I didn't know I needed support until I got it.
Last weekend, I attended my first Association of LGBTQ Journalists (NLGJA) conference in Palm Springs, California. Like other conferences, I knew there would be plenty of panels, that we'd talk about everything from middle management to fact-checking (slides here!) and that Stolichnaya would end up sponsoring something (because duh).
But I didn't expect to find so much catharsis in the smaller, more personal things.
On Thursday night, the USA Today Network and The Desert Sun hosted a storytelling event where LGBTQ journalists shared some of their own stories. It contained the first of many a-ha moments for me when someone said: “How can we expect people to be authentic with us if we’re not authentic with them?” I held onto that throughout the convention as I made new friends and reconnected with old ones.
As journalists, we spend a lot of time shielding ourselves from the subjects we cover, often with good reason; the news can be traumatic. Events like NLGJA give us the space to let our guards down, meet people like us and find a common thread that we can carry back to our newsrooms. When you’re around other queer people, you can get closer to the real you. That’s valuable — and rare — in an industry that regularly devalues its workers.
Striving to dismantle otherness in order to come up with solutions to journalism’s biggest problems is a constant thread at NLGJA. This year, one of the event’s main panels was made up almost entirely of people of color. There were sessions on how to cover the transgender community, telling stories about bisexuals and diversity and intersection. Some of the issues journalists highlighted include:
- Deadnaming transgender people in obituaries.
- A lack of sensitivity from newsroom leaders about stories that could potentially be triggering for reporters of diversity.
- Missing out on important local stories about the LGBTQ community because of national political coverage.
- A lack of support for journalists who experience trauma on assignment.
- Covering stories about transgender people that don’t involve death or hardship.
The experience was physically exhausting (as most conferences are), but emotionally cleansing in a way that I hadn’t experienced at a conference before. I had hard discussions with people I respected and opened myself up to new people. It left me energized to tackle some of the work that remains to be done.
But the conference wasn’t perfect.
During the closing reception Saturday night — which was sponsored by Fox News — Marshall McPeek, a meteorologist for Sinclair-owned Fox 28 and ABC 6, referred to the audience at least partly made up of transgender and gender non-conforming individuals as “ladies and gentlemen, things and its.”
— Mary Emily O’Hara (@MaryEmilyOHara) September 9, 2018
McPeek quickly came out and apologized onstage, issued a longer apology online and resigned his membership in NLGJA, which issued a statement the following day. But the damage was done; as journalist Monica Roberts wrote on her blog, it was more indicative of the lack of diversity in media than anything else.
If that kind of mistake can happen during a conference that specifically gives LGBTQ journalists a space to speak up and be themselves, then might there be more (and worse) going on in some of the predominantly heterosexual newsrooms they work in?
With this in mind, Poynter wants to do more to help make your job as an LGBTQ journalist a little easier. Should we schedule more webinars with newsroom leaders on how to write about the transgender community? Should we offer more in-person sensitivity training for newsroom leaders? Should we create an online community for LGBTQ journalists to share their work, talk about best practices and lift each other up?
NLGJA already has a variety of great resources, but as an industry, we can always do better — and Poynter wants to hear from you. Let us know what you think we should be doing to elevate the voices of LGBTQ journalists by using the anonymous form below, tweeting @Poynter or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.