What to Write

By Saturday afternoon, St. George was wrestling with a draft of the article. In her evolving draft, she identified Rogers as an accomplished officer who navigated a risky line between his private life and the government’s ban on being openly gay. She also mentioned Rogers’ leadership role in AVER. But St. George had reservations. For one thing, she remembered that SLDN’s Alexander had mentioned that Rogers’ friends had agonized for weeks over whether to bring the story to the media’s attention. If Rogers had been as openly gay as Alexander and others said, why had they hesitated to make his story public? Did their initial reluctance indicate a suspicion that, perhaps, it was not so clear-cut? Moreover, at the funeral Rogers’ military colleagues had not seemed to know he had been gay. St. George observed that some soldiers “who were his peers, who were officers… were surprised as they began to put together that part of his life,” she recalls.

Early in her career, St. George had spent 19 months writing obituaries for the Philadelphia Inquirer but she had never come across a case like this. Now in her third day of reporting the story, there was still no clarity on Rogers’ wishes: As an active-duty officer, would he have wanted his sexual orientation mentioned in his obituary? Rogers’ membership in AVER indicated that he cared deeply about a gay-rights issue, but that fact “was not enough to take us over the threshold” of proving that he wanted his orientation published in the paper, St. George says.

On Saturday afternoon St. George messaged Lynn Medford, a Metro editor who ran the desk on Saturdays. St. George explained that she had a draft of the story but wasn’t sure about identifying Rogers as a gay officer. On reading the story, St. George wrote, some readers might feel that the Post was outing Rogers because there still was no proof she could find that Rogers would have wanted this information made public. How did Medford feel about that? Medford, who had originally wanted to go with the story, agreed that the Post had a problem. “My first instinct was, well, the Post has a ‘no outing’ rule,” recalls Medford. “But in this case, the problem was more that we didn’t know [Rogers’] wishes. And who were we to speak for the dead?” comments Medford. [1]

Medford went to see St. George in person and, after discussing the issue, they agreed that the missing part of the puzzle—Rogers’ own wishes—was too important to allow the story to go to print without further discussion. Says St. George:

We felt like, in some form, it had to come from him. It was his private life, and it needed to come from him. Whether it was a friend who had a long, deep conversation, or it was a family member who knew this is what he wanted, or it was a partner who lived with him or shared some part of his life with him who could speak to that and say, yeah, the only reason he didn’t disclose this was because there were ramifications for his career, but otherwise, he would have loved to have disclosed this and he would want to be remembered upon his death in this way.

There was also the fact, Medford says, of “activists bringing their politics into it” and posthumously turning Rogers into a political cause célèbre. Would Rogers have agreed to be used this way, even for a cause he believed in? Medford and St. George decided that this was not an issue they could solve alone and held the story until they could have a wider conversation about it during the week.

[1] Author’s interview with Lynn Medford, October 13, 2008, in New York, NY. All further quotes from Medford, unless otherwise attributed, are from this interview.