A Tragedy In Retrospect

5.13.2009

By Out.com Editors

The day after Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold marched into Columbine High School in Colorado armed with sawed-off shotguns, bombs, and a murderous determination to make history, Salon.com reporter Dave Cullen was in Clement Park, a field adjoining the school. The Denver-based GLAAD Media Award winner began overhearing gossip about the killers and has been investigating the tragedy ever since. In his new book, Columbine, Cullen chronicles what the media got right, what it got wrong, and what it didn't get at all in its coverage of the massacre. Here, he discusses one of the most insidious rumors circling the story: that the Columbine killers were gay.

Out: When did you first hear the rumor that the killers were gay?
Dave Cullen: It must have been the morning right after Columbine. I was in Clement Park, where all the students had gathered. I kept hearing these kids talking about how [Harris and Klebold] were fags, and it really struck me. It wasn't all the kids. I was a little reticent to say it, but it was mostly the jocks.

Well, were they gay?
No. It was obvious these kids were pulling this stuff out of their asses. The media would ask, 'How do you know they were gay?' and the answers were ridiculous. For some students, calling someone gay is still the worst epithet you can throw at a kid. The students had this anger. They wanted to get back at the killers, so they did it by saying they were gay.

Of all the rumors floating around, the gay one didn't catch on at first.
I'm still conflicted about the media coverage of the gay thing. There was a great big silence around the rumors. Most reporters were straight -- certainly those covering this story were -- and they didn't know what to do with it. On one hand, they didn't want to fan the flames -- to their credit. But then they were overlooking the fact that in Clement Park there was a very different story going around.

After Jerry Falwell repeated the rumors on Geraldo, they spread. Was there panic in the gay community?
The head of the gay and lesbian center in Denver was terrified about it and thought it might come out. He had meetings with people from GLAAD and HRC about how to handle the backlash. A lot of gay people were cringing at the idea that gay people would be blamed, that people would say, 'Those gay people are killing us now!'

That didn't happen.
No, there were much bigger bogeymen, like Marilyn Manson, to go after, so the gay thing fell down on the list. The goths, though, took it pretty hard.

Columbine (Twelve, $26.99) is available now.

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