HIV and LGBT Stories on Latino USA

latinousa.jpgLatino USA has been heard on public radio since 1992, anchored by award-winning journalist Maria Hinojosa. The weekly radio program reports on the underreported stories of Latinos.

I had the pleasure of listening to a recent Latino USA episode that included two segments I wanted to share.

Hinojosa spoke with Andres Duque, formerly of the Latino Commission on AIDS and currently Blabbeando blogger and Twitter activist extraordinaire with his English-language blog feed and also his Spanish-language Noticias LGBT feed.

They discussed LGBT rights in Latin America, exploring how hate crimes are increasing while LGBT people are increasingly being elected to public office. (Click here to listen to this segment.)

The episode also included a segment on Empoderate, a unique bilingual health center in Washington, DC, that provides HIV/AIDS services to LGBT Latino youth.

Out of the more than 30 LGBT youth centers nationwide, it is one of only a few that specifically caters to Spanish speakers. (Click here to listen to this segment.)

Kudos to Latino USA for recognizing that the stories of LGBT Latinos and Latinos with HIV are indeed among the underreported stories of Latinos nationwide.

Missing On-Air

Our friends at the Asian American Journalists Association–who just finished up their annual convention in Detroit–have a great fundraiser that highlights the lack of Asian American men in broadcast (tv, radio, and webcast). The AAJA Men’s Calendar, on sale here, features the top vote-getters in a poll and the guys then get splashed in a calendar. It’s a great way to highlight the lack of visibility for Asian American men while also having a little fun.

Julie Tam, who chairs the committee that oversees the fundraiser, says “the calendar has a good representation of men from various Asian and mixed ethnic backgrounds, on-air talent (news, sports, technology) and behind-the-scenes folks (writer/producers, news director), in different career stages (from small market to national level, from younger guys to veteran journalists), and from cities across the U.S.”

What I love about this fundraiser is that it puts the spotlight on an area that is also a concern for LGBT journalists–especially lesbians–which is the lack of visibility in broadcast journalism.

While there have been some strides on the national level in the anchor chair and as reporters, there is still a significant gender gap with the small number of openly gay men far outnumbering the number of openly lesbians who appear on television or are heard on radio either nationally or in local markets.  Of course, transgender broadcasters are largely non-existent. The ranks of producers and behind-the-scenes staff is larger, but there is still a visibility gap.

I wonder whether we could even fill a calendar of lesbians in broadcast, for instance?

When people ask why NLGJA is important–and why minority journalism groups like AAJA are important–I think that increasing visibility and making it easier for people to be out in the workplace (and on-air) is a good example of why our work is still needed. If we couldn’t even fill a calendar of lesbians in broadcast, our work is definitely cut out for us.

NPR Responds to Criticism of Conversion Therapy Story

In the wake of criticism of an NPR story on conversion therapy, NPR’s ombudsman and a top news official have responded to the critiques.

Ombudsman Edward Schumacher-Matos, wading into what is likely the first of many controversies involving LGBT issues as the new Ombudsman, said the story was well-done, but that critics had reason to complain:

To be fair, to lay it all out is far too complicated in a single, 9-minute radio segment. Spiegel and Gudenkauf were trying to give an insight, a compelling slice of two lives that was fascinating story-telling that hinted at some of the answers. They say they may dive deeper in future stories.

But listeners are right to demand that even this story somehow should have addressed the substance of the divisions over conversion therapy. The one attempt to provide that context in the story – an interview with a psychologist – failed to do so.

and this is how he concluded:

Spiegel and Gudenkauf clearly worked hard on this story. They simply made some wrong assumptions about what most of us know about sexuality and conversion. I can understand why they did so. On many stories, in defiance of standard journalism practices, I am often the first to say that reporters should assume more about the what the audience knows. The good thing about this subject is that Spiegel and Gudenkauf will have many more opportunities to return to it.

This is an interesting observation. It also says something about the issue itself. While many of the criticisms of the story surrounded the question of whether there was even a “debate,” in fact may listeners may not have even understood the issue at all to put that in context.

Schumacher-Matos also hit on a criticism about not explaining the financial and professional interest of the subjects who were interviewed.

Responding to another criticism from listeners, Spiegel and Gudenkauf acknowledge that they should have reported on air that Wyler founded an organization that claims to help men who have same-sex attraction to change. But they said that Toscano, too, profits from his experience, writing a play and giving speeches about it.

Margaret Low Smith, the acting Senior Vice President for news, also responded to the criticism:

Nonetheless, we could have done a better job on this story. Though we stated at the end of the piece that conversion therapy harms gay people and people who find it beneficial are very rare, we should have addressed those questions earlier and in greater detail so that listeners could hear the stories of Rich Wyler and Peterson Toscano with that context in mind.

We also unintentionally left the impression with some listeners that the establishment psychological community only began to discount conversion therapy in the last few years. Though some therapists disagree with that mainstream view, it has been widely held for many years.

Finally, we should have mentioned in the story that both of the men profiled – in the wake of their therapy – organized their professional lives around their respective experiences and profit from their activities.

Debating NPR’s Suggestion There is a ‘Debate’ Over Conversion Therapy

The moment I heard an intro to Alix Spiegel’s NPR piece on conversion therapy, my reaction was: “This isn’t going to end well.”

Not because the story wasn’t compelling and interesting.  Instead, because these kinds of stories are a “no win” situation, no matter how careful the reporter may be.  So, let’s look at the critiques that are rolling in.  The first criticism came from Zach Ford at ThinkProgress, the blog run by the progressive Center for American Progress.

A National Public Radio segment this morning suggested that ex-gay therapy is still up for “debate,” misrepresenting it as a “controversy” on which “the jury is still out.” Even though ex-gay therapy is roundly condemned by professional medical organizations as ineffective and harmful, the segment attempted to create a false balance by including stories from both sides of the “debate.” Ex-gay Rich Wyler, founder of People Can Change, had the opportunity to  reiterate many untrue ex-gay talking points, including unfounded “causes” for a gay orientation, the misguided notion that it’s ethical to support a patient who wants ex-gay therapy, and a completely inaccurate comparison between ex-gay and transgender patients. Ex-gay survivor Peterson Toscano countered by explaining the traumatic harm he faced in ex-gay therapy, but many of Wyler’s points went unaddressed.

The reality is that there is no debate about ex-gay therapy, and by providing a platform for Wyler to continue propagating the myths about its potential, NPR is contributing to a culture of harm.

At the end of the post, Ford acknowledges he has a radio show with Toscano, one of the subjects of the NPR story.

At Religion DIspatches–a religion website focusing on progressive voices–Warren Throckmorton argues NPR failed to explain how controversial Wyler’s approach to conversion therapy is and failed to delve into that approach which has been rejected by Exodus International.

The NPR report notes Wyler’s self-diagnosis but obscures the methods he uses to treat himself. Rather than a cerebral discussion of family dynamics as portrayed by NPR, JIM promotes skin-to-skin therapy, where men retreat for a weekend with other same-sex attracted men to hold each other for the purpose of establishing closeness to other men. They believe such activity establishes a more platonic bond with men which helps extinguish homosexual attractions.

Also at Religion Dispatches, Candace Chellew-Hodge said the segment suffered because it failed to probe Wyler’s self-interest in being a “professional ex-gay.”

One of the reasons I left the news business nearly ten years ago was because the media’s idea of “balanced” reporting had become increasingly neurotic and, well, unbalanced. Our modern media believes that balance means finding one example of a story it has decided to pursue on one side of the issue, and then find another single example on the other side of the story then simply compare and contrast. Voila! Balance.

That’s what NPR has done in this morning’s report about “reparative therapy” for gay and lesbian people. The report took someone who claims to be “cured” of his homosexuality, Rich Wyler, and juxtaposed his story with that of Peterson Toscano, a man who went through “reparative therapy” and says he was deeply harmed psychologically by the experience.

Overall, the story was heavy on narrative and light on context and facts. I’m not sure that’s a criticism, but just noting that it was radio storytelling at its best in the sense of letting subjects talk with the help of a good reporter. I found Wyler and Tosacano both difficult to listen to because their stories were so sad and painful. The danger in presenting two people who are on opposite sides of an issue is that it can set up the perception that the world is divided 50/50 on an issue, when in fact there is no such 50/50 balance on the effectiveness of conversion therapy with the overwhelming evidence finding it isn’t effective.

I’m sympathetic to the suggestion that Wyler’s own approach to conversion therapy (and self-interest) isn’t properly framed and described, as well as not placed in the context that it is rejected even inside the ex-gay movement. That would have been helpful to the listener.

On the question of whether there is a “debate,” my sense is that criticism is off-base. There is a debate over conversion therapy, but it’s a debate where LGBT activists insist there is no debate and rely on the APA statement while those sympathetic to the idea of conversion therapy and being ex-gay believe the debate is still raging on, the APA statement was more political than science-based, and that the media is cooperating in silencing the debate.

By any definition, that is a “debate.” It may not be an even-sided debate or even a completely honest debate, but it is a debate nonetheless. The story very clearly points out the APA position and even provides a voice for that position. But journalists have a responsibility not to ignore a dispute just because one side says the debate is over. While this piece may have flaws, it is unfair to say it was unbalanced.

I know there is “debate” over this issue, from a journalism perspective, and we are interested in your thoughts.

Should NPR Have Mentioned the Gays in their Boy Scout Stories?

For the 100th Anniversary of the Boy Scouts, NPR’s Weekened Edition Saturday did a story about the history of the Boy Scouts and interviewed famous scouts, including Napoleon Dynamite’s Jon Heder.  What went unmentioned in the story, and two other stories, was the Boy Scout’s famous conflict with gay rights and the exclusion of gays in the Boy Scouts.

NPR’s Ombudsman Alicia Shepard criticizes the network for not including any mention of the gay exclusion and gives voice to listeners who found the stories offensive because there was no mention of the BSA discriminatory policy.

To my mind, the piece should have acknowledged the controversy with the Boy Scouts and gays in a world where there is growing acceptance and integration of gays in all aspects of society. Of course there are positive aspects to scouting that needed to be recognized and celebrated — but not at the expense of giving listeners a full picture.

And here’s what Weekend Edition Saturday‘s Scott Simon–who was on leave when the story ran–said about the exclusion.

Weekend Edition Saturday host, Scott Simon, back from neck surgery, acknowledged on his Feb. 13 show what NPR should have included.

“Mr. Macula is correct,” said Simon “The Supreme Court decision in 2000 allowed the Boy Scouts to bar openly gay Scout leaders and members. And we failed to mention that policy in our interview with Marcos Nava, who heads up the Hispanic Initiatives for the Boy Scouts in America.”

I don’t think the exclusionary policy needed to be mentioned in all three stories and I understand why they decided not to muddle a tribute to BSA’s anniversary with controversy (I heard the initial story and thought it was quite nice–especially the geeky Heder interview–and it never dawned on me they didn’t mention the gay controversy).

But if you are going to give that much air time to an organization, it does seem worthwhile to mention the group isn’t without controversy–non-Christians also feel excluded from BSA–and provide a little bit of balance to a justifiably congratulatory, soft story.

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