#NN11LGBT: Broad criticism will do nothing to solve gaps in LGBT media diversity


There are many problems in the LGBT media world, not least of which being the constant strain and pull of operating traditional print news in a marketplace so rapidly transforming from “old media” to “new media.”

But, there’s a bigger social dilemma faced by LGBT editors, publishers and reporters: Our media, both local and national, isn’t as inclusive of our entire LGBT culture as they could be. I don’t debate it and I don’t think anyone else would either. However, broad generalizations and criticisms of established gay media won’t fix that problem, and that’s exactly what happened at Netroots Nation in Minneapolis this morning.

A panel discussion entitled “Queer Media and the Alternative Revolution” included Zack Rosen of TheNewGay.net, transgender musician Heidi Stink, Katrina Casino of Autostraddle.com and David Castillo, a Bilerico.com contributor. Each threw out what could be perfectly valid criticisms of LGBT media, except for the fact that they were overly broad and lacked any sort of understanding of what might actually be happening behind the scenes at an LGBT news outlet.

Among some of the panelists’ concerns was that “mainstream” LGBT media is not fully representative of people of color, women and the transgender community. I agree. We aren’t. But that lack of fair representation does not automatically mean that it’s made out of hate, bigotry, malice or for lack of trying. Such assumptions built into less-than-constructive criticisms build walls during a conversation and do nothing to help solve the problems at hand.

Blogger Scott Woolidge noted during the panel via Twitter: “18 years in Mass Media machine, I often see people presume bigotry or hate in exclusion; ignorance or simple human error suffice #nn11lgbt.”

I’d add to Woolidge’s statements and assert that there are other causes to these problems, primarily a lack of resources and community involvement from the very groups complaining about their lack of representation.

As the editor of an LGBT newspaper in the South, I can speak with some authority on the level of resources currently provided me and my very part-time associate editors and other writers, which include a straight woman, a bisexual woman and a gay man. The lack of financial resources prohibits us from hiring a bevy of more writers, though I wish we could. Having the opportunity to expand our staff and diversify it would go a long way in creating more opportunities for previously unheard voices to gain wider exposure and representation. As an alternative to hiring more diverse writers, we’ve taken steps to bring in other faces. We have a female voice on our editorial pages (thank you, Leslie Robinson) and a transgender voice on issues of politics and culture (thank you, Robbi Cohn). In the past, we’ve had some moderate success with the freelance employment of an African-American, female columnist.

As with the lack of resources, I’d posit that there also exists a lack of participation from some of the groups issuing complaints about their own lack of representation. How many times must a writer reach out to several minority groups and/or leaders while receiving no response from them before that writer has to assume his or her contacts are just simply not interested in chatting? When there is no coverage of minority groups’ events, one needs to take a moment to self-reflect: Did that group even make the news organization aware of their activities?

These are problems I face on a nearly consistent basis in my work covering the LGBT communities of Charlotte and North Carolina. As a media organization, we can only reflect what currently exists. If there are fractions among our community, it makes sense that such fracturing would be evident in what and how we report.

Woolidge made a phenomenal observation — one I also stood up to address with the panelists and panel attendees. The lack of representation of people of color, women and the transgender community isn’t necessarily a sure sign of a media organization’s or staff person’s unwillingness to reach out; many times we have reached out and many times to no avail.

Conversations like this morning’s panel discussion do nothing to solve these problems if there is not a two-way conversation that includes accompanying solutions. Criticism sucks. Constructive criticism is better.


Comments
2 Responses to “#NN11LGBT: Broad criticism will do nothing to solve gaps in LGBT media diversity”
  1. a.mcewen says:

    It’s all in how you reach out, Matt. Showing up at lgbt of color events is an excellent way of showing support and breaking down barriers – not inferring that you don’t, but just throwing that out as an idea. It’s a trust issue when it comes to different ethnic groups participating with what they see as a white majority lgbt media. They ask is the media really interested or do they consider us tokens? Are they really interested in our issues or have they worked out in their minds how we fit into their way of things and are only interested in giving us marching orders.

  2. Sage says:

    Hi Matt,

    I happened to live in San Francisco during the time when California was preparing itself for the vote on Proposition 8. I lived in San Francisco from 2000 – 2010. I was heavily involved in the No on Proposition 8 campaign from the very beginning and remained involved well after the initial voter defeat. This plus the fact that I was and remain a black, same gender loving sacred activist gave me a unique view of this entire process for a very protracted amount of time. As one of a handful of African American involved for both the length of time and to the degree of my involvement gave me, I believe, a really unique view of the entire endeavor and from multiple vantage points. I cannot speak with authority about how similar things play out in the LGBT media. However, because the LGBT media is more or less a subset of the larger LGBT activist community, I’m guessing it does not have a completely different and unique culture within the LGBT universe. Rather, I am imagining the opposite is more likely true. I am imagining LGBT media outlets have very similar cultural elements, habits and share both conscious and unconscious traits well known in the monolithic and general LGBT activist community.

    Many of the black activists, including myself, who worked more or less under the auspices of Marriage Equality USA during the entire California campaign logged numerous complaints about how the largely white, gay, male “No on 8” base in California neglected communities of color and other subgroups in the larger community and also demonstrated other transgressions that were at some point really difficult to not view at least in part, as the result of some version of racism and/or lack of concern for diverse representation.

    To its credit, Marriage Equality USA commissioned a report after the passage of Proposition 8 to look into our complaints and many other complaints logged against the entire campaign as well. I am including a link to one version of the findings of that report. It seems I remember seeing a far more thorough one but I couldn’t find it. Page 5 of the report I’m going to link here is the page that deals specifically with some of our complaints as African American same gender loving people who were involved in the no on 8 campaign. Here’s the link to the Marriage Equality USA Report: http://www.marriageequality.org/uploads/library/Report_One_-_Community_Input_on_Prop_8_Campaign.pdf

    Blessings!

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