The journalist who was relieved of her reporting duties after breaking a story about Jewish Gay Pride flags being banned from the Chicago Dyke March last month was demoted following pressure from the march’s organizers, claims a close friend who was with the reporter at the march.
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Some two-and-a-half weeks after her scoop, Gretchen Rachel Hammond was relieved of her journalistic duties at the paper and moved to a full-time job on its sales desk, she said. She also says she is barred from discussing the issue.
Miriam Churchill – a friend who accompanied Hammond to the Chicago Dyke March – recounted to Haaretz that as they prepared to leave the Piotrowski Park event at 4:30 P.M. on June 24, Hammond received a call from her boss, Windy City Times publisher Tracy Baim.
Three women waving Jewish Gay Pride flags – rainbow flags emblazoned with the Star of David – had apparently been kicked out of the march, Baim told Hammond. The reporter then located the women, interviewed them and published her article.
It was Baim who later demoted Hammond to another position on the LGBT weekly newspaper.
Citing Hammond’s privacy, Baim refused to explain why she removed Hammond from her job.
In a telephone interview with Haaretz, Baim repeatedly reiterated the newspaper’s complete confidence in the accuracy of Hammond’s articles.
She added, “It doesn’t matter that I’m Jewish, but I am. This has nothing to do with religion or political pressure.”
The reason for Hammond’s demotion remains unclear. She has been moved to the newspaper’s sales desk, where until now she had worked part-time alongside her journalistic duties.
Hammond told the JTA she was barred from speaking publicly. “I’m still a part of the company and it’s my only source of income. To keep what job I have, I can’t comment on it,” she said.
But Churchill posted “I stand with Gretchen Rachel Hammond” on her Facebook page, and in a follow-up phone interview with Haaretz, delivered a scathing assessment of Hammond’s treatment.
“From what I can gather, from watching everything unfold, it was because her boss got mad over the story she wrote,” Churchill alleged, adding, “I think Tracy [Baim] is afraid of the publicity.”
“The situation is perplexing,” she continued. “I was raised as a feminist and I’m Jewish. I’m also a convert from Christianity. Part of the reason I left Christianity was because of my queer identity. I found a place in modern Judaism, so I’m not really getting the position that you can’t be a Zionist and pro-equality.”
Churchill said the barrage of social media attacks Hammond suffered following the publication of her report was particularly harrowing “because she is half-Indian, and she faced a lot of racism in England – it reminded her of feeling powerless.”
Hammond “basically feels like she was bullied into leaving social media,” Churchill claimed. “From what I can gather, upon seeing the story, the Dyke March organizers became very defensive, so there was a lot of pressure from them and their friends for Gretchen to change what she was saying.”
The Chicago Dyke March Collective did not respond to Haaretz’s requests for comment about this and other allegations.
Baim told Haaretz that following an avalanche of attacks in which she was personally accused of harboring “pro-Zionist, anti-people of color” views, “it was my directive not to engage with anybody. I encouraged people to stay off social media.”
Baim added “there was no political pressure by anybody, no outside pressure” to punish Hammond, saying the demotion “was in no way a response to anything that came in from outside.”
The Chicago Dyke March Collective has issued several public statements concerning the flag incident. In its initial statement posted on Facebook on June 25, the collective acknowledged that it had “ejected three people carrying Jewish Pride flags.”
One of those women – A Wider Bridge Midwest Manager Laurel Grauer – said she and her friends were approached a number of times because they were holding the flag.
“It was a flag from my congregation which celebrates my queer, Jewish identity, which I have done for over a decade marching in the Dyke March with the same flag,” she told Hammond for the Windy City Times story.
Two days later, on June 27, the collective issued a second statement in which it said it wanted to correct “false reports based on testimony that is purposefully misleading.”
“The group in question,” the statement read, “was heard disrupting chants, replacing the word ‘Palestine’ with ‘everywhere,’ saying: ‘From everywhere to Mexico, border walls have got to go.’”
The statement continued: “Palestinian marchers approached those carrying the flags to learn more about their intentions, due to its similarity to the Israeli flag and the flag’s long history of use in pinkwashing efforts.”
Media coverage and extensive video footage of the event witnessed by Haaretz does not appear to support either contention that chants were disrupted or that Palestinian protesters were present.
The Chicago Dyke March Collective was again in the headlines Friday with a series of tweets in which it dubbed questions about perceived anti-Semitism as “Zio tears.”