Covering LGBT Pride in Utah

As we enter LGBT pride month, journalists will be faced with the inevitable question of how to bring something new to an event that happens–in many places–every year.

Reporters in Salt Lake City got a lot of help this year when 300 members of the  Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints participated in the march as an act of reconciliation.  The people, members of Mormons Building Bridges, participated in the march for the first time.  Here’s how the Salt Lake City Tribune covered the story.

Later, parade Grand Marshal Dustin Lance Black, tweeted: “In tears. Over 300 straight, active Mormons showed up to march with me at the Utah Pride parade in support of LGBT people.”

Mormons Building Bridges followed right behind Black in the parade. The men in beige suits and ties and the little girls in white dresses were a sharp contrast to the pounding music and dancers behind them, but the crowd clapped and shouted their approval for the folks in their Sunday best. Erika Munson, a mom of five from Sandy, started the group a few weeks ago to show her support for the LGBT community and to encourage members of her religion to do the same in a public way.

Holly Nelson, a 38-year-old lesbian who lives in Murray, had tears in their eyes as the Mormons walked past.

“I think it’s amazing,” she said. “It’s been so hard to be in Utah knowing the Mormon church is against the gay community.”

The march was also covered by the Deseret Times, which is operated by a for-profit enterprise connected to the LDS church.

Kim Turner said she was a little nervous about what kind of reaction the group would get in the parade because the LDS Church supports traditional marriage between a man and a woman, and the church encouraged members to support Proposition 8 in California defining marriage as between a man and a woman.

“We thought there might be some animosity toward us, but it was the opposite,” she said. “It was so touching. It was very emotional. We saw many people crying along the (parade) route.”

She, too, was in tears for most of the parade.

“It was so touching walking along and having people tell us ‘thank you’ when it was our pleasure,” she said. “This was a labor of love, nothing more than that. It wasn’t about politics. It was about love.”

Both pieces do a nice job of letting LGBT people speak for themselves and providing an unusual spin on the typical gay pride event coverage.  Both stories include lots of pictures, with the Deseret News providing more pictures of the Mormon group.

The coverage has not been without its critics on the right, of course.  Terry Mattingly at the conservative religion news media blog Get Religion (which is bankrolled by Howard and Roberta Ahmanson, major financial backers of Proposition 8 in California) says the Tribune story failed to properly cover the official position of the Mormon church or speak to church leaders.  He didn’t appear to notice that the News also covered the event without any official comment from the church and only slightly more explanation of the church’s position.

But I wonder, in a the most religiously homogenous state in the country, whether the readers of a newspaper in Utah really need to have the official church position explained to them.  Both stories laid out the church’s position on same-sex marriage and gay rights, so is it really necessary to bring in a dissenting voice?  It’s interesting that neither paper found it was necessary, suggesting that the papers feel confident that their readers are well-versed in Mormon church teaching and don’t need a remedial lesson in a story which is essentially about a gay pride event.

Your thoughts?

WaPo’s Missing Religious Voices

Based on the reporting of the Washington Post, apparently every religious person in the D.C. area opposes same-sex marriage and almost all of the religious voices are evangelical/Pentecostal African Americans.

You’d never know that D.C. is the home of National Cathedral of the Episcopal Church, two large Catholic universities, and prominent churches inside Mainline congregations, including well-known Methodist, Disciples of Christ, and Presbyterian churches.

Last month, we reported on a GLAAD study that talked about the overrepresentation of Evangelical voices involving LGBT issues and the lack of voices from Mainline protestant and moderate Catholic viewpoints.

The WaPo story tries to do some man-on-the-street (or on the phone) reactions to Obama’s announcement on same-sex marriage, but the Rolodexes at the WaPo seem to only include religious voices opposed to same-sex marriage.

“I’m sorry, I was tickled and proud to see a black president, but I can’t vote for a man who goes against God,” said McMillan, 66, who lives in the Logan Circle area of Northwest. “I don’t believe in skin color more than I believe in God’s word. This president must be part atheist or something.”

And a minster and professor at Howard University:

“I don’t know what he believes,” said Cheryl Sanders, a pastor at the Third Street Church of God in the District’s Mount Vernon neighborhood and a professor of Christian ethics at Howard University’s divinity school. “But it’s okay to change your mind . . . and my sense is that he will probably gain more votes than lose votes.”

Sanders opposes same-sex marriage but says the president’s stance isn’t likely to diminish his support from black voters, just as his support for abortion rights hasn’t chased away blacks who oppose abortion on religious grounds.

Someone who runs a Christian counseling group and is collecting signature to oppose Maryland’s new marriage law”

Unlike Fenton, McManus thinks Obama is on the wrong side of the issue.

McManus, who runs a Christian counseling group in Potomac, doesn’t think Obama acted out of conscience, but rather because he was “outed” when Vice President Biden made his support for same-sex marriage plain last weekend.

“This is a religious country,” McManus said.

Still, he said, views are changing and even churches are reluctant to take a strong stand. He’s been gathering signatures to put a referendum on the Maryland ballot this fall to overturn the new law allowing same-sex marriage, and of the 10 churches he called Wednesday to ask if he could put petitions in their lobbies, eight declined, for fear of alienating divided members, he said.

And then two more African Americans, citing religion for their opposition to same-sex marriage. First, a man on the street:

Although marriage wasn’t a factor for African Americans in Obama’s first campaign, it could be this time, said William Cabell, 49, of Upper Marlboro. Obama’s new stance “threw me for a curve. I’m trying to figure out how I’m going to support him now, because I don’t have the same belief.”

Cabell, a black Democrat, knows he will vote against same-sex marriage in Maryland’s referendum but can’t see casting another ballot for Obama.

“I’d love to be supportive to my president,” said Cabell, who works for the Montgomery County school system. “I have to be loyal to my God.”

And then an African American minister, also opposed to same-sex marriage:

The Rev. Nathaniel Thomas, pastor of Forestville New Redeemer Baptist Church and a leader of the campaign against Maryland’s new marriage law, said Obama’s statement “took the wind out of me. His family image has been great for our community, and now he has allowed another agenda to cloud the great, positive image he created of the black family.”

And another man on the street:

Diana King, an 18-year-old Alexandrian who will vote for the first time this fall, disagrees intensely with Obama on the issue. “God didn’t make people like that,” she said. “He didn’t make two men to have babies together.”

For those of you counting, that’s six religious voices and none of them supportive of same-sex marriage. At least three of those voices are African American.  Every person identified by some racial indicator in the story is opposed to same-sex marriage.

How is that possible?  Did they lose the phone numbers to the National Cathedral, Foundry Methodist, various experts at Georgetown University? Did the call local ministers at churches with gay-affirming policies?

It’s not as though the WaPo doesn’t know that there are African American religious voices who support same-sex marriage because the paper has written about them.  Yet Thomas appears to be the “go-to” voice when they are looking for a comment.

There’s no question that one of the most interesting issues after the announcement was the reaction of African Americans in the D.C. area.  But the lack of diverse voices–both in terms of religion generally and inside the African American community–is a real concern.

GLAAD Report: Evangelicals Overused on LGBT Issues

The folks at GLAAD have commissioned a report, conducted by the University of Missouri Center on Religion & the Professions, to examine the kinds of media messages on LGBT issues, especially when it comes to religious voices.

The report finds that when religious voices are used in discussing LGBT issues, they are mostly voices opposed to LGBT rights.  In addition, the study finds that the media turns to Evangelical and Catholic voices in disproportionate numbers.

the overwhelming majority of sources with some religious identification were communicated by people affiliated with faith groups that have formal church policy, religious decrees or traditions opposing the rights of LGBT  people. That’s true for most Evangelicals, such as Southern Baptists and Roman Catholics. It’s also true of Orthodox Christians, many historically Black denominations, and Muslims.  Although exceptions can be found in these faith traditions and in fact pro-LGBT religious  ministries exist within, for example, the Roman Catholic Church, the preponderance of sources affiliated with religious groups that oppose LGBT equality total three-quarters of  all religious-affiliated messages.

The report finds that almost 34 percent of all religiously-identified speakers were Evangelicals and 29 percent were Catholics, even though Evangelicals are only 26 percent of the population and Catholics are only 26 percent.  The data also finds that Mainline Protestants were slightly underrepresented, but members of traditionally Black churches were also overrepresented.

Other details of the report, according to GLAAD, include:

- half of all religiously-identified organizations quoted on LGBT issues were Evangelical, with a heavy reliance on the National Organization for Marriage and Focus on the Family.

- Evangelicals and Catholics were quoted opposing LGBT issues, while Mainline Protestants and members of Black churches were more likely to be positive. Despite polling that Catholics have strong support of LGBT equality issues, Catholics who were quoted in the press were more likely to be opposed to those rights.

- Religious voices dominated the quotes that were opposed to LGBT rights while supporters of LGBT rights and LGBT people were rarely identified as religious.

The report (and GLAAD) makes two major recommendations for journalists:

Mainstream media must make more consistent use of LGBT-affirming religious sources, instead of turning to more negative or non-affirming religious voices. By overlooking LGBT-affirming sources, journalists can contribute to – and even perpetuate – the idea that those who are religious are, by definition, opposed to LGBT equality. In looking specifically at the organizations represented among religious commentators, we find a common profile: culturally conservative entities seeking to influence the political debate, with overt reference to “Christian” or “biblical” values, and often with the explicit endorsement of currently serving political figures.

The media must be fair and accurate in how religious voices are represented. Disproportionately favoring the voices of Evangelical Christians and Roman Catholics – who are more likely to present negative messages about LGBT people – is neither fair, nor accurate, nor balanced coverage. The mainstream media must pull apart the assumptions about values, religiosity, sexuality, and the intersection of church and state underlying these voices and their influential presence in the news. Despite their under representation, there are LGBT-affirming religious voices cited in the mainstream media, some of whom even identify as LGBT themselves. Many of these voices come from affirming religious groups with a significant presence in the United States.

You should definitely check out the report and GLAAD’s analysis. I found a few things rather confusing about how the coding took place, but it’s an interesting report. We’ve talked before about the need for more diverse voices when talking about LGBT issues, and this is especially true of religious voices. The over-reliance on Evangelicals and Catholics is a problem because they distort the religious debate. Evangelicals, especially, have become adept at using the media in their efforts on LGBT issues and the Catholic hierarchy is always quick with a press response.

But journalists can’t just rely on people with good media machines and outreach. That’s why it is important to reach voices, especially religious ones, who don’t churn out press statements and make their spokespeople available at the drop of a hat.

Jewish Press Takes on Gay Suicides

The Jewish Press, a weekly publication focused on the Orthodox Jewish community, has a stinging editorial defending its decision to feature a story about suicide among “religious” Jewish gays. The original story, by Chaim Levin, touched off a great deal of criticism within the paper’s readership and advertisers.  Here’s a bit from the Press’ editorial:

We did not run this article to promote homosexuality. We did not run this article to condone anti-Halachic behavior. We did not run this article to intimate that homosexual behavior could be a Jewish life choice.

We ran this article because, whether one wants to admit it or not, there is a serious problem that some members of our religious community face – day in and day out. It could be your Chavrusah (study partner) in Yeshiva, the guy sitting next to you in shul, or your brother in your very own home. And this is true whether you wear a black hat, a streimel, or a knit yarmulka.

Pretending that there are no frum Jews with homosexual inclinations won’t make the truth go away. It won’t make the internal conflicts they fight with their Yetzer Harah (evil inclination) disappear.

and a bit more:

Following the publication of this op-ed, a number of Jewish Press advertisers were approached and threatened. They were told to stop advertising with the Jewish Press.

The Jewish Press won’t give in to threats and we won’t be silenced.

We thank our advertisers who have notified us they plan to continue with us despite the threatening letters and that they won’t give into threats either, particularly when an article like this one may have very well have saved a Jewish life.

People can do Tshuva (repent) for many acts against Halacha, but what forgiveness can there be after pushing someone so far they would commit suicide?

To understand the significance, it’s important to understand the religious context. The folks at the Religious Newswriters Association define Orthodox Judaism as “[t]he most conservative of the three major branches of Judaism, it strictly adheres to traditional teachings and acceptance of Jewish principles of faith and law.”

The Jewish Press describes itself as part of the Modern Orthodox movement, which is more moderate, which means it is often in conflict with more traditional movements within the Orthodox Judaism, including the Haredi and Hasidic.

Despite being “moderates” within a traditional movement, the decision to come out strongly against the treatment and attitudes towards gays inside Orthodox Jewish families–and call out for special shame the treatment in the most religious–or rabbinic–homes is a brave step.

The stuggles inside the Jewish press dealing with LGBT issues are not new.  In 2010, we wrote about the controversy at New Jersey Jewish Standard which was being criticized by readers for running a story on the marriage of two men.  At that time, NLGJA emphasized that the Jewish press was no different from any specialty media serving a “minority” or unique audience. It cannot pretend that LGBT people don’t exist inside the community and they–and their families–are part of the readership the media is trying to reach and serve.

NLGJA board member Matt Berger, who brought this to our attention, began his journalism career in the Jewish media.  Here’s his take on the controversy:

For me, the key takeaway here is that Judaism is often seen as one of the more liberal religions on social issues, and its community engagement is largely based on the concept of “tikkun olam” or repairing the world. Jewish groups have helped lead the civil rights movement and the fight against genocide in Darfur, but have done less to combat suffering and injustice in their own community.

There are openly LGBT rabbis in both the Reform and Conservative movement and both allow rabbis to perform same-sex weddings. But there is a real disconnect between these movements and the Orthodox, which often side more with Christian conservatives on social issues than with other tracts of Judaism.

There is a responsibility here for the broader Jewish community, including the Jewish media, to speak out on this issue and support organizations like the Jewish Press that are willing to speak about things that have previously been kept in silence.

Using intimidation and threats to pressure the media to hide issues of suffering within the community is the antithesis of “tikkun olam” and goes against everything the Jewish community stands for and has worked for.

So congratulations to the Jewish Press for taking a strong stand against suicide and the treatment of gay young people within the Orthodox Jewish community and allowing articles like the one by Levin to be a part of its editorial mix.

Bilerico’s Salvation Army Success Story

We’ve waited too long to take a look at the impact of Bil Browning’s amazing six weeks of attention after posting on Bilerico Project about his opposition to donating to the Salvation Army. The post, which has been an annual event, resulted in a huge response with stories coverage by New York TimesMSNBCFOXUSA Today, and countless other outlets.  The publicity surrounding the story has now led to a meeting with the Salvation Army, something Browning–an NLGJA board member–has been wanting for years.  Browning is encouraging people to submit questions for his meeting with group.

While I’ve personally had mixed feelings about a boycott of Salvation Army, I’ve been incredibly impressed by the reaction to the story and the amount of attention Bil has gotten for his advocacy. It is an amazing achievement to gain the attention of outlets as diverse as the New York Times and Fox for your cause, which is a concern shared by many in the LGBT community.

Beyond the strong, clear argument made by Bil, the other part of this story is the impact social media played in getting the story to go beyond just a post on a popular blog. I sware I read the post 30-40 times on Facebook and from tweets. In the age of self-curated news, a story that spreads via Facebook, Twitter, and other social media means both more hits on the original piece and a wider dissemination of the story.

When I last accessed the story, it had been linked to 149 times on Google Plus and had received an amazing 74,650 likes on Facebook, based on access from Bilerico.  There is no telling how many times the story has been linked-to on Facebook or tweeted or how many other bloggers linked to the story in their efforts.  What is clear is that all that attention translated into even more coverage once the story went mainstream.

So congrats to Bil, social media, and other bloggers for getting this story and issue into the mainstream. And if you have questions for the Salvation Army, let Bil know.