Invitation-only conference brings LGBT media professionals together “to discuss issues related to queer media”
by Chuck Colbert
A select group of LGBT media professionals, including journalists and bloggers who cover the LGBT community, gathered recently for a weekend forum concerning a range of 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 6th annual LGBT Media Journalists Convening was held March 13-15 at the Radisson Blu Warwick.
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.
NLGJA board member Bil Browning, founder and publisher of the Bilerico Project blog, organized the weekend forum. Also representing Bilerico was its editor in chief, John Becker, who wrote about the gathering.
“The purpose of the invitation-only conference is to bring a diverse group of LGBT media personalities together to discuss issues related to queer media,” wrote Becker in a preview piece. “The theme of this year’s Convening is ‘Now What?’ and the sessions … focus[ed] on exploring what happens in the LGBT civil rights movement beyond marriage and employment equality.”
For example, Saturday’s panel discussions and breakout sessions addressed the latest right-wing push to legalize discrimination based on “religious liberty,” reporting of HIV, media coverage of bisexuality and bisexuals, and the intersection between LGBT rights and struggles for racial and gender equality.
The Rev. William Barber, president of the North Carolina NAACP and a prime mover in the state’s Moral Monday movement, delivered the opening keynote address on Friday evening.
An assistant district attorney for the City of Philadelphia announced that Mayor Michael A. Nutter proclaimed March 14 as “LGBT Media Journalism Day.”
The Convening’s host committee included, in addition to Browning, The Source Weekly’s associate editor Erin Rook, NLGJA’s vice president for print and digital media Sarah Blazucki, transgender rights advocate and freelance writer Brynn Tannehill, AfterEllen.com
editor in chief Trish Bendix, Mark King of the My Fabulous Disease blog, Faith Cheltenham of the BiNet USA blog and Haas Foundation senior program director Matt Foreman.
The Convening received other preview press coverage by LGBT outlets.
Browning told The Source Weekly: “For journalists focused on the LGBT beat, an invitation has become quite the status symbol for being recognized as a valuable community reporter.” He went on to say that because it’s not uncommon for writers to cover a variety of issues pertaining to diversity, the conference seeks to reflect the diversity of the community in its attendees and presenters. “We specifically aim to bring in not only the LGBT state/local newspapers and large audience bloggers, but we also search for up-and-coming voices and try to lift up the voices of people of color, trans folk and women.”
In the same piece, associate editor Rook spoke to the value of attending the annual gathering. “The lessons I take away from these conferences have a broader impact than simply sharpening my reportage on LGBTQ issues,” he wrote. “Participating in the Convening makes me a better, all-around journalist by teaching me how to better cover diverse communities of all types and how to dig deep for new stories and new angles. Spending the weekend with 75 professionals and experts gets the gears turning about ways I can better serve my community as a journalist. And I always leave with new perspectives” and tools “to do my job better.”
South Florida Gay News also did a preview piece in which Browning spoke to the issue of diversity: “Many of the larger outlets are still run by cisgender white men so we try to also reflect the diversity that is our community,” especially in online journalism. “Often these journalists are the only ones reporting in any depth on issues like race, class and gender. The intersectionality of our community and how we can translate LGBT-specific needs into broader issues is the focus of this year’s Convening.”
Other attendees offered their impressions and observations.
Zack Ford, LGBT editor of ThinkProgress.org
and the Center for American Progress Action Fund, offered his perspective. “Those of us who write about LGBT topics may sometimes compete for traffic on our websites, but we’re largely still a team working together to raise visibility and awareness about issues affecting the queer community,” he said in email correspondence. “Conferences like this are the perfect opportunity for us to connect with each other, learn from each other’s expertise and experience, and find new ways to lift up each other’s work and build off of it. I relish the opportunity to put handshakes to Twitter profiles and establish new partnerships as we all continue doing this important work.”
For her part, host committee member Tannehill said in an email, “I think my favorite part of the conference was meeting Spectra Asala. She was amazing, and after her panel I spoke with her at length. I learned a lot about the intersection of colonialism, and the growth of homophobia and transphobia in West Africa. I learned a bit about her home country as well, and it was so new to me that it was mind-blowing.”
Asala, an award-winning Nigerian writer and women’s rights activist, served on a panel called “What Happens When the Dog Catches the Car?” The focus was on the future of LGBT media coverage in a post-marriage-equality landscape. Other panelists included Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) senior media strategist of national news Tiq Milan and activist and author Urvashi Vaid. Associate editor Rook served as moderator.
First-time Convening attendee Tammye Nash, Dallas Voice managing editor, said in email, “Getting to meet other LGBT journalists and bloggers actually working in LGBT media, rather than in the mainstream, was certainly one of the highlights of the weekend for me. Talking to them about the issues we all face and ways that maybe we can address those issues made the whole weekend worthwhile.
“I also enjoyed listening to the panelists and hearing their points of view. I can’t say I agreed with everything everyone said. But it was all certainly food for thought. It made me think about things from points of view I had not considered before.
“Rev. Barber’s address on Friday night was amazing, one of the most powerful I have heard in a long time. I totally agree with his points about a fusion movement, something that was echoed repeatedly throughout the weekend when people spoke of intersectionality and working with allies. And Tiq Milan’s comment about how LGBTQs really aren’t one community but instead a coalition of communities really hit home.”
For Rebecca Juro, freelance journalist and columnist for South Florida Gay News and Windy City Times, two highlights were Rev. Barber’s keynote and the panel “Naming and the LGBTQ Community” moderated by Brynn Tannehill. “It was the best trans-relevant discussion of the day,” she said in email.
“I liked the way trans issues were handled very much,” Juro noted. “It felt to me like trans people and issues are fully integrated in this event, and that feels really good. Trans people can be an afterthought in politics and in straight media much of the time, but that’s not the case here, and it shows in just about every way.”
For Juro, “The best part of the Convening is the networking and comparing notes with other LGBT journalists. I always learn so much from that, and it definitely helps inform the opinions I express in my columns and op-eds.”
Washington Blade staff writer Michael Lavers also voiced gratitude for the Convening providing “a wonderful opportunity for LGBT media professionals to connect with each other and exchange ideas and feedback about how to better report on the issues about which they write.
“This year’s Convening seemed to focus a lot more on advocacy as opposed to what one may describe as objective reporting or even basic journalism in a traditional sense. I am a journalist who has an obligation to report on the issues … without overtly taking the side of one particular point of view. I certainly understand and very much appreciate the fact that journalists can bear witness to history, injustices, etc., as my colleagues and I have done at the Blade since 1969. I am not, however, an activist and I am uncomfortable with the term being used to describe me as a reporter for an LGBT publication.
“I left the Convening somewhat disappointed that there was not more of an opportunity for journalists to explain to the advocates who were in the room why we do/don’t do certain things in our reporting and how the constraints of our profession prevent us from doing so. These conversations would prove extremely beneficial, and I hope that organizers of this year’s Convening take that into account as they plan future gatherings.”