by Chris Johnson
(Chris Johnson is the former White House reporter for the Washington Blade, who stepped down in October 2022. His replacement is Christopher Kane, who has freelanced for the Washington Blade and the Los Angeles Blade since 2018. The following piece was published in the Washington Blade on October 14, 2022, and appears here with permission.)
Looking back at the nearly 15 years I’ve worked at the Washington Blade, I find it difficult to summarize my time here in a single essay because the state of play has changed so dramatically for LGBTQ people within that period for the better.
When I first started in January 2008, same-sex marriage was only legal in Massachusetts and the idea of advancing that nationwide seemed like a pie-in-the-sky aspiration. With the public not nearly as supportive as today and continuous losses on the issue at the ballot box, it was a struggle simply to convince Democratic politicians and candidates to support the cause. Meanwhile, openly gay service members were unable to serve in the military and were being expelled on a regular basis thanks to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” The idea transgender people could serve would be a non-starter.
But the situation would soon change. I came to the Blade at the right time to see massive achievements and had the wonderful gift of a front-row seat to witness them. Nothing like these milestones had ever occurred before in the course of American history. For example, after covering the saga on the legislative path to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” I was able to go to the ceremony to see President Obama sign the measure into law. Activists, service members and high-profile political figures alike were in attendance and witnessed Obama penning his name to the measure before he concluded, “This is done.”
The 2015 ruling for same-sex marriage was probably the pinnacle of those milestones. I was at the Supreme Court when it issued its decision in favor of marriage equality and was able to witness the celebration, then had the privilege of sitting front-row in the White House Rose Garden as Obama declared justice has arrived “like a thunderbolt.” As a journalist covering these milestones, I also had the privilege of interviewing high-profile figures in the movement and American politics, in addition to being the one to break news on developments in these causes.
My tenure is also marked by the way I advanced my role as news reporter at the Blade to new heights, making the publication highly visible and engaged at the highest levels of government as a White House reporter. During the Obama years, my constant inquiries during the White House press briefings nagging the press secretary on Obama’s evolution on same-sex marriage gained nationwide attention. I had the respect of the White House press corps, which thanks to my work allowed the Blade to take part in the pool rotation (a first for an LGBTQ publication), and the White House press staff, which facilitated Obama calling on me for a question during his final news conference (another first for an LGBTQ outlet).
I was so entrenched in the White House press corps that I was able to continue that work through the Trump years, being able to ask President Trump questions on multiple occasions and even getting him to make news on LGBTQ issues. Most recently, during the Biden administration, the White House Correspondents’ Association awarded the Blade with a designated seat thanks to my contributions.
But the time has come when I feel the need to advance my journalism in a new direction. I believe I should give someone else the opportunity to take the reins and represent the nation’s oldest LGBTQ newspaper in the White House briefing room. I hope that person can take advantage of the platform that has granted me so many great experiences.
Here’s my secret: I came out as gay relatively late, either age 24 or 25, then took a job working for the Blade just a few months afterward. It was quite a leap going within that short period of time from being closeted to being basically as out as one can be as a reporter with an LGBTQ newspaper. I feel like I never really had the experience of being regular, gay Chris, and I look forward to exploring and enjoying that.
So thanks to everyone at the Blade for giving me these wonderful opportunities, from Kevin Naff for all the leeway as editor he’s given me to pursue new endeavors, to Lynne Brown for providing stability as publisher, and Brian Pitts for heading our sales to ensure there’s money in the bank to make it all happen. It was a team effort, and the work by Michael Lavers as international editor, Michael Key as photo editor, and Lou Chibbaro Jr. as veteran reporter was essential.
So now I pass the baton. I’m not leaving journalism and my next project may be underway by the time this essay is published. There’s no way, however, I would forget the historic milestones I saw or being able to take the Blade to new heights, which are memories I cherish and know I won’t be able to replicate elsewhere.