Pride in full swing

In case you missed it, it’s June. And in much of the U.S., that means LGBTQ Pride Month. There’s been lots of gay happenings this month — some good, some bad.

NLGJA was invited to attend the “off the record” conversations between Attorney General Eric Holder and media outlets; other groups invited to the June 3 meeting included the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, Native American Journalists Association and the Asian American Journalists Association. Of these, only NAHJ — and the interim executive director of UNITY — attended the meeting. The three groups that declined the invitation cited the off-the-record requirement as reason for their decision. Several large media outlets had been invited to an earlier meeting with Holder, including the Associated Press, the Washington Post and NPR.

Earlier this month, Michelle Obama was heckled at a fundraiser in Washington, D.C., by a lesbian asking when the president was going to sign an executive order banning discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity by federal contractors. The first lady wasn’t entertaining hecklers that day. (Here’s LZ Granderson’s take on the situation.)

The Supreme Court is expected to issue its rulings on the Proposition 8 and Defense of Marriage cases before it goes into summer recess at the end of this month. Stay tuned …

In case you missed it, President Obama nominated Daniel Baer, Department of State assistant secretary for the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, to be the next ambassador for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Baer, the highest-ranking openly gay State employee and a speaker at the 2011 NLGJA convention in Philadelphia, would be the fourth openly gay U.S. ambassador.

In Illinois, marriage-equality supporters got a setback May 31 when the state House opted to not hold a vote on legislation that would have provided marriage for same-sex couples, citing a lack of supportive votes. The Illinois Senate passed the bill in February by a vote of 34-21. The House has until Aug. 31 to take up the legislation again.

There’s also plenty of coverage of gay pride events around the country, with the accompanying kudos and criticisms of what the media opts to portray: drag queens, gay men in tiny swimsuits, butch lesbians on motorcycles or the more tame and mainstream (and often less sensational images). It can be a hard call for an editor: Pick the photo that represents a better cross-section of the population or the photo that is sure to draw the eye and the attention because it is an outlier and not something you see every day? What coverage have you seen that you love/hate?

And finally, NLGJA President Jen Christensen and longtime member Holly Crenshaw will attend the White House LGBT Pride Month reception June 13. We expect pictures …


NLGJA calls on AP for equal treatment of married gays and lesbians

APLogoThe Associated Press again drew the ire of the LGBT community, including some journalists, this week when an internal guidance memo advised staff not to refer to same-sex married couples as “husband” or “wife,” but instead as couples or partners. (Would it be inappropriate to call this move homophobic?)

After initiating a discussion with the AP stylebook editor about the memo, NLGJA sent AP a letter today calling out the double standard and encouraging the news agency to revise the guidance to use the same terms for married individuals, regardless of sex.

The memo came to the attention of the NLGJA’s Rapid Response Task Force on Tuesday, after the memo was posted on several blogs.

The original memo, issued in the agency’s Style Watch on Feb. 11, stated, “We were asked how to report about same-sex couples who call themselves ‘husband’ and ‘wife.’ Our view is that such terms may be used in AP stories with attribution. Generally AP uses couples or partners to describe people in civil unions or same-sex marriage.”

The problematic guidance is the last sentence, which instructs reporters to refer to married individuals as partners or couples—not husband or wife. Considering reporters use husband and wife routinely to describe opposite-sex married couples, this creates a clear double standard.

While the AP guidance may be appropriate for same-sex couples in civil unions, which is a comparatively new institution without clearly established or universal terms, married is married.

Former NLGJA President David Steinberg contacted David Minthorn, the stylebook editor for AP, on Tuesday and explained how the language was problematic. And while AP issued revised guidance to the original memo, it still fell short.

The clarified AP guidance added, “Our view is that such terms may be used in AP content if those involved have regularly used those terms (‘Smith is survived by his husband, John Jones’) or in quotes attributed to them.”

While this is marginally better, it retains the earlier language regarding using couples and partners for married same-sex individuals.

NLGJA President Jen Christensen’s letter to AP can be found here.

Unity Name Change: The time is Right

By Sue Green

I think that it’s somewhat ironic that the discussion about Unity’s name should happen on the same weekend that Major League Baseball celebrated Jackie Robinson Day. All the players on the field, no matter their ethnicity or sexual orientation wore the number 42 in unity. They celebrated Robinson’s cultural impact not only on the field, but off the field as well.

They celebrated a shift in cultural appreciation, and while some might not have been happy at the idea of an African American on the field, it was a necessary change. The time was right.

It’s also ironic that these talks about Unity are happening as we celebrate the 40th anniversary of the passage of Title IX, the 1972 anti-discrimination legislation that led to equal female participation in high school and college sports. This change in law had a huge impact for all women, no matter what their ethnicity. It also had a huge impact on men.

As a matter of fact, I was the first young girl at George Air Force Base in California to take advantage of this new ruling when I played for the boy’s baseball team. Not everyone was happy with the decision to allow girls into the all male clubhouse, but it eventually opened up the sports world to women — a right all women and men enjoy today. The time was right.


And the time was right this weekend to make the decision to change the name of Unity: Journalists of Color back to its original name: Unity.

This too was not an easy decision for everyone. The diversity journalism organization began in 1994 with its inaugural convention, called Unity 94. The convention was about inclusion, an opportunity to talk frankly about the lack of diversity in our newsrooms, and the need for a push to get more representation of diversity at all levels.

It was a chance for everyone, not just members of the four alliance groups at the time, AAJA, NAJA, NAHJ and NABJ, but everyone was welcome to come and learn and support the cause. The general vibe at that convention was one of Unity, one that said no matter who you are, if you are here, then you are part of this unified effort to celebrate diversity and help fix an imbalance in the newsroom.  As far as I was concerned, Unity stood for a unified group of people fighting for the same cause: Diversity.

I have attended every one of the conventions since, not always agreeing with decisions that were made, but always showing up at the table. I did not agree with adding the line, “Journalists of Color” to the name in 2004. I felt it was not as inclusive as the first conventions, and might make some people uncomfortable and excluded if not a member of one of the alliance groups.

I felt that adding those three words set up a boundary, excluding some journalists… the opposite of  Unity. But I still felt it was important that I show up at the 2004 and 2008 conventions, because my face and my words were important for the members of the convention to see and hear.

My goal was that I had a responsibility to voice my opinion at the conventions amongst my colleagues even if it might not be the most popular. I was not going to walk away, I was going to still be there, trying to make sure they heard what I felt.  I am an African American journalist, and I am also a lesbian. I did not want to be put into the position of choosing between the two. I wanted a group that supported all of me, as well as my partner, who happens to be a white journalist.


And that’s why I felt it was important this past August to speak up at the NLGJA convention in Philadelphia about the idea of joining Unity. I know there were some members who were initially against it, who had heard rumors over the years that maybe NLGJA members were not welcomed by some. There were people holding on to some of that hurt from years before.

But, I also know that this was something that Roy Aarons, one of our founders was passionate about seeing happen. I stood up in that room and spoke from the heart about the importance of being in the room, of being at the table, and of putting our feelings aside and looking at the rest of Unity’s members as our brothers and sisters, fighting for some of the same rights NLGJA fights for in our newsrooms and in our coverage.

I knew not everyone in that room in Philadelphia agreed with what I was saying, but it needed to be said, and we, as an organization, needed to trust, and move forward.

I was so proud of everyone for putting aside any personal feelings, and trusting that the board would make decisions in the best interests of our members.

We decided to officially join Unity, and for the past six months I have to say we have been embraced as the newest alliance partner. We have had wonderful conversations, and learned a lot from each other as we prepared for the next convention, Unity 2012.  

But, some of us also knew something needed to happen to reflect some of the changes within Unity as we head toward our convention. We needed to get back to Unity’s original spirit, the legacy of including everyone and excluding no one. We needed to get back to our roots, back to the idea that this is a group fighting for diversity on all levels, and everyone who wants to join that fight is wanted, needed, and welcomed.


The discussion to change the name was passionate at times, heated at times, emotional at times.

The whole time the discussion is going on, I kept remembering a quote I had heard attributed to Maya Angelou that said, “The need for change bulldozed a road down the center of my mind”. We were doing some bulldozing in that room. But it was necessary.

I will wrap this up by saying that I am so thankful and proud of our alliance members who voted in favor of the name change.

David Steinberg, the President of NLGJA so eloquently described the importance of this weekend’s vote. I loved what he had to say about why this is such a positive step forward: “While recognizing UNITY’s historic mission of encouraging better representation of journalists of color in the newsroom and improving coverage of the communities those journalists come from, the new name reflects the evolution of the alliance which now includes NLGJA.”

To my brothers and sisters on the Unity board who do not agree with the decision, I can only say that one day I hope you can appreciate that this was not a decision that was made without careful thought and discussion. 

I was recently reading a story on the AAJA web site concerning their convention in 2010 where they were celebrating nearly three decades of their existence. And I read a quote from one of the founding members, which I think says it all. Bill Sing, an L.A. Times reporter said, “You’ve got to look to the future. There’s lessons from the past, but you take that and you look forward.”

I believe that this move by the Unity board this weekend is about looking forward, as a Unified group, moving forward in Unity. I am incredibly excited about this upcoming convention and I hope everyone else is as well.

I am a member of NLGJA and Unity, and I am very proud of that, especially today. It was time.

Sue Green is a guest contributor to the Re:Act Blog. After working for more than two decades in the industry, she is now the Broadcast Director of the Cronkite News Service at Arizona State University and serves on both the national board of the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association and the board of UNITY Journalists.

UPDATED: Resources for Reporting on the Ninth Circuit’s Prop 8 Ruling



Analysis is beginning to pour in.  For a good, meaty explanation of the legal issues, check out Lyle Denniston at SCOTUSBlog.  Another thorough look, including the background, is from Chris Geidner at MetroWeekly.

For a conservative take on the ruling, read Ed Whelan at National Review’s Bench Memos. A quick list of immediate reactions from LGBT and progressive groups was assembled by JoeMyGod.


UPDATE: The Ruling is in. 2-1 finding Prop. 8 is unconstitutional. A link to the decision is here.

The Ninth Circuit will issue its ruling on the challenge to Proposition 8, a voter referendum in California that barred same-sex marriages.  Here is the page that will feature the ruing and previous filings/rulings in the case.

For information on the court case, check out primers created by Chris Geidner at MetroWeekly, Ari Ezra Waldman at Towleroad and Lyle Denniston at SCOTUSblog.

Questions about covering marriage?  Check out NLGJA’s Getting the Marriage Story Right: the History, Current Law & the Future and NLGJA’s Stylebook Supplement.  And take a look at Press Pass Q’s analysis of the use of gay marriage versus same-sex marriage.

Here’s what NLGJA said in 2010 about how to cover the issue, and it is still great advice:

As a result of today’s ruling on Prop 8, the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association would like to remind journalists, bloggers, columnists and media analysts the important role they play in giving citizens the information they need to understand the full impact that today’s ruling will have in their communities and across the country.

Journalists covering the issues of same-sex marriage, civil unions and partnership rights should familiarize themselves with specifics of the California case, the history of other cases involving marriage rights for LGBT individuals and the 1996 federal Defense of Marriage Act.

Reporters should note the differences between marriage law and the legal designation of civil unions. Civil unions are presumed to extend marriage benefits and protections; however, they do not include federal benefits available to married couples. Civil unions also have no effect on religious congregations and their option to bless or not bless civil unions registered with these states.

As NLGJA has previously noted, the oft-used term “gay marriage” is both inaccurate and misleading. “Gay marriage” implies the creation of a new set of legal standards and guidelines as opposed to what is being sought by most advocates – the extension of currently existing benefits and responsibilities to include same-sex couples. More appropriate terminology in discussing such legislation would be “marriage rights for same-sex couples.” Or, in those instances where a briefer description is necessary, “same-sex marriage” as “same-sex” is a more accurate and inclusive description than “gay.”

Proper framing of stories is essential when considering potential sourcing. Same-sex marriage remains controversial, and many different sets of opinions may be individually valid, but may be less appropriate when played against one another. For example, legal expertise should be differentiated from religious quotes and opinions. A legal expert’s comments on points of marriage law and civil legislation should not be contrasted with opinions of theologians.

Journalists should also consider diversity of opinion when bringing these stories to readers, viewers and listeners. Look for voices other than the standard “go-to” sources quoted most often, and work to go beyond preconceived ideas regarding who would be the “pro” and “con” sides of the marriage debate. Not all members of the LGBT community are in favor of same-sex marriage; not all members of communities of faith are opposed.

UPDATE: NLGJA Joining UNITY Coalition

Historic news from NLGJA and UNITY this morning.  The NLGJA board has unanimously voted to accept an invitation to join UNITY as a full member.  We will be joining our colleagues at the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, the Asian American Journalists Association and the Native American Journalists Association as the newest member of UNITY and will participate in the UNITY 2012 Convention in Las Vegas to be held Aug. 1-4.

Here is the letter President David Steinberg sent to NLGJA members this morning:

nlgjaI am pleased to announce that NLGJA has been issued an invitation to join UNITY, the coalition of minority journalism organizations, and that, this weekend, the NLGJA board voted unanimously to become a full member of UNITY.

Representatives from NLGJA and UNITY will be meeting in the coming weeks to craft a memorandum of understanding that will give NLGJA full membership in UNITY and incorporate the group into UNITY’s continuing work for diversity in the news industry. NLGJA will have four members on the UNITY board of directors and will have equal representation on the programming committee for the UNITY 2012 convention, which will be held Aug. 1-4 in Las Vegas in partnership with our UNITY partners, AAJA, NAHJ and NAJA.

The NLGJA board’s decision to join UNITY followed discussion among NLGJA’s members at our convention in Philadelphia last month. Joining UNITY will help NLGJA further its goals of fostering fair and accurate coverage of LGBT issues in the news media and encouraging newsroom diversity.

Joining UNITY will also allow NLGJA members to participate in a broader discussion of diversity issues and engage in dialogue with a wider array of journalists. Through this partnership with UNITY, NLGJA members will be able to participate in additional networking and career development opportunities, will be able to educate other UNITY members about the issues LGBT employees face in the newsroom, and will have an opportunity to learn about issues facing other journalism communities.

Becoming a member of UNITY is an exciting opportunity for NLGJA, and I’ll be sure to keep you informed as we move forward with this partnership. If you have any questions, concerns, comments or suggestions about this process, please get in touch with me.

Joining UNITY was a dream of NLGJA founding-father Roy Aarons who pursued inclusion until his death in 2004. Formal talks between UNITY and NLGJA began earlier this summer and an announcement about  the invitation was made at NLGJA’s convention in Philadelphia.

UPDATE: Here is the official joint statement from UNITY and NLGJA. And a tweet from NLGJA about UNITY’s strategic plan and UNITY’s name.