By Sarah Blazucki
The election was a long time coming, particularly for LGBT journalists who cover politics and who have a personal stake in the shape of marriage rights and/or direct representation at the local, state and national level. For much of the country, it was also a huge sigh of relief and cause for celebration.
For the LGBT community in general, the election results demonstrated marked progress on social issues in myriad ways: gay-friendly leadership in the White House, the first voter approval of marriage equality in three states at once, the first out U.S. senator, a record five out U.S. representatives (one more still undecided race could push that to six, which would also bring the first out bisexual to Congress) and the first out lawmakers in seven state legislatures (including Pennsylvania, North and South Dakota, New Mexico, Texas, West Virginia and Florida, which elected two).
In media, some of the biggest winners in the LGBT community may have been the out broadcast journalists who covered election night, including Rachel Maddow, Anderson Cooper, Don Lemon and John Yang. Perhaps the biggest winner of the night in this field was Nate Silver, statistician and author of The New York Times blog fivethirtyeight.com, who is openly gay. Silver predicted President Barack Obama would win a second term on his well-regarded and widely read blog-and was vindicated when the election outcome matched his analysis.
Silver’s mathematical meta-analysis of data is far more scientific than speculative, bringing weight to his predictions. Moreover, his statistical analyses of polls are accessible for those who aren’t data wonks, but want solid information. Despite this, Silver has been criticized for being “effeminate” and conservative pundits had derided his pre-election forecasts, mostly because they didn’t agree with them: Silver consistently predicted Obama would win a second term, with his chances improving as the election got closer. Post-election, as some put it, Silver took a “victory lap” and “scored one for the geeks.” On MSNBC, fellow data/policy wonk Maddow said, “You know who won the election tonight? Nate Silver.”
Silver isn’t alone in facing homophobia, though what he’s endured may be more public than most. For LGBT journalists, the hardest place to be out is in front of the camera. On-air journalists continue to face prejudice in the highly competitive broadcast realm, where image plays a greater role in performance. So it’s heartening to see out accomplished journalists on-air on election night-arguably the most important news night of the year. And it’s one more indication that media management, as well as audiences, are becoming more accepting and appreciative of out LGBT journalists.
Another indicator of growing acceptance was how news media covered same-sex marriage referendums in four states. In Maryland, Maine and Washington, which all approved their marriage-equality measures, election night coverage weighted it equally with other referendums on the ballots, neither ignoring nor fixating on the issue. Likewise in Minnesota, which rejected a constitutional amendment to limit marriage to one man and one woman, media gave the measure fair coverage.
As many have noted, this election will likely be viewed as a tipping point for LGBT rights. In an era when the president supports same-sex marriage (now legal in nine states and the District of Columbia) and the military no longer bans gays and lesbians, Obama will have greater freedom on social issues in his second term. Considering LGBT Americans still face inequalities in employment, immigration and marriage, journalists across the industry will have increasing opportunities to cover this minority community.
Sarah Blazucki is NLGJA vice president of print and digital media. She currently is a writer-editor for the Peace Corps and is the former editor of the Philadelphia Gay News.