by Chuck Colbert
A select group of LGBT media professionals gathered recently for a weekend symposium concerning a range of LGBT community issues and media-related concerns.
Sponsored by the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association (NLGJA) and funded by the Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr. Fund, the 5th annual LGBT Media Journalists Convening was held Feb. 28 to March 2 at the Capitol Hilton in downtown Washington, D.C. A private family foundation based in San Francisco, the Haas fund “promotes equal rights and opportunities with an emphasis on immigrants and gays and lesbians,” according to its mission statement.
|Bil Browning (Photo by Michael Key/Washington Blade.
Used with permission.)
NLGJA board member Bil Browning, founder and publisher of the Bilerico Project blog, organized the meeting. Also representing Bilerico was its editor in chief John Becker, who wrote about the gathering.
“I’m honored to host the only gathering that brings together LGBT media’s traditional journalists and bloggers as one complete package,” said Browning. “I’m proud of how it’s grown every year and how our following on social media has skyrocketed. Not only do participants in the room get to question presenters, but also so do our followers. Everything is on the record so we reach as many people as possible, both inside and out of LGBT media.”
Altogether, the 2014 gathering brought together, by invitation only, 74 journalists and bloggers from various LGBT newspapers and websites nationwide.
Highlights of the weekend gathering included an opening reception featuring Andrea Mitchell, NBC News’ chief foreign affairs correspondent.
|NBC News’ Andrea Mitchell (Photo by Michael Key/
Washington Blade. Used with permission.)
Held at the headquarters of the AFL-CIO, the reception also included remarks by the legislative director of the Communications Workers of America, Shane Larson, who spoke about the alliance between the labor and LGBT movements.
Another highlight was an early Saturday morning tour of the White house, organized by Ellie Schafer, the highest-ranking lesbian at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
Back at the Washington Hilton afterwards, attendees participated in a full day of panels and discussion.
The first panel, “Mythbusters: Understanding & Deconstructing the Attack Lines of the Anti-LGBT Industry,” discussed push-back strategies against the anti-LGBT industry, its activists and organizations, particularly how to debunk junk social-science research that attacks same-sex parenting, such as Mark Regnerus’ roundly rebuked, but widely-cited New Family Structures Study.
The second panel, “What We Don’t Talk About: Radical Methods For Greater Diversity In Queer Journalism,” raised awareness of the need for more effective and fuller coverage of the bisexual and transgender communities, people of color and HIV issues.
After lunch, discussion and conversation turned to immigration reform and the future of LGBT media.
The final panel, “Airing Our Dirty Laundry: Best Practices in Airing Touchy Subjects,” grappled with the sometimes-thorny matters of intra-community homophobia, bi-phobia and trans-phobia, racism and classism, as well as the underfunding for LGBT journalism and best practices when celebrities make anti-LGBT missteps. One option suggested was giving people the benefit of the doubt when they are not as well informed on LGBT issues as hoped for.
As she noted, “The all-day Convening on Saturday was less steeped in politics and more about how LGBT media can press the LGBT equality agenda — and how we must confront issues within the community as well— specifically the lack of understanding about and coverage of the intersection of race, transgender and bisexual issues.”
Other attendees offered their impressions and observations.
For veteran blogger and online leader Mike Rogers, “The annual … convening has grown into one of the most important gathering of journalists each year. Not only has the event grown each year, but its increased diversity and the addition of media trainings has taken the program to new heights. As I speak with journalists and online media folks, I hear repeatedly how productive these weekends are.”
An attendee for all five years, Rogers added, “Each one has left attendees with useful information, phenomenal personal contacts and skills that will benefit their careers and the movement long after the meeting ends. Most important, the gathering helps to build a real community of people who usually know each other via quick phone calls and instant messages. It is efforts like this that bridge the space between people and the web. In a world where so much happens virtually, it is important to support community development. The media trainings are an important addition to the program. By empowering people to speak publicly we give them the tools to create change and ultimately, that is what a movement is about.”
Second time attendee Jason Parsley, associate publisher at South Florida Gay News, said he appreciated “being able to network with LGBT media professionals and outlets from the across the country. More importantly, the topics presented were informative and have inspired several story ideas that I have now assigned to freelancers. One of the topics was bisexuality and how the bi community is portrayed in the media. That presentation inspired me to recruit a columnist from the conference who will address the obstacles and needs of the bi community.”
Also a second-time attendee, Jen Colletta, editor at Philadelphia Gay News, said that she “enjoyed getting to hear the diversity of viewpoints among the guests and panelists. Even though we all work in LGBT media, each person brought his or her own experiences to the table, and it was really helpful to learn from those experiences. I particularly enjoyed discussions around ways to strengthen coverage of sensitive topics, as I think that’s something all media outlets, LGBT and mainstream, can improve on.”
For her part, Autumn Sandeen, San Diego LGBT Weekly columnist and blogger at Transadvocate, said that she “got the most out of networking with other journalists, especially the trans journalists I hadn’t met in person previously.”
Much to her surprise, however, Sandeen said, “Of the four questions that were posed to Andrea Mitchell, … two of the questions were about trans specific issues. Mitchell didn’t use the terms ‘transgender’ or ‘gender identity’ in either of her responses, and didn’t seem familiar at all with transgender people and issues. It goes to show that the only mainstream cable media that has any awareness of transgender people and issues are hosts on Fox who get almost all of their information from conservative Christian non-profits that the Southern Poverty Law Center has identified as anti-LGBT hate groups.”
For his part, third-time attendee Michael K. Lavers, a Washington Blade reporter, said that he was grateful to have “the opportunity to meet fellow LGBT media professionals and reunite with colleagues, sources and friends.”
For Lavers, the most interesting panel was the one on “airing our dirty laundry” because “it allowed attendees to ask tough questions about them, and hear feedback on how to cover them in a fair and accurate way. I was admittedly a bit disappointed, however, there was not a lot of time allotted to discuss global LGBT rights issues. This was a missed opportunity considering the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi had just ended and Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni earlier in the week signed his country’s controversial Anti-Homosexuality Bill into law.”
Lavers also voiced concern about “objectivity” in journalism “even on LGBT-specific issues towards which they very well support.”
For future gatherings, he suggested a panel discussion that makes “more clear” the distinctions between advocacy and reporting.
For writer, editor and blogger Dana Rudolph of Mombian, “the highlight of the weekend was to see many of the people I usually only encounter virtually. The online world is wonderful, but face-to-face conversations can more often lead in unexpected and interesting directions. I was impressed by the intersectionality of many of the topics, which touched on issues of race and class as well as sexual orientation and gender identity. I found the session on how to talk about touchy subjects particularly useful. I think people are sometimes hesitant to write about issues that may be sensitive, but those are often the subjects that most need to be aired. Having the space to discuss this among people with many different perspectives was extremely helpful. The weekend reminded me that regardless of the different outlets we write for or our usual beats, we all share the common purpose of increasing the visibility and understanding of the LGBTQ community. We can all benefit from the exchange of ideas and ways of overcoming challenges in this work.”
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