by Chuck Colbert
The National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association (NLGJA) is launching a new program, one the organization hopes raises the importance of and need for reporting on matters of faith and religion as they connect with politics and the LGBT community.
NLGJA president Jen Christensen and board member Matthew Berger announced the new endeavor, “The Michael Triplett Speakers Series,” during the closing reception of the association’s annual convention, held in Boston, August 23-25.
“Michael Triplett was a great leader and a good friend. He was a caring man of principle, deep talent and many passions including journalism, politics and his faith,” said Christensen recently in email correspondence. “To continue the gift he was to so many, NLGJA will provide a forum for thought leaders on these important topics. His legacy will continue through this keynote series at the intersection of spirituality, politics and the LGBT community.”
The late Triplett, who served briefly as NLGJA president, died earlier this year at the age of 48 after a two-year battle with oral cancer.
In a recent telephone interview, Berger spoke about the origins and hope for the new program.
“Michael really had a strong faith connection, and you learned that about him very early on in working with him,” said Berger. “We looked at what made him the unique and wonderful person he was, that was a key part of it.”
The speaker series is “one way to honor not just his work in LGBT journalism, but his active faith life.” Berger added. “Michael’s faith was an interesting part, a unique thing about him, especially among LGBT journalists.”
Berger said NLGJA will pull together a board committee of association members and outside experts on the topic. One idea is to feature a plenary session at the convention in Chicago next year. Another thought is to hold an event in Michael’s community or elsewhere, bringing in speakers.
“My hope is that we will have a mixture of both, some years as part of the convention and other years as a stand alone event,” said Berger.
Triplett belonged to St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Washington, D.C. An Evangelical Lutheran worshipping community, St. Paul’s is a Reconciling in Christ congregation, which publicly and explicitly welcomes LGBT believers.
Among mainline denominations of American Protestantism, Evangelical Lutherans have made significant strides in embracing full denominational equality for LGBT people. In fact, this month a southern California Lutheran synod installed an openly gay pastor as its bishop. The Rev. Dr. R. Guy Erwin’s selection earlier this year is indeed historic for the four-million-member Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ECLA) on three scores. He is openly gay, partnered, and Native American – a member of the Osage Tribe.
The issue of gays and religion — sometimes framed as gays versus God — has gained traction among gay activists.
“When you look at the issues the LGBT community is dealing with right now, that journalists are covering, many have to do with faith, the question of where are we in faith communities and how are we perceived by our faith communities, whether it is marriage or adoption or any other issue,” said Berger. “We’re very good in the LGBT community and as journalists in reporting on how the government deals with us and how government treats us, but I think how we are treated by faith communities and we interact with faith communities is a really less spoken about, important factor.”
In all, “people of faith in the LGBT community have been underreported,” Berger said. The Triplett speaker’s initiative “will open the eyes of our membership for LGBT journalists to LGBT people of faith and what they contribute to the dialogue, people like Michael who were both proudly members of the LGBT community and a proud member of his faith community.”