Two examples of using gay sources for non-LGBT specific stories

When I speak to student journalists or professional mainstream news rooms about covering the LGBT community, one of the points I like to make is that LGBT people can be sources for stories that are not LGBT-specific.

It is what us in the LGBT press call finding the “gayngle,” or gay angle, to a national or local news story. In a city like San Francisco, it is relatively easy to find LGBT people involved in almost any kind of story to interview.

Recent examples from my paper, the Bay Area Reporter, include an online column I wrote about new transit maps or a spin on the growing self-publishing trend among authors in this article a colleague wrote about two gay men who wrote children’s books. (Full disclosure: one of them is my partner.)

So I was pleasantly surprised to see two examples of this crop up in the New York Times over the last several days. In one instance the source’s sexual orientation became a part of the story but was not the reason the person was profiled.

In the second, a gay couple was never quoted by the article authors. But their photo was used to illustrate a census story.

The latter example isn’t as rare as one would think. I recall an Associated Press story a former roommate of mine wrote about housing loans and a local paper ran a gay male couple’s photo but cut any mention of them out of the actual article (apparently due to space constraints).

Nonetheless, it was still a bit jarring to see the Times pick a photo of a gay male African American couple to use with a story in Friday’s edition about Northeast blacks relocating to the South.

Nowhere in the article are migration patterns of LGBT black people discussed. And how the men are identified in the photo caption is pretty nonchalant: “Tuan N’Gai, left, and his partner, Erin Kelly, recently moved to the Atlanta area from Washington, D.C.”

I wondered if perhaps they were cut out of the print edition version and part of the online story. But I checked and the two men are never quoted on the Times’ website. It would have been great if the writers could have included something about the reason behind the gay couple’s move.

But the fact they didn’t and the photo editors went ahead and used a picture of two gay men to go with the story sends a powerful message that LGBT people are a part of the African American community, even if they are often ignored or made to feel they should remain closeted.

It is a visual example of the LGBT community’s boast that “We are everywhere,” and thus, can be a part of any news story.

Another example was Sunday’s profile of California budget director Ana Matosantos. It isn’t until deep within the article – paragraph 20 to be precise – that the reader learns not only is Matosantos a lesbian but also that last year’s drawn out budget battle nearly made her miss her commitment ceremony to her partner.

It was a a cute anecdote that caught me off guard, as until then the article’s focus had zeroed in on Matosantos’ mastery of the Golden State’s budget numbers and her interactions with state lawmakers.

In both instances the subjects’ sexual orientation is seemingly irrelevant to the topic laid out in the lead of both stories. But I am glad it is included because the Times gives readers a fuller picture of the LGBT community and doesn’t silo out sources to only discussing LGBT-specific issues.

4 Responses

  1. Another good example is this article on personal finance from the Boston Globe last November. The profiled couple is lesbian, but it’s not an article specifically about “gay finance.” (My fuller take on it here.)

  2. It’s terrific that the mass media is using a gay spin on the news even though there’s no specific relevance to gay life or the individual(s) involved. I agree that it’s an imperative that cross-sectional articles reflect that we are here, there and everywhere, in all walks of life. I like your comment about the inclusion of the black gay couple which validates the existence of gays in the black community as well.

  3. Johann Hari who writes for The Independent is an excellent gay journalist, covering much more turf than LGBT-related subjects.

  4. This is an important development. Reminds me that you see more gay couples on television on the DIY or HGTV channels, where gay couples are presented without comment as ordinary people decorating their houses or trying to buy or sell them. No sturm und drang, just people.

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