Overusing the LGBT

Sean Bugg of MetroWeekly has delved again into the use of LGBT as an inclusive shortand for the entire LGBT community.  In a posting on Bilerico Project, Bugg asks whether LGBT is sometimes being misused and overinclusive, failing to recognize that one of those four letters isn’t really being talked about.  In this situation, he looks at the assumption that repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell protects the entire LGBT community when it doesn’t provide protection for trans people.

This is what happens when people reflexively use “LGBT” as a synonym for “gay.” (I’m not picking onInstinct, it’s just that this is a particularly telling example.) The move from “gay and lesbian” to “LGBT” is something that sprung from noble motives of inclusion and, in general, it’s been a successful and good change. But language matters and “LGBT” simply isn’t the right term to use in every context. In the case of post-DADT military issues, it’s incredibly important to make that distinction because, again, transgender servicemembers are still explicitly barred from service.

While Bugg was talking about a gay-oriented publication–Instinct–in this instance, I’ve noticed that this problem of using LGBT as a catchall happens more and more in the mainstream press.  Notice, I didn’t describe Instinct as an LGBT publication because it clearly isn’t.  Its focus is on gay men, something I don’t think they would deny. The Dinah isn’t, strictly speaking, an LGBT event. Neither is the White Party.  While there may be a same-sex marriage, there aren’t necessarily LGBT couples.

As they collective LGBT has caught on to describe the entire community, it is important for journalists and editors to remember that the collective is not alway accurate.  While LGBT may now be so broadly understood that you see it everywhere, that doesn’t mean it works in every situation.  To act like it does diminishes those who are excluded and fails to acknowledge situations that are unique.


Does the Exodus at Equality Matters Matter?

Fellow blogger Phil Reese had a story earlier this week in the Washington Blade about the departure of Richard Socarides and Kerry Eleveld from Equality Matters, the LGBT wing of Media Matters.  The announcement comes a little less that a year after EM launched to significant fanfare.

Despite the splashy start, it appears things soured quickly at Media Matters and EM lost its focus, becoming completely absorbed by Media Matters

Eleveld was originally named editor of the organization’s website, but her title changed several months ago to “senior fellow at Media Matters.” Thomas, who was the project’s initial director of programs, took on a role in external affairs for the Media Matters parent organization in the spring.

Thomas and Eleveld moved out of Equality Matters and “have worked at Media Matters for some time now,” according to Media Matters press secretary Jess Levin.

“The Media Matters team has all of our senior fellows on it, so [moving Eleveld to Media Matters] just made more sense, but her work appears on Equality Matters,” Levin told the Blade.

Eleveld and Socarides were outspoken in the first few months of Equality Matters’ existence, releasing a flurry of op-eds and press releases throughout the spring and pressuring President Obama to endorse same-sex marriage.

Despite starting with a staff of at least four, including A-listers like Socarides and Eleveld, the project appears to have largely fizzled. There’s no doubt the LGBT movement needed “a national rapid-response war room” focused on media messages, but the effort just never took off.

Part of the problem appears to be focus. If you look at the month of blog posts, easily 85 percent of the posts are about two outlets: Fox News and the National Organization for Marriage. Are there no concerns beyond Fox and NOM? Media Matters has long been criticized for being obsessed with Fox News–even dragging NLGJA into it–and Equality Matters appears to have been unable to escape the obsession.

But there is a larger world of concern beyond a single cable news channel and a single advocate group opposed to same-sex marriage.  Sure, it’s easy to just focus on those two organizations, but is it really serving a larger purpose for improving journalism or even advocating for LGBT rights?

More:  I realize I didn’t answer my own question.  I think a group like Equality Matters can play an important role, it just has failed in its current formation in serving as a media watchdog.  The fact that A-listers have left the group and it is now basically a one-man band suggests the commitment from Media Matters is over.  That’s too bad.

The group once has a board of advisors that included Pam Spaulding.  I’m curious whatever happened to those advisors.  Spaulding appears to be out-of-the-loop, based on her own posting on the exodus.


Parsing the Arrest in the Miller/Jenkins Custody Case

One of the most interesting, and confusing, stories of the weekend is the arrest of Timothy David Miller for allegedly helping Lisa Miller take her child to Nicaragua to avoid being reunited with the child’s custodial parent, Isabella Miller-Jenkins. I first read about the arrest from my former family law professor Nancy Polikoff, a blogger at Bilerico Project.

While I’m not sure it is correct that Miller is an “evangelical church worker,” the column was a nice start to explain the twisted narrative that leads from Vermont to Virginia to Liberty University and finally a charity run by conservative Mennonites and Anabaptists in Nicaragua.

Reporters are lucky to have access to the criminal complaint filed against Miller to get all the details.  It’s a little hard to follow, but the details are pretty riveting (and scary, if you are someone concerned about the government accessing emails and website information).  We’ve seen some good reporting by the New York Times and the AP.

I especially liked Lisa Keen’s reporting, which is widely distributed in the LGBT press, as well as the story by The Advocate (which was sourced later by the NYT). Keen and the Advocate clear up some of the details, and begin to connect the dots between Lisa Miller’s attendance at Thomas Road Baptist Church, the former church of Jerry Falwell. Falwell is also the founder of Liberty University, which spawned Liberty Counsel. The daughter of the man whose home was allegedly used to hide the little girl was an employee at Liberty and Liberty Counsel represented Lisa Miller in her custody dispute.

The oddest detail is about Timothy David Miller, who is described variously as a preacher and missionary.  He allegedly worked for Christian Aid Ministries, a group associated with Amish, Mennonite, and other conservative Anabaptist groups.  Anabaptists are decidedly not “evangelicals” and have not previously been seen as part of the Christian conservative movement that work works against LGBT rights.   I can’t wait to learn more about him and figure out if he allegedly has any connection with the folks at Liberty.

LGBT vs. GLBT: Metro Weekly Decides

Washington City Paper recently ran an article titled “Ladies First: Does D.C. Have a GLBT Community or an LGBT One?” The article focuses on the decision by The DC Center for the GLBT Community to change its name to The DC Center for the LGBT Community:

DC Center - Old Logo

DC Center - New Logo

Why the concern over the placement of a couple of letters? David Mariner , Executive Director of the DC Center, says that his organization’s acronym switch-up is “not a big deal either way,” but that the Center made the change “to be consistent with the other national organizations we are affiliated with.”

The article explores the usage of both acronyms in other instances, which brings us to Metro Weekly. Sean Bugg, co-publisher of Metro Weekly, is quoted:

The DC Center’s switch isn’t the only indication that the District is now batting for LGBT. Metro Weekly also recently began favoring the acronym; Bugg says the change from GLBT to LGBT was codified in its style guide about six months ago. “I hesitate to change our style guide without having a really strong reason for it,” says Bugg. The rationale: Metro Weekly’s style was becoming increasingly inconsistent with community standards, and ‘GLBT’-schooled Metro Weekly reporters kept returning with quotes from ‘LGBT’-happy subjects. “A lot of people would be using ‘LGBT’ in a quote, and we would be using ‘GLBT’ as a matter of style,” says Bugg. “It became a bit awkward and confusing.”

Kevin Naff, editor-in-chief of the Washington Blade, is also quoted:

Also confusing: navigating the ever-expanding roster of initials that can be added to the standard four-letter-acronym. Local newspaper the Washington Blade has an evolving approach to the acronym. According to Editor in Chief Kevin Naff, the paper “uses LGBT in stories and headlines.” In its branding, however, the paper now tacks on an extra Q.

“We’ve recently added the Q to our tagline in response to reader inquiries and concerns that those ‘questioning’ their sexual orientation were excluded from coverage,” Naff says. “We have not added the Q to standard references in stories, mostly because the alphabet soup starts to get unwieldy.”

The NLGJA stylebook supplement does not give explicit guidance, but only lists “LGBT” as an option, perhaps revealing a preference? In a previous post, I already revealed my bias in favor of “LGBT” usage. Which acronym do most NLGJAers prefer?

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Sac Bee allows antigay claims to go unchallenged

Predictably some in the mainstream media can’t let a gay story run without quoting some antigay person – no matter if what that person has to say is irrelevant to the story or just downright false. Case in point: The Sacramento Bee and its story in today’s paper about the elevation of openly gay Assemblyman John Perez (D-Los Angeles) as the next speaker of the Statehouse’s lower body.

Bee reporter Jim Sanders ran to blatant homophobe Randy Thomasson for a quote about Perez. Thomasson presides over the Campaign for California Families and is the mainstream media in California’s go-to-guy for “balanced reporting” when it comes to covering LGBT politics. Inclusion of his malicious attacks against Harvey Milk being given the Medal of Freedom in local news reports earlier this year particularly irked LGBT people in the Bay Area.

As for Perez as the next speaker, Thomasson issued a statement, from which The Bee’s Sanders quoted, alleging that the lawmaker:

“… is an aggressive supporter of the sexual indoctrination of schoolchildren, homosexual ‘marriages,’ and punishing business owners that don’t support homosexuality and cross-dressing.”

Not only did Sanders not bother to press Thomasson for any proof to back up his claims, he describes the group as “an advocacy group on family and social issues.” This vanilla description does a disservice to readers, as it glosses over the fact that it does nothing to advocate for LGBT families and its sole purpose is to push an anti-gay agenda in California.

Even more problematic is that Sanders used a generic quote from Perez to offer a “balance” to his including Thomasson’s hate speech. Rather than asking Perez about each of the charges leveled against him, a rather boilerplate response is used:

“Pérez said he will “represent the interests of all people in the state of California” regardless of sexual orientation.”

I think The Bee dropped the ball here in not only deciding to allow Thomasson’s quote to clearly go unchallenged, but also for obviously cutting-and-pasting from a press release.

If it wanted to provide balance, at the minimum Sanders should have gotten a counter comment from Equality California, the statewide LGBT lobbying group.

Kudos to the San Francisco Chronicle and reporter Marisa Lagos for not opting to use a throw-away and patently ridiculous quote from an anti-gay group in her story about Perez. Instead, Lagos dialed up EQCA to get their perspective for the article:

“He’s the first openly gay person of color elected to the Legislature, so it’s really a testament to what he’s done in the Legislature and before in labor, for the environment, for the civil rights movement and for the (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) movement,” said EQCA Executive Director Geoff Kors. “To have an openly gay Latino heading the largest legislative body, that represents the most people in the country, in and of itself is going to have a significant impact on advancing LGBT rights.”