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landau straightening out

landau straightening out - Critical Studies in Media...

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Straightening Out (the Politics of) Same-Sex Parenting: Representing Gay Families in US Print News Stories and Photographs Jamie Landau This essay argues for the hegemonic function of verbal and visual mass mediated representations of gay families and identifies particular rhetorical strategies of those representations. Specifically, a quantitative increase in visibility of same-sex parents and their children in mainstream U.S. news stories and photographs published from 2004 through 2005 does not translate to unmitigated progress. Rather, homophobic, (hetero)sexist, and heteronormative constructions are repeated, overall putting forth the site, and the literal sight, of a heterosexual child as a synecdoche and social test for gay familial life. This study fills a gap in research on representations of homosexuality in mass media and has implications for the gay and lesbian movement in today’s current socio-political climate. Keywords: Homosexuality; Gays and Lesbians; Heteronormativity; Mass Media; Visual Rhetoric; Hegemony The family is both fault line and detonation device, both the place where a resistant culture throws down the gauntlet and the explosive moment of catalytic change. * Susanna Walters (2001, p. 211) The family is the most active site of sexuality. * Michel Foucault (1978/1990, p. 109) In recent years, verbal and visual images of gay and lesbian familial relationships have had an increasing presence in mainstream mass media. Major current events like updated US Census information on gay-headed households, as well as new laws Jamie Landau is a Ph.D. candidate. Correspondence to: Dept. of Speech Communication, 110 Terrell Hall, Athens, GA 30602, USA. Email: [email protected] She wishes to thank Bonnie J. Dow, under whose direction this essay began as part of a Master’s thesis. She also appreciates feedback from Celeste M. Condit and Roger Stahl. ISSN 1529-5036 (print)/ISSN 1479-5809 (online) # 2009 National Communication Association DOI: 10.1080/15295030802684018 Critical Studies in Media Communication Vol. 26, No. 1, March 2009, pp. 80 ± 100
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legalizing and il legalizing gay familial rights, make up a large part of this mediated and societal milieu. For instance, according to the Gay & Lesbian Atlas that compiled the latest 2000 US Census data involving gays and lesbians, there are now more than 160,000 families with two gay parents and roughly a quarter of a million children (Gates & Ost, 2004). Part of this population growth is even being called the ‘‘Gayby Boom’’ (Garner, 2005, p. 5). Yet as gay and lesbian parents populate this country, their liberties, with regard to marriage and adoption, are simultaneously in flux. Recent key legislation on gay familial rights includes President George W. Bush’s call on February 24, 2004 for a US Constitutional Amendment protecting marriage between ‘‘a man and a woman.’’ In August of 2005, the California Supreme Court’s ruling on three separate cases established California as the first state in the country to grant full parenthood to same-sex partners despite the absence of legal adoption or a biological connection. By
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