A talented gay comic book artist is told, “Your work is not publishable.” A stint with Marvel Comics, a couple of graphic novels, and translations of his work in several languages prove otherwise. A long-time editor is shocked to read the headline “Getting Old Sucks Even Worse for LGBT Seniors” on a popular gay website. So he creates a site for the over-50s. A man living in a particularly homophobic country loses his job for speaking with a journalist, who feels it’s his responsibility to help the man get back on his feet.
These are the kind of stories told at the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association (NLGJA) conference last weekend in Boston. A lot has changed in the LGBTQ media landscape since 1990 when it was founded. And everything you might want to know about the organization can be found on their website. (Except for the amusing fact that many members tend to avoid the unwieldy acronym and refer to it simply as simply “negligee”!)
“Nothing is more exciting than seeing the new generation of leaders stepping up and making the organization what they want it to be, what they believe the times require of it. I did my part, we made a difference. The fact that it will continue long after me is the greatest achievement I could have asked for.”
– NLGJA founder Roy Aarons (1933-2004)
I heard about NLGJA in 1998. A colleague at Radio Netherlands told me about their Excellence in Journalism Awards and suggested I submit one of my programs. When I received word it was nominated for a prize, RNW sent me to the convention in Las Vegas. Panels led discussions on diverse topics: Out in the Newsroom, HIV/AIDS Awareness, Transgender Discrimination, to name a few. I interviewed activists, authors, and specialists. I felt part of a committed community of journalists eager to share ideas, contacts, and most of all, friendship.
My program (In Conversation: Edmund White & David Leavitt) won the Excellence in Radio Award. (I suffered a Gweneth Paltrow moment when a rush of adrenaline rendered my acceptance speech incomprehensible. I imagined the audience thinking: This guy works in radio?!?)
In 2001 I was honored again for my feature A Train to Sachsenhausen. (Unable to go that year, I was spared another humiliating attack of nerves.) I attended the 2005 convention and won a third NLGJA Award for Love Exile on the Road. (No speech required, thank you!)
Due to budget cuts and other radio business too dull to explain, that was my last contact with NLGJA. Until this summer when I renewed my lapsed membership. Having blogged about LGBTQ issues here since January, the time seemed right to reconnect and reboot. And for three jam-packed days that’s exactly what I did.
Thursday Media Networking
The conference began with the 9th LGBT Media Summit – a day of networking and breakout sessions focusing on strategies for the future. After a breakfast plenary that examined the early days of LGBT community newspapers as remembered by the men and women who established them, I opted for the panel assembled by Randy Gener on International LGBT Story Coverage. After all, I live in Amsterdam most of the year, had worked for international radio, and have been writing about developments concerning the Russian anti-gay laws for the past five months.
After cordial introductions, the discussion got somewhat scrappy. Roberta Sklar, communications director of the International Gay & Lesbian Human Rights Commission, urged caution in extremely sensitive areas where the “right to existence” was at stake. The traditional reporting of names and locations could put lives at risk. But Charles M. Sennott, editor and co-founder of GlobalPost, said he wrestled with the notion of “being careful.” Was he naïve to believe in the power of truth? A difficult question, one writer and photographer Michael Luongo faces often in his reporting, especially in the Middle East. He stressed that being a gay journalist gave him access to stories he felt needed to be told. And he’s willing to take responsibility for sources who get in trouble for talking to him. (I hear this and my heart skips a beat – professionally, of course. Well…) His work on complex stories, for example about “pinkwashing” in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, is only part of the reason he was named NLGJA Journalist of the Year 2013
Advanced Topics in Twitter. Digital Reputation. Google 101. Social Media and You. The theme for this day was clear. I took lots of notes. Send me your questions. If I don’t know the answer, I’ll know where to find it. Or who to ask. Mostly.
Saturday Morning Cartoons
Pow! Zamm! Smack! Two days of information overload. So it was great to begin the last morning with laughter from three very funny LGBT comics creators: Tim Fish (Cavalcade of Boys), Dave Brousseau (A Couple of Guys) and Hilary Price (Rhymes with Orange). The trio offered history (i.e. the 1954 book Seduction of the Innocent that warned of the danger of comic books; or Family Circle magazine’s shift from conservatism to characters in bed.) They drew some thoughts (the nose-to-boob ratio of men vs. women artists – use your imagination!) and explained why gender-neutral Furry Monsters can get points across best.
Among other highlights: Jill Abramson, Executive Editor of the New York Times, explaining how the NLGJA impacted current NYT coverage of the Chelsea Manning story; Boomer or Bust – Serving the Over-50 LGBT Audience, led by Mark McNease of lgbtSr; screening of the documentary film Alfredo’s Fire; and two lively young entrepreneurs, Jordan Goldman and Alex Liu, offering tips on a potentially lucrative future Beyond Blogging.
I could go on and on about my weekend at the Boston: Uncommon convention. But I’m close to my maximum word count and way past my deadline. Which reminds me of the NLGJA motto:
“We’re Here. We’re Queer. We’re on Deadline.”