A note on transitions and new opportunities

By now, many of you might have heard through QNotes, Facebook, Twitter, or Creative Loafing fine editor, Mark Kemp, that I will be stepping down from my position at QNotes on Jan. 20. It’s been a fantastic experience and one for which I’m truly grateful. Below is the letter I sent to many personal friends, acquaintances and colleagues after my resignation was announced by the paper.

Dear friends and colleagues,

It is with humility and gratitude that I write tonight to let you know that I will be stepping down from my role as editor of QNotes, the Charlotte-based LGBT newspaper and North Carolina’s premier source of news, opinion and arts and entertainment coverage. My last day with the paper will be Jan. 20, 2012, as announced by the paper on Tuesday evening (http://goqnotes.com/14053/).

On Jan. 23, I will begin work as the new communications and programs manager for Campus Pride, a Charlotte-based, national non-profit group that works to create safer environments for LGBT students on college and university campuses across the United States. An official announcement from the organization should be soon forthcoming.

As I prepare to take on new challenges, I find it necessary to pause and thank each and every one of you for your support of me and of this newspaper. Each of you has contributed in myriad ways to the success of this community, of Charlotte, of North Carolina and of this organization. Personally, each of you has made my life richer and fuller.

But, don’t think for a minute that this is a goodbye. You don’t get away from me that easily, haha.

Though I am leaving QNotes, I will remain an avid and vocal supporter for our community and for independent, progressive and LGBT-inclusive news-media. As always, I’ll continue to advocate for fair and equitable coverage from mainstream news-media organizations and will remain a committed advocate for progress and change. I hope new opportunities allow me to be more involved in our community in new and exciting ways, especially as the May 8, 2012, vote on North Carolina’s anti-LGBT state constitutional amendment draws near.

Again, thank you for all you have done to support me both personally and professionally. Thank you once more for the support you have given and will continue to give to QNotes and my yet-to-be-announced successor.

I humbly welcome your continued support, friendship and kindness, and hope you will continue to follow me in my new endeavors at Campus Pride. I’m excited about the opportunity to help Campus Pride grow and further fulfill its mission in supporting the future leaders of our community and nation.

Additionally, I hope you’ll stop by from time-to-time here at my blog, InterstateQ.com, where I will resume more regular posting. There, I will continue to provide the same objective, fair and progressive-minded coverage of the ongoing anti-LGBT amendment campaign you’ve come to expect from my work at QNotes and where I will continue providing commentary on local, state and national LGBT and progressive political affairs.

With love and wishes for a happy New Year,

Matt Comer

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.

Yesterday I posted on how impressed I was with the LGBT Netroots Nation Connect pre-conference. It was great conversation and brainstorming, particularly around issues of strategy, blogging and new media. Yet, I was struck by a notion I just can’t shake.

In one session, the entire group took turns brainstorming five different questions or topics including a question on ways to maintain a strong and well-funded blogosphere. The question isn’t new; how many collective hours and hours bloggers around the world have been spent on brainstorming blog sustainability is likely beyond anyone’s guess.

In my small group, I posited: “I’m a little uncomfortable with this question as a whole. I don’t know if it is a question with an answer. Doesn’t the very nature of blogging — it’s independent, de-centralized structure — run against most models for successful business and profitability?” But, of course, very few people actually think they’ll ever make a profit off their blogging. The “business” of blogging is certainly more non-profit than for.

No one debates the importance of a strong, well-maintained and well-funded blogosphere. The organizing it produces, the opposition research it conducts and the ground-up nature of its news production are unique to blogging; traditional media can’t rival it. Still, I doubt that blogging will ever be “well-funded” for the overwhelming majority of those engaged in it.

Update (May 29, 2011, 3 p.m.): The Charlotte Observer has updated their story and replaced the phrase “civil disobedience” with “disorderly conduct.”

“One person was killed and another wounded in an incident apparently related to a night of civil disobedience by large numbers of people in Charlotte’s uptown,” writer Steve Lyttle originally reported for The Charlotte Observer on Sunday, May 29.

Lyttle’s story on the unrest following the last night of Speed Street in Uptown Charlotte reveals disorder, mayhem, rioting and violence. Four actions that rarely go hand-in-hand with concepts of civil disobedience.

But Lyttle and The Charlotte Observer need to know, just in case they don’t already: Gang-related rioting and murder is not the same as civil disobedience, a concept so intricately and almost exclusively linked to ideas of non-violent resistance and grassroots protest and peaceable assembly that Lyttle’s use of the phrase here is dead wrong — it’s also telling of a city and its social, media and government establishment that has time and time again shown itself averse to progressive political change on race, socioeconomic issues and LGBT equality.

It is disappointing that The Observer chooses to link concepts of social justice with gang-related violence. The paper’s report comes just one day after a true show of civil disobedience in Moscow, where LGBT activists marched and were arrested in defiance of a mayor and government establishment that had prohibited yet again a Pride parade and festival in Russia’s capital. There, several activists peacefully faced down Moscow police and neo-Nazi protesters in order to simply take part in what is already inherently theirs: the right to peacefully assemble, protest and petition their government for a redress of grievances. In this instance and in nearly all instances of civil disobedience it was the peaceful protesters who were at the receiving end, and not the perpetrators, of violence.

Unfortunately, Charlotte residents who read our daily newspaper of record will now link in their minds the peaceful concepts and actions of civil disobedience and non-violent resistance with gun-fighting, gang rioting and murder. The two are not the same, have never been the same and will never be the same.

The media has great power and with it comes great responsibility — to report news fairly, to report news accurately and to shy away from implications in their reporting that will result in the further abasement of already vulnerable minorities, people who historically have used civil disobedience as a peaceful means to achieve lasting and meaningful social change.

Yesterday, Queerty writer Daniel Villarreal brought up some interesting questions on the new music video for Taylor Swift’s “Mean.” He writes:

Standing up for homos is becoming the cool thing to do. Taylor Swift champions this move gay-ward with a scene from her new video Mean. In it, she shows a Chris Colfer lookalike getting harassed by an entire football team and sings, “You, pickin’ on the weaker man… / Someday, I’ll be big enough so you can’t hit me / And all you’re ever gonna be is mean.” It’s a catchy song and a great message, but is she emblematic of a larger trend where companies and artists voice support for queers, but stop short offering anything other than talk?

Villarreal goes on to outline several ways companies and other public figures have begun, perhaps, to capitalize on gay-friendliness, though he cautions, “Don’t misunderstand us: We’re using Ms. Swift simply as a jumping off point for this discussion. In all likelihood, Ms. Swift may have simply recognized her gay fans and the need for anti-bullying outreach and included the GLEE-esque scene in her video because it’s a worthwhile thing to do.”

For Swift, in particular, whatever the initial motives might be, the effect is a stunning and not-so-frequent breath of fresh air in Country Music.

LGBT people are for the most part invisible in the Country Music world. There is a gay history in Country Music. We are, after all, everywhere. But that history is short and largely unknown. Chely Wright’s coming out last year was the latest gay milestone in the genre, though The Week points out other important dates, people and issues.

Regardless, I have my doubts as to whether the Country Music family would be able to fully embrace an openly gay singer. kd lang never got much “street cred” at mainstream Country events. Wright, too, has felt the sting, effectively being snubbed from what had been regular appearances at the Grand Ole Opry.

The move toward more inclusive Country Music entertainment starts with symbolic acts like Swift’s (and Dolly Parton’s and Willie Nelson’s and Garth Brooks’). More friendly and forceful representations of our lives in song and video and more outspoken support from mainstream Country singers will eventually lead to more inclusion.

Perhaps, one day, gay boys and girls in cowboy hats and with guitars in hand will become regular staples at the CMAs, ACMs and on CMT. Unfortunately, the basic, grueling work of fair representation and inclusion must come first.


Michael Brown’s ‘Queer’ sideshow

Concord’s Michael Brown, leader of the anti-gay Coalition of Conscience and FIRE Church and School of Ministry, released this week his new book, “A Queer Thing Happened to America: And What a Long, Strange Trip It’s Been.”

I haven’t yet had the chance to read the book, though I know Brown cites/references/mentions me and/or some of my writings (unless something’s changed since the last time he and I chatted).

The book’s title and imagery are eye-catching. It’s also a bit deceptive. And, unsurprisingly, devoid of all understanding. I don’t know many trans folks or gay men who wear black socks and pink pumps. All joking aside: I expect Brown’s book, if anything like its cover, to paint a wholly inaccurate and woefully biased and prejudiced picture of LGBT people in this country.

From Brown’s blog, Voice of Revolution, a summary of the book:

Forty years ago, most Americans said they didn’t know anyone who was homosexual and claimed to know little or nothing about homosexuality. Today, there’s hardly a sitcom without a prominent gay character, movies like Milk and Brokeback Mountain have won Oscars, and even People Magazine celebrated the marriage of Ellen Degeneres and Portia DeRossi. Forty years ago, the word “queer” was considered to be an extremely insulting, ugly slur. Today, we have books like Queering Elementary Education and The Queer Bible Commentary, while Queer Eye for the Straight Guy was a cable TV sensation and even school children are learning the meaning of “Gender Queer.” Forty years ago, people were fired from their jobs for being gay. Today, college professors have been fired for taking issue with same-sex practice, counselors have been dismissed for refusing to affirm gay and lesbian relationships, and even pastors have been arrested for saying that homosexual behavior was sinful.

A Queer Thing Happened to America chronicles the amazing transformation of America over the last forty years, literally, from Stonewall Inn to the White House, and addresses the question head-on: Is there really a gay agenda, or is it a fiction of the religious right? Written in a lively and compelling style, but backed with massive research and extensive interaction with the GLBT community, this forthright and yet compassionate book looks at the extraordinary impact gay activism has had on American society – from nursery school to college, from the pulpit to Hollywood, and from science to semantics – also analyzing the foundational arguments of the gay civil rights movement and exposing the extreme intolerance of those calling for tolerance. This could easily be the most controversial book of the decade. Read it and find out why the publishing world was afraid to touch it.

And, Voice of Revolution Editor Marcus French touts the book’s number slot in Amazon.com’s Gay & Lesbian Nonfiction list. French writes:

The screenshot below, taken at 12:15 PM ET on March 17th, shows the Amazon Bestsellers Rank for ‘A Queer Thing Happened to America.’ As you can see, it is now #1 on Amazon’s ‘Gay & Lesbian Nonfiction’ chart! (A chart, by the way, I would not recommend navigating to, as it contains all sorts of sexually explicit material.) If you would like to help it stay at that position in the ‘Gay & Lesbian Nonfiction’ chart as a redemptive witness, and climb higher on the overall chart, you can help by purchasing the book on Amazon here.

I hadn’t long been a member of Fab.com, the relatively new Facebook-connected social networking site for gay men. I liked it. Sleek, clean and cool, the network was easy to navigate and understand. I just wish it had caught on steam, especially in the Carolinas.

But now, the site is changing. Fab.com writes:

We’ve had a lot of fun building toward that vision and we’ve met some incredible people along the way. Hopefully you’ve enjoyed and appreciated your experience with us. Your participation and contribution to fab.com has been the core of our popularity.

This past year has been a monumental year for gay rights and acceptance. From the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, to court victories over Prop 8, “Born This Way,” the President walking away from the Defense of Marriage Act, and the impact of the It Gets Better Project, this has been an incredible year of progress.

As we reflected on these developments, we realized that all of this progress has diminished the need for a gay-specific social network. We don’t need a gay Facebook or a gay Yelp or a gay Foursquare or a gay Groupon. The original versions are fantastic, and we are becoming more and more integrated into the mainstream.

At the same time, we recognized that one of the aspects of fab that we enjoy the most and that our users are getting great value from — providing great deals on amazing products and services — has little to do with sexual orientation. A great find is a great find and a great deal is a great deal, regardless of who you are.

No need for a gay-specific social network? It’s an interesting thought, and the same concept could be thrown into any scenario: Gay newspapers? Gay TV networks? Gay community centers? Gay bars?

It’s true that LGBT folks are “mainstreaming” more and more. I hate the term, by the way. “Mainstreaming,” urgh — it reminds me of Showtime’s “True Blood” and seems to compare us to vampires. Regardless, I can’t ignore the reality. Though there’s still an awful lot of queer folks who live in places where “mainstreaming” isn’t an option, it’s happening. The trend can be found even in places like Charlotte. While the Queen City isn’t a friend politically or religiously to LGBT people, our Uptown bars, clubs and restaurants are mostly gay and straight, mixed crowds and many openly welcome gay business.

I’m excited to see exactly what Fab.com operators have in mind. After all, I like design as much as I like meeting other gay people. It’ll be interesting see just how they handle going from a gay social network to a “love of design”-driven site. I hope they surprise me.

What to sign up for an early launch/invite, too? Click here: http://fab.com/uo7fdf

(Disclosure: Fab.com will count each person who signs up for an invite through this link. The more people I invite, the earlier I get access to the site, plus some other benefits. The same goes for you once you sign up.)

For the life of me, I’ll never understand why some people believe the Constitution’s guarantee of free speech grants them a carte blanche right to say or do anything they like without the least bit of criticism or negative feedback from other citizens.

The recent brouhaha over Chick-fil-A’s sponsorship of an anti-LGBT seminar in Pennsylvania has the LGBT blogosphere, mainstream media and Christian media in a frenzy. Some college students have even organized to get Chick-fil-A thrown off their campuses. The seminar isn’t the first time Chick-fil-A has sponsored or supported conservative, right-wing causes. The anti-gay, evangelical views of the company and its leaders have been well-known for an awfully long time. I guess some folks just got tired of it, found the right blog to on which to speak out and hit the news cycle at just the right time.

In a New York Times piece by Kim Severson, however, a conservative Chick-fil-A customer and supporter says the corporation has every right to say or think anything they please. Continue reading this post…

Some jobs aren’t fabulous. Many don’t get praise or recognition. Folks who work in these jobs are often given nary a passing thought by most people whose lives would be dramatically different if not for the services these workers provide.

There’s lots of examples. The garbage man (and woman) is one. Honestly, how many people think about the people who collect your trash on a weekly basis — the shit (figuratively and literally) they have to deal with as they weave their mammoth trucks through small neighborhood side streets picking up your untouchables?

Another example might be those who work for your municipality’s sewage and water treatment system or those who work for portable toilet services. That hot dog you ate at the county fair was mighty tasty, but you drop it off at the portable toilet and you’re on your way happily ever after. Tell me, have you ever paused to think what a Porta-John employee’s work day is like, cleaning up after your bodily waste? I doubt most people have.

Unfortunately, journalists get a similar type of treatment. Though journalists are far from ignored — because they’re regular targets of public disdain and contempt — they do live in a world where their jobs are largely underpaid, under-appreciated and under-utilized (especially as traditional, print news-media companies continue to languish in a lack of innovation under the ever-continuing move to online news and entertainment).

Ultimately, public disdain for journalism emanates, I believe, from a collective, public ignorance that neither understands nor really much cares about the types of real, meaningful and important services journalists actually provide their local communities, states and nation.

Such is the case with a recent example from The Charlotte Observer. Continue reading this post…

North Carolina’s favorite conservative columnist, Wilmington’s Mike Adams, brought back some fond memories of my days at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG) today.

In his most recent column at TownHall.com, Adams rants and raves in his usual sarcastic, smart-ass-style against UNCG’s Speech and Hearing Center’s courses for transgender people undergoing transition. He brought back one of his trademark digs. Welcome to the return of “UNC-Gomorrah.” Continue reading this post…