At least seven of the queer blogs that I read on a daily basis all reported that 18-year-old Minnesota teen Lance Lundsten killed himself over the weekend. Truth Wins Out, The Bilerico Project, the Advocate, Joe.My.God, Towleroad, the Dallas Voice, and Queerty all initially got it wrong, or at least reported Lance’s death without all the information, and now only a handful of those blogs are reporting that Lundsten may have died from a heart condition (even though his medical examiner isn’t sure). Is the queer press so desperate for youthful victims in this “It Gets Better” age that we’re willing to make a martyr out a dead gay teen without first confirming how he actually died?
I know that blogs prefer to be first with breaking news and that they can’t always confirm accurate details all the time—that’s why some publish updates and redactions as new info comes to light. But all the blogs I mentioned have large readerships and influence behind them, and each one spread the unconfirmed information about Lundsten’s presumed “suicide” faster than a mangled sentence in a game of telephone. In fact, Zachary Sire at The Sword (NSWF) was one of the first queer bloggers to mention that the suicide rumors started on Lundsten’s Facebook page, adding “Is this the right way to determine a gay teenager’s cause of death? Facebook?”
Don’t get me wrong, it seems the kid was openly gay and bullied despite his school having anti-bullying policies and the latter is an important fact we should focus on to prevent future queer suicides. But ruling Lundsten’s death a suicide and then pointing to it as proof that we need to sue schools who don’t do enough to prevent them seems especially perverse now that we’re admitting that no one knows how he actually died.
It speaks ill of our community and is an immense disrespect to Lundsten and his family for us to make a martyr of this kid. The already contentious battle for decreasing anti-gay bullying in schools isn’t helped by such mistakes. Reporting such misinformation discredit the gay blogosphere and set us up for being accused of using dead kids to score political points—truly a massive fail on our parts.
That’s not to deny the countless queer kids who have committed suicide due to intimidation nor is it to imply that highlighting actual queer suicides somehow cheapens them by merely seeking to make political fodder from tragedy. Moreso, it’s important for queer blogs to get information on such stories correct because: 1) we owe queer kids the basic respect of at least reporting their deaths accurately, 2) our opponents could easily take this mistake and throw it back in our faces by saying that we seek to politicize tragedy, and 3) as we increasingly get our breaking news from social media networks, people may seek to exploit the gay blogosphere by having them repeat baseless news stories for shock and free press rather than social justice.
Take the case of ManCrunch.com for instance. When CBS rejected the Super Bowl ad for ManCrunch.com’s gay dating service, ManCrunch cried “discrimination.” Many queer websites repeated their version of events only to discover later that the ad ManCrunch supposedly spent thousands of dollars on looked like shit, offended gays, blacks, and straights alike and that the shoddy upstart could never have afforded the Super Bowl’s exorbitant advertising fees.
Basically, the company played queer blogs for free press by appealing to their appetite for an anti-gay scandal. In the end, ManCrunch got their names and crappy commercial in the faces of thousands of gay readers (much better than a Super Bowl ad could have provided) and got to wear the mantle of gay victim all while cashing in on clueless queers willing to repeat their sob story.
Yes, queer media in the digital age is still in its adolescence, but it needs very badly to grow up if LGBT blogs hope to retain the trust of their readership, the respect of the greater community and avoid harming our community in the endless race to provide shocking news first.