4th annual gathering examines wide range of topics including immigration reform, aging, HIV and transgender issues
by Chuck Colbert
A select group of LGBT media professionals gathered recently for a weekend symposium concerning a range of social justice issues of importance to the LGBT community.
Sponsored by the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association (NLGJA) and funded by the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund, the 4th annual LGBT Media Journalists Convening was held the weekend of Feb. 22-24 at the Loews Philadelphia Hotel.
NLGJA board member Bil Browning, founder and editor in chief of the Bilerico Project blog who organized the meeting, served as host.
“The goal of the on-the-record convening is to improve and expand the reporting capabilities of the LGBT media,” said Browning. “We bring together the top journalists covering LGBT issues and the up-and-coming folks who should have a larger voice in the national discussion specifically to encourage fellowship and professional networking.”
In all, the 2013 gathering brought together, by invitation only, 70 journalists and bloggers from various LGBT newspapers and websites nationwide.
How is the convening important to gay media and LGBT editors, reporters and citizen journalists?
“LGBT newspapers and blogs are not only critical sources of information for our community, they also drive public opinion and action,” said Matt Foreman, program director for the Haas Fund, quoted in San Francisco-based Bay Area Reporter.
“The annual convening for LGBT editors and bloggers gives these thought leaders the chance to get in-depth information about leading issues of the day, such as immigration reform, and to get to know one another,” added Foreman, a former executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.
A private family foundation based in San Francisco, Haas “promotes equal rights and opportunities with an emphasis on immigrants and gays and lesbians,” according to its mission statement.
The focus of this year’s convening was coalition building.
In addition to LGBT issues in immigration reform, the weekend agenda included four other 70-minute sessions, which covered the topics of LGBT workers and the labor movement, LGBT seniors and aging, international issues in global equality, and transgender issues.
Philadelphia Mayor Michael A. Nutter spoke to attendees during lunch on Saturday. Longtime gay-rights activists Cleve Jones and David Mixner held a question-and-answer session during Friday night’s opening reception and dinner, hosted by Comcast atop its headquarters’ tower in downtown Philadelphia.
The Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Campaign sponsored a Saturday night meet-up for attendees and hosted a Sunday morning free sightseeing tour of historic Philadelphia, followed by a brunch.
Non-participants were able to follow the proceedings through social media with the hashtag #LGBTmedia13. Attendees tweeted and posted as online followers commented and asked questions.
In fact, “the social media aspect has grown so large that we were the top trending hashtag that day on Twitter,” said Browning.
Perhaps the most detailed first-hand account of the weekend is African-American transgender activist and blogger Monica Robert’s Feb. 26 post on TransGriot (http://transgriot.blogspot.com).
The social justice and coalition building focuses appealed to many attendees.
“The event reinforced the need to make sure our coverage includes multiple perspectives from within the LGBT community, as well as the need to show how our work relates to issues that impact other communities as well,” said Dana Rudolph, who publishes Mombian, a lifestyle blog for lesbian mothers and other LGBT parents.
“I think the event gave us the opportunity to step back from our usual areas of coverage and remember the broader landscape of which we are part,” she said.
Stepping outside the workplace was important for Jen Colletta, editor of Philadelphia Gay News (PGN). “Often, as editors and writers, we get very absorbed into the routine of churning out a newspaper on deadline or posting to our blogs regularly and can lose sight of some of the larger issues impacting the community,” she said. “It’s helpful to meet with other media professionals to put the work we do on a daily basis in a wider context. Learning more about the issues themselves, and talking with other media members about the challenges they’ve had in covering them, can be effective to generate new ideas that help us accurately address the myriad needs of our readers.”
Colletta said the session on transgender issues was a highlight of the weekend for her. “It created a lively, energetic discussion but there was certainly room for divergent opinions and views, which was enlightening.”
For Matthew Bajko, assistant editor at Bay Area Reporter, the convening was all about “source building and hearing about different things coverage-wise that you might not be aware of.”
During the various sessions, he explained, “You can delve a little deeper with each of the panelists. The point is to give you little kernels of info that you can pursue for a story once you get back home and to work.”
Bajko relied on comments from the Q-and-A with Jones and Mixner for one of his “Political Notes” columns.
For Sean Bugg, editor and co-publisher of Washington, D.C.-based Metro Weekly, “The main takeaway is that we need to be more keenly aware of how we decide what topics we cover. While I don’t necessarily agree with those who criticized the event for not having an HIV-specific panel, that leads to the question of what you cut. Transgender issues? Aging issues?”
The omission of an HIV-specific session, said Bugg, “raised a significant point about how our attention is driven as journalists, bloggers and writers. Since I’m heading up a newsmagazine that’s committed to a broad range of topics, I’m sensitive to the needs of some parts of our LGBT community that aren’t being met or are receiving inadequate attention. While I think my staff does a great job of diversifying our coverage, we’re not perfect and we’re always open to criticism and suggestions.”
Based on his participation, Bugg penned his weekly column: “Picking and Choosing: When ‘LGBT issues’ includes hundreds of topics, how do we as journalists and activists focus our attention? (http://www.metroweekly.com/news/opinion/?ak=8156)
The absence of HIV/AIDS was not lost on another attendee, Mark S. King, an award-winning columnist, author, video blogger and AIDS advocate.
While in Philadelphia, King produced a video titled “HIV and Gay Media: The Vanishing Virus.”
Voicing concern about rising rates of HIV-infection among younger men, particularly African Americans, King asks on camera, “What I want to know is where is HIV on the agenda? What do [attendees] think about HIV’s coverage in the media today?”
In a subsequent blog posting, King pressed further: “What, then, is the responsibility of LGBT media in this climate of rising infection rates and a bored readership? Are they simply reflecting the community’s waning interest, or do they have a responsibility to keep HIV in the headlines, to serve as advocates for better public awareness?”
Meanwhile, Washington Blade reporter Michael K. Lavers said immigration issues and activism resonated most for him. “Hearing David Mixner and Cleve Jones discuss their experiences as long-time LGBT rights advocates and the discussion on the state of LGBT rights outside the United States were highlights of the weekend,” he explained. “It is important that we as a community acknowledge and pay tribute to those who paved the way for future generations of LGBT people, and I am pleased that they took the time to speak with us in Philadelphia.”
Lavers reported on Mayor Nutter’s lunchtime remarks, in which Nutter affirmed his support for marriage equality.
PGN founder and publisher Mark Segal said he was grateful the weekend’s agenda included LGBT aging, which he said, “is swept under the carpet way too much.”
Added Metro Weekly’s Bugg, “The discussion around aging was an important reminder for me, perhaps because I’ve become solidly middle-aged in recent years.”
Highlighting his work on an LGBT senior housing project, Segal penned his weekly column as a preview of the convening.
What did other participants have to say?
“The feedback was really positive and constructive,” said Sarah Blazucki, who facilitated a wrap-up session. “One of the requests that was raised a few times – have more interaction among the participants: less classroom, more interaction. Folks also suggested seeking ways to collaborate with each other to get their stories out, professional development, and addressing topics such as race, gender identity and bisexuality.”
“For LGBT media, it’s great to be able to connect with sources and resources you might not have known about before, or not had direct access to,” continued Blazucki, an NLGJA vice president for print and digital media who served on the host committee. “For some of the smaller media outlets, this is invaluable to improving coverage. Also, the ability to share knowledge and learn from your peers is extremely helpful, particularly for the small outlets who might not have financial resources for training or professional development.”
Veteran journalist Rex Wockner offered an assessment. “The people who shape America’s LGBT news come together in one place and connect, reconnect, network, hang out, drink, stay up too late and listen to presentations on topics that will be more prominent in LGBT news in coming months and years. … [The convening] unquestionably helps the nation’s LGBT journalists and bloggers get more things more right more often.”