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LGBTQ media confab looks ahead to post-marriage reporting
by Gretchen Rachel Hammond
2015-03-25

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LGBTQ media professionals gathered in Philadelphia on March 13-14, as they looked forward to the issues that will take center stage post-marriage-equality and inward to their reporting of them.

The tone of the 2015 LGBT Media Journalists Convening was set by the March 13 opening reception keynote delivered by celebrated North Carolina minister, civil-rights and political leader, author and NAACP board member Rev. Dr. William Barber II who asked the audience to repeat the phrase "forward together. Not one step back."

"The key to turning America away from much of the extremism we see, [is to] have an indigenously led state-based, state-government state-legislature focused, deeply moral, deeply constitutional, anti- racist, anti-poverty, pro-justice, pro-labor, transformative fusion movement," Barber asserted. "We're in a dangerous place right now in America politically. On the one hand we see the Supreme Court about to rule in favor of marriage equality but the same Supreme Court ruled in favor of Citizens United and against voting rights. We need to build relationships that are long-term, not based on one-issue campaigns."

Barber noted that extreme policies do not only hurt small groups of people. "[They] hurt us all," he said. "We are making it clear to the political powers that currently be 'if you touch one of us, you touch all of us.'"

He further challenged attendees to examine constitutional principles of common good and moral justice for all rather than one political party against another. "Democrat versus Republican is often too narrow," he said. "I don't call the right 'right' when I think they're wrong. I'm empowering them by constantly saying 'the right.'"

Barber added that the prefix "religious" to those on that side of the debate was also disingenuous. "We have to challenge this notion of religion that says that the pre-eminent moral issues are about religion in schools, abortion and homosexuality when in fact, the tenets of every major religion suggest that the real issues we ought to debate in the public square have to do with how you treat the poor, those on the margins, women, children, workers, immigrants and people who are different than you," he said to rousing applause. "If a person is different than me, I have a moral responsibility to make sure they do not feel that, just because they are different, they are not my brother or my sister in the human family. We cannot let the religious right have the moral discourse."

According to Barber, change in America was not going to result principally through the work of national movements. "If you look at the history of America, change is from Selma up, from Birmingham up," he said. "Not change from D.C. down. Never has, never will. The movements that changed LGBT issues started from the bottom up. We have real movements in each state led by indigenous leadership, not one person that helicopters in, gives a speech and then leaves."

He urged the audience to consistently commit to the principles of civil disobedience. "When we have followed all of the steps of non-violence, there are times that we must put our bodies on the line and be willing to be arrested to shift the narrative and prick the consciousness of the people," he said. "We must resist the 'one moment' mentality. Nobody is afraid of one rally or just one march."

Convening panels opened the following day at the Radisson Blu hotel with "The Danger of Religious Liberty Laws," which have gained momentum following successes in the attainment of marriage-equality. Accomplished attorney Katherine Grainger noted that the phenomenon is not historically unique.

"Any time a marginalized group is moving to gain more rights, the first strategy throughout history has been first try to block it and when that doesn't work people then turn to 'but it violates my religion'," she said. "The more successful [the LGBT movement] becomes the more fervent the religious exemption response comes in."

In the second session, moderator and trans writer Erin Rook, writer and GLAAD spokesperson Tiq Milan, award-winning writer Spectra Speaks and attorney and social-justice leader Urvashi Vaid wondered "What Happens When the Dog Catches the Car"—an examination of movement post-marriage goals and the issues that LGBTQ media would no doubt be covering in the future.

"As journalists, if we are looking at what is happening in our community as the next big topic, that's not what it is," Milan said. "We're talking about people's lives. It's not so much about what's going to get you the most hits, the most views."

"For me it has been to always pay attention to who's not in the room," Speaks said. "On trans people, on bisexual people. It's not just about focusing on issues. It's also about figuring out how to address our own blind spots as people."

"It's not about the next big issue," Vaid agreed. "If we focus on that we will follow the issues that the funders are funding, that the mainstream organizations are following and not necessarily the issues that grassroots organizations are working on or that are rising up in our communities."

In terms of that coverage, one particularly lively discussion was "Naming and the LGBTQ Community." Moderator, columnist and advocate Brynn Tannehill discussed terminology with panelists writer and speaker Eliel Cruz, The Advocate Editor-at-Large Diane Anderson-Minshall and LGBT Healthlink Director Dr. Scout.

In referring to last year's debate concerning the use of the word "'tr**ny," Tannehill said she could not see it as being used in any other way than pejorative.

"You have the most marginalized group of people in our culture who are being slaughtered right now and the group who are most likely to experience the word as a slur," Scout said. "Trans women of color have an experience of that word that is very negative. How many of them have to die before we start to understand that listening to that and honoring that experience is something we have to be active about doing?"

One of the day's breakout sessions featured Windy City Times writer Yasmin Nair. She and National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association Vice-President for Print and Digital Media Sarah Blazucki ( also the moderator ) and filmmaker Tiona McClodden discussed Allies in Race and Gender.

"We're all talking about moving beyond marriage," Nair said. "There is no beyond marriage because it has led to squandering our economic, political, financial and emotional resources."

"I would like to see more narrative non-fiction," McClodden added. "How we can get people to understand from the eyes of oppressed communities—what their lives look like and how they deal with a lot of the issues that they face. Everyone is looking for story or an event. Not everyone is looking for that inside view."

Other sessions included "Bijacked: Bisexuals Strike Back Against Inaccurate Reporting" and "Three Great HIV Story Ideas You Could Write Tomorrow."


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