by Kevin Naff
(Kevin Naff is editor of the Washington Blade. This editorial originally appeared in the Los Angeles Blade. It is republished with permission of the Los Angeles Blade.)
As we prepare to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion, panel discussions are breaking out all over the country about the LGBT movement, its history and future. One of the topics getting some attention is the role of the LGBT media in the movement.
The Los Angeles LGBT Center hosted a panel discussion on May 8 titled “Breaking News, Breaking Barriers,” a conversation with LGBT journalists about the coverage and representation of LGBT people in the media from the late 1960s through today. The Los Angeles Blade’s tireless news editor/reporter Karen Ocamb served on the panel, along with LZ Granderson and Bettina Boxall of the LA Times and Luis Sandoval of Despierta America.
One expected question: Why we need the LGBT media in 2019? It’s a question I encountered countless times during the 2016 presidential campaign, when Hillary Clinton was assured victory and would cement all the progress toward equality of the Obama years. Clinton may have neglected the Rust Belt during her campaign, but she remembered her LGBT base and granted the Blade an interview late in the campaign.
We get the rather insulting question about why we need our own niche press a lot in social media comments, usually after identifying a source as LGBT. “Who cares if Pete Buttigieg is gay?!? Why does it matter?!?” Cable news pundits have wondered the same. The reason it matters is that it’s never happened before at this level. And imagine the inspiration Buttigieg is providing to the confused, closeted kid in Indiana right now.
Insulting the LGBT media and questioning the need for our existence is a particular form of disrespect and homophobia. That disrespect has come from all sides. Prominent Washington Post opinion writers for years relied on the Blade’s coverage to inform their commentary without citing us, a professional faux pas bordering on unethical. The Democratic National Committee’s former director of communications, Karen Finney, once wrote in an email that she used the Blade to line her birdcage during a tumultuous period when the DNC was being sued by its former LGBT liaison and we were running critical stories. The birdcage line is a lame insult, but if she’d directed it at the African-American press or Jewish press, she would have been fired.
The need for our work is clearer now that we’re back to a hostile administration in the White House. Mainstream reporters rarely ask questions in the White House and State Department briefing rooms about LGBT topics. As Barney Frank used to say, “If you’re not at the table, you’re probably on the menu.” Underrepresented communities need to tell their stories through their own lens. Take a look at the New York Times or Washington Post straight-washed obituaries of prominent LGBT people over the last 30 years and compare them to obits in the LGBT press and you’ll see that importance.
More recently, the Blade has focused on Latin America and immigration, embedding with LGBT migrants at the border since their plight is unique and largely ignored by mainstream outlets.
LGBT media outlets also speak the language of our community — and in a way that’s not patronizing. Take the recent trolling in the New York Post of a supposedly closeted bisexual presidential candidate jealous of Buttigieg’s surging poll numbers. We know they’re talking about Sen. Cory Booker, even as the Post hides behind dated, cheeky innuendo in raising the longstanding but unconfirmed rumors.
LGBT media are also unafraid of writing about the sexual orientation of public officials when they are attacking their own or working for an administration undermining our equality. Most heterosexual, mainstream reporters and readers would be shocked to learn that President Trump has possibly appointed a gay Cabinet secretary in the EPA’s Andrew Wheeler.
That as-yet-unconfirmed rumor has swirled since his days as counsel for the notorious homophobe Sen. Jim Inhofe. We’ve never had an openly gay Cabinet secretary, so Wheeler has a chance to make history if it’s true.
And he’s not the only senior Trump official who may be hiding a gay secret (stay tuned). LGBT outlets were ahead of mainstream outlets on everyone from Sen. Larry Craig to Fox News’s Shepard Smith.
As the Washington Blade prepares to celebrate its own 50th this year, all of us are working hard to fulfill that longstanding mission of telling LGBT stories and writing the first draft of our own history.