by Kevin Naff
(Kevin Naff is the editor of the Washington Blade. The following is adapted from Naff’s speech at the Blade 50th anniversary gala on Oct. 18 and originally appeared in the Blade. It is reprinted here with permission.)
It is impossible to sum up 50 years of what this newspaper has meant to the community in a few short minutes. The New York Times describes the Blade as the “newspaper of record” for the LGBTQ community.
That’s true. From Lou Chibbaro’s unflinching coverage of hate crimes in the city to Chris Johnson’s tireless work at the White House to Michael Lavers’ investigative work in Latin America and the Caribbean to Joey DiGuglielmo’s insightful and entertaining celebrity interviews to Michael Key’s award-winning photos documenting it all, we keep busy as the nation’s newspaper of record.
But as we know, our readers feel a real connection to the Blade. From my friend Kenji Mundy, who spoke of turning to the Blade for news on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” when no one else was paying attention, to Isaiah Poole’s account of meeting his future husband in the Blade personals, our readers are connected to us and we to them.
During my 17 years at the Blade, I have been privileged to have a front-row seat to some of the most historic moments in our movement — witnessing President Obama sign the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” attending the first-ever White House Pride receptions, and so many other unforgettable events. This job has had its exciting moments, like the time I introduced Antonin Scalia to Laverne Cox.
But the stories that have stayed with me and affected me most are those of ordinary people who find themselves in extraordinary circumstances because of bigotry and discrimination.
One such story we covered more than 15 years ago involved a young gay couple in Baltimore, long before the arrival of marriage equality. They were public school teachers. One partner, who was estranged from his conservative Christian family, was diagnosed with a terminal illness and died. Despite having a will and all legal protections available at the time, his parents later sued the surviving partner to move their son’s body back to the family plot in Tennessee. They won in court and the surviving partner was faced with the prospect of digging up his partner’s grave. The Blade covered the story. National legal groups got involved. He kept fighting and eventually won on appeal but only after losing everything he had, his life savings, his car, just to keep his dead partner in the ground.
It was a story of resilience. And that’s a theme I have seen repeated in our coverage over the decades. The story of a resilient and loving community fighting to overcome ignorance and hate. We saw it during the height of the AIDS crisis and we saw it again on the ground in Orlando after the Pulse massacre. And we see it today as we stand up to the current administration’s attacks on the transgender community.
In 2016, people used to ask me, “Why do we need gay press or gay bars? We have marriage and Hillary is going to win and cement everything.” Well, no one says that anymore. As Barney Frank used to say, “If you’re not at the table, then you’re probably on the menu.” I can assure you that the Blade is at the table, working every day to ensure our issues are addressed and our political leaders held accountable.
In the final press conference of his presidency, President Obama called on the Blade’s Chris Johnson for the third-to-last question of his presidency. Chris asked him how LGBTQ issues would factor into his legacy. And President Obama gave a thoughtful answer in which he declined to take credit for all the LGBTQ progress under his administration. He said, “The primary heroes in this stage of our growth as a democracy and a society are all the individual activists and sons and daughters and couples who courageously said, ‘This is who I am and I’m proud of it.’”
I’d like to echo that sentiment and thank all the people over 50 years who agreed to trust us with their stories. It’s a responsibility we continue to take seriously. Without the courage of all those people over five decades who stepped up, came out, and talked openly about their lives, all of our legislative victories would have been impossible. As we wrap this celebration of 50 years, we remain committed to our longstanding mission of telling LGBTQ stories through our lens and writing the first draft of our own history. Thank you for being here and congratulations to the Blade on its first 50 years.