had to run on a page separate from other wedding announcements, and told the couple that the words “wedding” or “marriage” could not be used.
“This was the first one and we wanted to walk softly,” classified manager Diana Butcher told a reporter from the newspaper. “We wanted to see the reaction of the public before we made a stronger statement.”
On Oct. 1, the notice appeared along with a picture of the couple.
“Troy Duty and Maughn Rollins will formalize their relationship in a commitment ceremony this evening at the Santa Fe Restaurant,” it read. “A reception will follow.”
A few readers told the newspaper that they were uncomfortable with the ad, but the biggest response came when the Tribune followed up with a feature story about the couple a few months later.
On Dec. 29, under the headline “With this Ring,” Duty and Rollins talked about their commitment to each other and to Duty’s nine-month-old niece, Nicole, whom the two are raising.
Shelledy said the story ran in the Home and Family section of the newspaper to emphasize that there is more than one kind of family.
“For some people, [gay relationships] are a big issue and will be an issue until the day they die,” Shelledy said. “They know it exists and they want it out of sight and out of mind.
“On the other hand, it’s a reality and I thought it was an interesting story which was done quite sensitively.”
When the article ran, Shinika Sykes was just settling into her new position as reader advocate for the Tribune. Her responsibilities include acting as a liaison between the newspaper and the Salt Lake City community.
“That morning, the phones kept ringing and ringing and ringing,” Sykes remembered. “Initially, most of the calls were negative, but around one o’clock, we started getting calls where people said we were very brave to do the story ? there seemed to be some rational reasoning all of a sudden.”
Letters soon began to arrive at the newspaper.
“It kept swinging back and forth,” Sykes said of reaction to the article. “Of the letters that were negative, they were very biting and harsh, and some of them quoted the Bible.”
For her first reader advocate column, Sykes discussed the issue with readers.
“In the column, I said that even if they totally disagree with the article, they must know that the newspaper mirrors the world we live in,” Sykes said.
“As the reader advocate, I want to be the liaison between the readers and the newspaper, and I
didn’t want to blast the readers or the newspaper,” she added.
“But the article was so well-done, so well written and balanced, that I had to come out and support the Tribune and say that the newspaper handled this well.”
?(Slat Lake Tribune reader advocate Shinika Sykes said the above article on a gay couple raising a nine-month-old girl was “so well-done, so well written and balanced” that she told readers the paper had handled it well.) [Phot & Caption]

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