Are You Gay?

“Are You Gay?” is the latest NLGJA tip sheet on LGBT coverage.

From the introduction:

When is it appropriate to ask a subject to disclose his/her sexual orientation for a story? Is it ever?

Spring 2012, a New York judge ruled it wasn’t defamatory to call someone gay, even if he or she was heterosexual. As more LGBT people come out and more cities and states provide protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity, the stigma of being LGBT has lessened. As a result, reporters are more likely to cover issues that affect LGBTs (e.g., jobs, the economy, marriage, health care), and encounter people who are openly gay. How do you ask if someone is gay without prying?

First and foremost, be sensitive. Realize that some LGBTs are out and proud and some are very much closeted. It’s a personal decision and it isn’t ethical for a reporter to pass judgment on someone else’s decision or journey.

Second, think about why you want to know and why a reader would want to know. Does it add to the story? Is it important to telling the person’s own story? Would it seem out of place if you omitted it? Would it seem out of place if you added it?

To read the complete tip sheet and download a PDF, click here.

Do Gay Journalists Benefit from the ‘Gay Mafia’?

In an intriguing Bloggingheads video interview,  Marc Ambinder spent a few minutes talking about the incestuous relationship of Washington powerbrokers and the role the “gay mafia” plays in helping gay journalists like Ambinder.  I’m going to refer to “gay” because I’m actually very curious how male the “gay mafia” is and whether it helps lesbians.

Here’s what Ambinder has to say about the role the DC “gay mafia” plays in helping out gay journalists in the city and on the campaign trail.

“There is — and I say this term with affection — a bit of a gay mafia in the city,” he said. “Simply the fact that people who are gay knew that I was gay would often be an expediter to information. That doesn’t mean I’m sleeping with them. It just means they know that I’m gay, we shared some sort of a brotherhood and therefore they’re much more likely to talk to me and tell me things that perhaps they wouldn’t necessarily tell me.”

“If I were in the business of burning or revealing sources I could give a number of different examples where simply the fact alone that I happen to be gay and the person on the other end of the telephone happened to be gay and we both knew it, helped me move along or break a pretty big story.”

“It can be a net positive if you find the right people to talk to…. It’s a brotherhood, an established tribal group you’re a member of, so the membership benefits are conferred on you.”

Ambinder isn’t the first to suggest that gay journalists are helped out by gay folks who work in the DC political world. I would imagine the same thing happens in all sorts of situations, not just inside-the-Beltway or on the campaign trail. Political campaigns are relatively notorious for being staffed by gay reporters and producers. Even on the television show “Scandal,” we learn that the chief of staff–and former campaign manager–is in a same-sex relationship with a journalist who covered the campaign.

The larger question is whether profiting from the “outsider/insider” status of being gay is a bad thing. It seems that building a rapport with a source is one of the things a journalist does. If part of that rapport building is based on your sexual orientation (or race or religion or alma mater), there’s no real harm there.

But the perception that there is a “gay mafia,” especially in Washington, can also be damaging. When Rep. Mark Foley was finally forced from office for sending inappropriate messages to pages, there was a widespread perception that Foley had been protected by the Republican “gay mafia” and the gay reporters who wouldn’t report on what they saw in private. Gay entertainment journalists are routinely criticized for keeping the secrets of the “gay mafia” in Hollywood. This is the second-cousin to the suggestion that LGBT journalists can’t be objective on covering gay issues.

So what do you think. Has your journalism been helped because of the “gay mafia”? Is there a parallel “lesbian mafia” or does the help of other gay people extend to lesbian journalists?

Sunday Longform Reading

Sundays are great for breaking the habit of quickly reading the news and settling in for something longer, less direct.  Today, there are two great longform pieces of journalism about the lives of gay men worth checking out.

First is the New York Times piece on the suicide of Bob Bergeron, a New York therapist who was writing a book about gay men over 40.  The story hints at why Bergeron, who showed no signs of being suicidal, may have taken his life and the reader is left wondering about the impact of aging, the pressures on men who live in urban gay ghettos, and the meaning of loneliness and success.

But right around New Year’s Eve, something went horribly wrong. On Jan. 5, Mr. Bergeron was found dead in his apartment, the result of a suicide that has left his family, his friends and his clients shocked and heartbroken as they attempt to figure out how he could have been so helpful to others and so unable to find help himself.

Here, they say, was a guy with seemingly everything to live for: good looks, a condo in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan, semi-annual trips to Europe, parents who adored him and absolutely no history of clinical depression.

That suicides, even seemingly inexplicable ones, occur in New York is not startling news, of course. And, certainly, among gay men in the city, it is not unusual to hear of an acquaintance who has taken his life, often someone in the later stages of AIDS who didn’t want (or couldn’t afford) to wait around for the bitter end. (A 2002 survey by researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, found that 12 percent of urban gay and bisexual men have attempted suicide in their lifetime, a rate three times higher than the overall rate for American adult males.)

But there is something particularly resonant about Mr. Bergeron’s tale. Here was a man who ended his life at the exact moment he seemed to be nearing a professional peak, one that involved the upbeat story of a mature gay man facing the second half of his life with enthusiasm, hope and an endless array of tight T-shirts.

My guess is that people aren’t going to agree on what caused Bergeron’s death, or even whether writer Jacob Bernstein was playing on some unflattering stereotypes of gay men. But it’s a good read that people are definitely buzzing about.

The second piece I discovered on the great website Longform and it is to a March 2012 story in The Atlantic by John Fram about a serodiscordant gay couple in Waco, Texas, and how they dealt with building a relationship and dealt with being poor and one of them having HIV (and a meth addiction). In the late 1990s, I ran a legal clinic for poor and indigent people with HIV/AIDS and  Fram’s story reopened the door to the lives of gay men who have a very different existence than the one in the NYT.

We awaken at 6:00 a.m.; coffee in a thermos, documentation under one arm. We arrive at the health center 10 minutes before they open; in the waiting room of the benefits office, ours are the first names on the clipboard.
“In D.C.,” Chad says as we sit down. “It’s four waiting rooms just like this, and there are always people here ahead of you. I think they camp out.”

As 8:00 a.m. approaches, others arrive: Hispanic housewives with squadrons of toddlers, black womenyounger than me with newborns over their shoulders. Just a year ago I would have considered applying for welfare beneath me. A good way to grow up in a hurry: let your parents take you off their health insurance.

As a first-person story, it reads like the outline of a good novel and you are left wondering what is going on with these men now.

Check out both stories.

When to Say Chris Hughes Is Gay

The recent coverage of Chris Hughes, co-founder of Facebook, taking a majority stake of The New Republic has had varying degrees of gayness.

LGBT media, not surprisingly, was rather direct about mentioning Hughes is gay. “Gay Facebook Founder Chris Hughes Buys ‘The New Republic'” was the hed at Towleroad. “Chris Hughes, Out Gay Facebook Co-Founder and Former Obama Staffer, Buys The New Republic” was the hed at MetroWeekly.

Neither The New York Times nor The Washington Post mentioned that Hughes was gay. Both The Huffington Post and The New Yorker did mention Hughes was gay. The difference was varying degrees of context.

From the Times:

Mr. Hughes, who was a roommate of Mark Zuckerberg’s at Harvard and who ran publicity for Facebook at its outset, quit the company in 2007 and joined Mr. Obama’s campaign, where he ran a social network for the candidate’s supporters. He later founded Jumo, an online hub for charities, which merged less than a year later with GOOD, a publishing company that promotes social action.

Mr. Hughes said he would continue to advise GOOD, but The New Republic would be his priority. He will continue to reside in the Hudson River Valley of New York but will visit the magazine’s office in Washington often.

From the Post:

A 2006 graduate of Harvard University, Hughes was among the group of college classmates who started Facebook with Mark Zuckerberg, Hughes’s roommate, in 2003. Forbes has estimated Hughes’s net worth at $700 million, but that was before Facebook filed this year to offer its first shares to the public.

Hughes left Facebook in 2007 to serve as social-media director for Obama’s campaign, organizing an effort that raised record amounts of money.

From HuffPo:

Hughes is worth hundreds of millions of dollars thanks to his days at Facebook. He was also a key player in President Obama’s online organizing efforts in 2008. More recently, Hughes, who is openly gay, has become involved in the fight for same-sex marriage along with his partner Sean Eldridge, political director for the group Freedom To Marry.

From The New Yorker:

Hughes appears to be a certified liberal, much to the relief of most of the magazine’s staff, alumni, and readers. Though he has been involved in some forms of activism—he ran the social media operation for the 2008 Obama campaign, and his significant other, Sean Eldridge, is the former political director of the same-sex marriage advocacy group Freedom To Marry—his comments on the direction of the magazine have been non-ideological, heavier on tech-world jargon than political talking points.

These excerpts are the extent of his personal life included in these articles. Notice that HuffPo and The New Yorker brought up his connection to same-sex marriage advocacy, which opened the door to mentioning Hughes is gay.

I’m totally down with how each of these mainstream media outlets handled the “When to say?” gay disclosure thing. Sexual orientation isn’t relevant until it is. HuffPo makes it over the line by including his same-sex marriage connection, but The New Yorker does the better job (although their use of “significant other” irks me a bit) by providing more context.

HuffPost Gay Voices on Being Out as Journalists

HuffPost Gay Voices is conducting a series of “Voice to Voice” conversations between LGBT authors. They did a few of them for Black History Month. Among them was a conversation between Clay Cane and Janet Mock.

Cane is the entertainment editor for BET.com and the host of Clay Cane Live on WWRL 1600AM in New York City. He’s also contributed to publications such as The Root, theGrio and The Advocate.

Mock is a staff editor at People.com. She earned a GLAAD Award nomination for writing about growing up transgender. This year she was named one of theGrio’s 100 most influential leaders making history today.

In the article, Cane and Mock explore being black and LGBT, homophobia and transphobia. They also discuss their experience with being out as journalists:

Clay Cane: Being out made me a better writer. You can’t sit down with a stranger and get the truth out of them when you’re paranoid about somebody finding out your truth. The truth is, being who I am has never stopped me from getting a job. I wouldn’t have gotten my radio show on WWRL if I had been closeted. What about your coming out as a journalist?

Janet Mock: While making the decision to tell my story, I definitely took on other people’s thoughts about me, internalizing other people’s transphobia. So when I came out publicly, I was armed for people to say awful things about me. Instead, I was overwhelmingly embraced. I wasn’t expecting the love and light that actually came my way, and the opportunities that arose as well because I chose to be open about my journey.

We have come a long way since NLGJA was founded. It’s heartwarming to be reassured that being out as journalists is becoming easier for many of us, although that is still not universally true.