Textbook example of balanced reporting


Gay rights vs. religious freedom.

Too often when those two forces collide, a train wreck demanding GetReligion attention of the negative kind occurs (examples here, here and here).

So when I saw this front-page San Antonio Express-News headline Thursday, I was curious to see how the story would handle the competing interests:

Firing of Macy's worker pits freedom of religion vs. GLBT rights

Certainly, the headline gave me hope that the report would treat each side fairly. So did the byline, that of talented Godbeat pro Abe Levy.

The top of the story:

A former Macy's employee who said she was fired for refusing to let a transgender woman use the women's dressing room at the Rivercenter mall location is trying to get her job back.

The case, pitting freedom of religion in the workplace vs. corporations' growing acceptance for the rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people, has attracted national attention.

Natalie Johnson said that on Nov. 30, she confronted the customer leaving the women's fitting room and politely made clear no men were allowed.

Johnson said the customer wore makeup and dressed in women's clothes but was recognizably a man.

The customer argued she was a woman, but Johnson said she held her ground.

She said a manager called her in the next day.

As I kept reading, the informative but evenhanded way that the Express-News approached the story impressed me. At the end of the piece — roughly 800 words — I had no idea what the writer might think concerning who's right and who's wrong in this dispute. But I understood clearly the positions of the major players.

Among this story's specific strengths:

Sourcing: Besides the fired employee, the reporter quotes a Macy's spokeswoman, advocates on each side, the employee's pastor and a minister at a gay-friendly church. The writer also explains why the customer is not interviewed:

The customer's identity has not been revealed.

Context: The story provides important background that helps readers understand why the San Antonio store may taken the action it did:

In May 2010, a transgender employee at a Macy's store in Torrance, Calif., sued the company, accusing it of gender discrimination and wrongful termination.

But since 2007, Macy's has received the top rating of 100 percent in the Human Rights Campaign's evaluation of corporation's treatment of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.

In the Rivercenter mall incident, Staver and Johnson said the customer was accompanied by five friends who responded to her objections with expletives. They reminded her of Macy's GLBT-friendly policy, including the use of fitting rooms.

Ghostbusting: Since this is GetReligion, you know that we prefer stories without ghosts. This one allow both sides to express their religious views in their own words:

“Obviously, (Macy's) policy is not equal, because I was fired for standing up for what I believe in,” Johnson said. “I couldn't lie and say that he was a woman. I'm going to be accountable to what I say to my Lord Jesus. And I'm taking up for my female customers who might feel uncomfortable with a man in the fitting room.”

Johnson's pastor, Bishop Robert Doxie, backed her stand.

“We believe the Bible was right when it says God created men and women,” said Doxie, who said his church is attended by 50 to 100 at an average service. “We stand on that and promote that.”

But a minister at a local GLBT-friendly Christian church said that while it may be tricky to make room for transgender people, it's a matter of justice.

“Transgender people are who God created them to be and are authentically living it out, and that means letting them decide which bathroom or dressing room is best for them,” said the Rev. Mick Hinson of Metropolitan Community Church of San Antonio.

“Macy's is supporting all people. I'm sorry this ex-employee felt this was a religious issue, but if that's the case, she'll have problems in all walks of life where people make decisions she doesn't agree with.”

Kudos to Levy and the Express-News for a textbook example of balanced reporting.

Photo via Shutterstock

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