In the midst of the storm about Phoenix's proposed gay rights amendment, perhaps the most unexpected thunderbolt was hurled by the Arizona Republic. Two days before the Phoenix City Council was to vote on the issue, William Cheshire, the newspaper's editorial page editor, personally urged passage.
In a June 14 column that detailed a "rethinking," Cheshire concluded that "many homosexuals clearly have not abandoned themselves to degeneracy...but...uphold traditional values and lead decent, honorable lives."
"I'm well aware that the Arizona Republic is considered one of the most conservative newspapers in America," says Peter Crozier, spokesperson for the Lesbian and Gay Alliance. "And they had taken the religious right's position on homosexuality for many years."
But when new publisher Louis A. "Chip" Weil III arrived last September, Crozier says, he invited people from the community to come down to talk.
"We decided to seize the day, so to speak, and go in and voice complaints about the sort of coverage we had had in the past," says Crozier, who is an ASU physicist. "We showed them examples of editorials we found objectionable and we spoke with Bill Cheshire, and that was really the beginning of a series of meetings that occurred between the gay community and the paper."
Crozier says Weil was "very receptive" from the beginning, but Cheshire was skeptical.
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"He defended his editorials, as I would expect any writer would," Crozier says. "But he told us he was open to input. So I entered into a correspondence with him, we talked on the phone and he gradually changed his position."
Those on the other side of the issue are cynical about it.
"As we see it, the Republic and William Cheshire are aligned with the gay community in some sort of campaign to get this passed," says Cathi Herrod of the Concerned Women of America. "It extends to their editorials, to their news coverage of this issue, even to their advertising. They now have these `meet your match' advertisements in the middle of the feature section, not back in the classifieds, but where some child could find them. And you'll see these puff pieces-one was about how if it was tough being a teenager, being a gay teenager was torture-but you won't see any articles about former homosexuals."
Peter Crozier says gay activists weren't even trying to enlist support. "Our whole purpose," he says, was just to get them to stop banging on us."
Cheshire refuses to discuss his transformation with New Times. "I do not consider MDULNew TimesMDNM a reputable newspaper," he says.
No meeting between Cheshire and New Times has been set up yet.