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Boys on the Board/Gay Grief on the Obit Pages/Sniping From the Tower



Boys on the Board

A two-year study by Chicago Women in Philanthropy came to a striking conclusion: Programs designed specifically for women and girls "are receiving only 1.4% of the total dollars donated by Chicago-area grantmakers to non-profit organizations."

CWIP, which is composed of about 200 women at local foundations and charities, believes this percentage is far too low. And in a report with the yeasty title ShortSighted: How Chicago-Area Grantmakers Can Apply a Gender Lens to See the Connections Between Social Problems and Women's Needs, CWIP says what should be done about it.

The 20-page executive summary of ShortSighted was passed out at a news conference two months ago. The Tribune's Cheryl Thompson reported that the Chicago Assault Services Network has knocked its head against a brick wall for two years trying to raise $45,000 to establish a hot line for victims of sexual assault. The Defender's Marian Moore noted that CWIP considered day care "another need private grantors should address because without it, mothers cannot go to work and therefore are forced on the welfare rolls."

The Sun-Times's Cindy Richards distilled several of the study's arguments:

"For example, foundations that fight poverty ought to fund women's programs because 75 percent of those living in poverty are women and children. . . . Organizations that fight crime should spend some of their money battling domestic violence and sexual assault."

Pleased to read this sympathetic coverage, CWIP members were perplexed by a contrary editorial in the Sun-Times a couple of days later: Mild-mannered and not especially intelligible, the editorial reasoned, "Everybody and his or her cause needs dough. As for breaking down charity for women's issues, wouldn't education, health care and job programs all be considered women's issues? If foundations allot so many dollars to women's groups, the pie could soon get smaller, not larger, for women's concerns."

"I was shocked," says Mary Servatius, who chaired CWIP's research committee. "I was convinced they hadn't even read the executive summary [which she wrote]. . . . They seemed to make an argument at the end that if they gave more money to women's groups it might mean less money for women's concerns. That makes no sense to us. . . . They clearly did not understand the main point we were trying to get across--that we as a city and a country will never solve major problems like poverty and health care if we do not target money and resources specifically to meet the needs of women. Because women are 75 percent of the poor."

We also believe the editorial board members never read the 20-page executive summary or even spoke to Cindy Richards. They merely reacted to her article. The five-person board is too small to do all of the research it needs to, which helps account for the slipshod way it sometimes makes policy. Making matters worse in this instance, only one board member, Mary Galligan, is a woman, and since coming back from maternity leave since she's been working part-time.

Among the flurry of critical letters the editorial summoned was one from the Chicago Foundation for Women. "The Sun-Times has generally covered women's issues with great intelligence," observed executive director Marianne Philbin and board chair Kathy Hurley, "in part because of the contributions of writers like Cindy Richards and Carole Ashkinaze. We were therefore disappointed and concerned that the Sun-Times would have misunderstood this issue."

But Ashkinaze, an editorial board member and columnist, was sent packing last August. The only woman to appear steadily on the editorial pages these days is the conservative Suzanne Fields. Feminist readers, not to mention several ambitious women staff members, continue to wonder if and when Ashkinaze will be replaced, and by whom. Editor Dennis Britton isn't saying.

Philbin and Hurley told Britton they'd "welcome the opportunity to meet with your editorial board." They mailed their letter a month ago, and Philbin says Britton never responded.

Chicago Women in Philanthropy won't let the matter drop. Last week three CWIP leaders wrote Britton "to express our disbelief and disappointment" in his paper's editorial, which "refuses to see that there are indeed greater numbers of women and children than men in greater need in our city." The CWIP leaders asked to meet with Britton and the editorial board. "Otherwise, as you cover the life of this city, you miss a dimension that affects the lives of half of its population."

Britton hasn't gotten back to these correspondents either. (And he didn't return our calls.) Recently the entire Sun-Times newsroom staff was put through sensitivity training. It could be he reasons that when hearts are so pure there's no need to deal with appearances.

Gay Grief on the Obit Pages

A friend wrote asking us to compare two obituaries. The first appeared in the New York Times and began:

"James A. Goode, an author and the editor of several major national magazines, died Sunday at St. Joseph's Hospital in Burbank, Calif. He was 68 and lived in Los Angeles.

"He died of a heart attack, said Harry W. Carey, his companion."

Carey was later named as a survivor, along with Goode's mother and brother.

A version of the same obit, taken from the Times news wire, was carried two days later by the Chicago Tribune. It began: "LOS ANGELES--James A. Goode, an author and a top editor of several major national magazines, has died at age 68." It concluded: "Survivors include his mother, Mary, and brother, Damon." Harry W. Carey went unmentioned.

The elision is uncharacteristic of the Tribune. Head obit writer Kenan Heise, who had nothing to do with it, tells us that for the last decade--that is, pretty much throughout the era of AIDS--he has tried to acknowledge intimate mourners who were related to the deceased by neither blood nor marriage. "If somebody called in the obituary and indicated the person was gay, I went out of my way to find the person who was the companion and work it in one way or another." Heise could accomplish this by allowing the "long-time friend" to comment on the subject's life or career.

"I think the significant move was to put them in as survivors," Heise went on. The Tribune made this policy change about three years ago.

And sure enough, the same day our friend's letter arrived, someone else sent us copies of three obits of Gregory Markopoulos, an avant-garde Chicago filmmaker of the 1960s. The Tribune's obit, written by Heise, concluded, "Survivors include his companion, Robert Beavers." The Sun-Times wrote, "He leaves no immediate survivors and no services were held." And the New York Times reported, "There are no survivors."

Our correspondent commented, "The Sun-Times apparently doesn't print the names of same-sex companions, but even their 'no immediate survivors' is better than the NYTimes's error. There are almost always 'survivors,' and Markopoulos left many--I hardly knew him well, but his films changed my life."

Charles McWhinnie, the Sun-Times's head obit writer, says his paper limits survivors to the immediate family. "I was told a companion is not the immediate family."

So does the Tribune deserve points for human decency? No. A couple of weeks ago a Highland Park resident named Charles Asher lost his wife Jane to cancer. He wrote a death notice--a paid ad submitted to the classified department--in which he tried to celebrate Jane Asher by honoring her as his "lover and wife." The Sun-Times published the ad as he wrote it, but the Tribune changed "lover" to "partner."

Asher was furious. "I was going to go through the Tribune and pick out the words of sex and hate and starvation and say, "I don't mind those words, but why is it this you take exception to?"'

The reason is policy. "Lover" is too charged a word for the Tribune to handle.

"Right now, with the way things are," an ad salesman explained, "if we allow heterosexuals to do it, we have to allow gays to do it. And we do not permit it."

Sniping From the Tower

Maybe we heard one radio ad too many defending the Tribune's price increase. At any rate, they began to sound like backhanded compliments to the paper's talent. As in--we've got Bob Verdi, and he's worth 15 cents.

Verdi's the centerpiece of the ad celebrating the Tribune's sports section and ridiculing the opposition. But the Tribune didn't stop there. Last week's KidNews carried a feature called "Hottest & Nottest." Guess which column "attitude" led off?

"Attitude: Shoes with attitude, bands with attitude, kids with attitude--enough already! Just be yourself."

Writer Brenda Herrmann cooked up this gibe without help from the marketing department. "We definitely did mean [the Sun-Times], but we were trying to be subtle," she told us. "We had some jabs at ourselves, but they got cut for space. We had "Dear Abby' on the not list."

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Bruce Powell.

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