Journalist, author, and award-winning filmmaker David France cares deeply about fairness and social justice. He has won a GLAAD Media Award and an Excellence in Mental Health Journalism award. He is the sort of person who has likely done a lot of good for the world.
David France has also written one of the most cruel, heartless, and craven singlist statements I have ever read. It appeared in the prestigious New York Magazine.
The context was the death of former New York City mayor Ed Koch. Koch was beloved by many. At his funeral, “The packed crowd broke into a spontaneous standing ovation as the coffin made its way out of the synagogue.” Mayor Bloomberg and President Clinton spoke at the service.
But Koch also came under withering attack for his significant failures, including his inaction during the early years of the AIDS crisis. Recounting his days as a reporter, David France said this about the treatment of AIDS patients at St. Vincent’s Hospital:
“We regularly received phone calls from St. Vincent patients complaining that staff members fearing the disease was airborne refused to bring them food, instead piling their trays outside their doors, or that terrified nurses wouldn’t bandage their wounds or change their soiled linens. It was like something out of a Saramago novel. I personally brought this information to Koch myself, as the first journalist with gay-media credentials to address him in a Blue Room press conference. He responded explosively. “Don’t be ridiculous,” he told me.”
The horrors continued:
“Those were the early days. As the epidemic mushroomed, the city’s hospitals simply ran out of space for all of the patients, and again he was silent. Deathly ill people were routinely turned away. At some hospitals, patients were lined up on gurneys along the emergency room hallways for days on end awaiting medical care that never came.”
David France was rightfully incensed. But his explanation for Koch’s shameful non-response is where the jaw-dropping singlism comes in. Koch, France said:
“…died as he lived — an utterly single man, a “lifelong bachelor.” Yes, he had a tight inner circle of friends for weekly lunches and daily phone calls. And yes, there was that rumor, never corroborated, of an affair with a City Hall aide who was soon relocated to the southwest. But whatever lurked in his heart, Koch never coupled.
“As I pored through the hundreds of hours of archival footage for my documentary film How to Survive a Plague, that fact stood out above any other as a probable explanation for why he seemed to lack even the faintest stirrings of empathy when the AIDS crisis came.”
If you can stand to do so, stop for a moment and let that sink in. Ed Koch, David France is proclaiming, let untold numbers of people with AIDS die too quickly, and in the most humiliating ways, because he was a lifelong single man, because he never coupled.
I have been studying single people, and acts of singlism, for a long time. I think this is the nastiest and most sickening example of a prejudicial statement against single people that I have ever seen. If you know of one that is worse, let me know. I don’t just mean a gratuitously mean statement from our contemporary era. Do you know of anything more insensitive than David France’s statement, from anyone, from any era?
Remember, this statement was written by someone with all sorts of social justice credibility, and it got by an editor at terrific, cutting-edge magazine.
Koch was hardly a “lonely bachelor,” no matter how badly others wished to portray him as such. David France’s own acknowledgment of Koch’s “tight inner circle of friends for weekly lunches and daily phone calls” is refutation enough. (Also check out this story about those friends.) Koch also had a loving family life:
“Noah Thaler, Koch’s grand-nephew, praised him as a “doting grandfather” who was devoted to his family. Thaler recalled fond memories of Koch attending elementary school soccer games and getting a manicure with his 11-year-old grand-niece.”
It should not matter, though. Living single, regardless of your friendships or family life, does not mean that you “lack even the faintest stirrings of empathy.”
Interestingly, David France seemed to acknowledge as much at the end of his New York article, though he didn’t seem to realize it. France said that Ed Koch went to see his film, How to Survive a Plague, and that afterwards, he was “a changed man”:
“He called the demonstrations against him “necessary to keep the issue on the front burner” and called upon Obama to grant them Presidential Medals of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.”
The man who saluted the demonstrators and asked President Obama to honor them was still single. The still-uncoupled mayor was fully able to empathize with people with AIDS and fight for social justice. I think that slays the heartless-bachelor slur.
[Note. Thanks to my sister, Lisa DePaulo, for the heads-up about these articles about Ed Koch.]
Lilies photo available from Shutterstock
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Last reviewed: 7 Feb 2013