Gay Activists & Gay Reporters Mingle and Strategize Together at Homosexual Journalists Conference

foxnewsad3-nlgja.jpg This FOX News Channel ad ran in the program guide of the recent National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association conference in San Diego. 

The following is Allyson Smith’s first installment on the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association (NLGJA) conference in San Diego — which she attended representing Americans For Truth. Note the casual mixing of homosexual media with “mainstream” media – all sharing and strategizing around a pro-gay perspective — and the complete lack of opposing voices present at the NLGJA panels. (Allyson tells me that at one panel on “Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell,” the moderator said that opponents of homosexuals in the military were invited to speak but declined to attend.)

All this begs the question of whether homosexual reporters working in establishment media can truly be objective — i.e., fair and balanced –  especially when they are assigned to cover homosexual-related issues. Also, note that for ease of reading, we have not put quote marks around the word “gay” as we would normally do. – Peter LaBarbera

By Allyson Smith

Gay Activists & Journalists Mingle and Strategize Together at National Gay Journalists Conference: Day 1 at the NLGJA

On Thursday, August 30, I attended the first of three days of the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association convention, held at the Westin Horton Plaza Hotel in downtown San Diego. Although I have been to many homosexual conferences and events since the dawn of the millennium, at times using my real name and at other times an assumed name, this would be my first time to attend such a convention as a totally “out” Christian conservative reporter under the auspices of an organization many homosexual activists hate: Americans for Truth About Homosexuality (AFTAH), headed by longtime pro-family activist Peter LaBarbera.

“What will all these homosexuals do,” I wondered, “once they find out someone from Americans For Truth is here? Will they kick me out? Will they try to embarrass me? Will they call me names? Will they just ignore me?”

Having “prayed up” before arriving at the NLGJA convention, I felt that deep peace which passes all understanding as I opened the Westin’s door. After checking in at the registration desk – so far, so good – I headed to the first session, titled The Right Approach: Covering LGBT Conservatives.

Wayne Besen ’Outs’ Me
Entering the conference room, I encountered session moderator Wayne Besen. Besen is the executive director of Truth Wins Out, described on its website as “a non-profit think tank and educational organization that counters right-wing disinformation campaigns, debunks the ex-gay myth, and provides accurate information about the lives of GLBT people.” Besen is also author of the books Anything But Straight: Debunking the Scandals and Lies behind the Ex-Gay Myth and, most recently, Bashing Back: Wayne Besen on GLBT People, Politics and Culture.

[Editor's Note: for more on Wayne Besen, see AFTAH's posts: Wayne Besen Has Been Taking his Hate Pill again; ‘Gay’ Militant Seeks to ‘Shut Down’ Americans For Truth and Files False Complaint to Illinois AG; CWA Interviews LaBarbera Regarding Deceptive Wayne Besen Complaint.]

It wasn’t the first time I’d encountered Besen that day. Earlier in the morning, while I was still at home getting ready to go to the convention, his name had appeared in my inbox as the result of his copying me on an e-mail discussion he was having with pro-family advocate Guy Adams of ValuesUSA, over the cause of Idaho Senator Larry Craig’s recent bathroom bust. According to Besen, such episodes occur because “fundamentalists” “drive people deep into the closet (or ex-gay ministries, a fancy closet).” Adams and other conservatives, on the other hand, had attempted to point out that homosexual behavior is actually the cause.

Thus, this e-mail conversation was fresh on my mind as I met Besen in the conference room doorway. He glanced at my name badge, noting that I was with AFTAH. I shook his hand, introduced myself, and told him that Peter LaBarbera had sent me. Using the epithet he coined and by which a few of the more nasty homosexuals activists refer to Mr. LaBarbera, Besen in turn told me to say hello to “Porno Pete.” (Ironically, the conference would later feature a session about how to cover stories involving name-calling against homosexuals.)

“Now, just wait,” I thought, “he’ll announce me to the whole room.”

Besen opened the session by introducing the other three “LGBT conservative” panelists:  Dan Blatt, a Los Angeles-based writer who blogs on the GayPatriot.net website and founded the Log Cabin Republican Club of Northern Virginia; Scott Olin Schmidt of West Hollywood, an elected member of the 42nd District Republican Central Committee who also serves on the executive committee of the Los Angeles County Republican Party; and James Vaughn, director of Log Cabin Republicans of California, who said it’s his job to tell Republicans why they’re wrong.

That Larry Craig was on many conference-goers’ minds was evident when Besen fired off his first question to the panelists, asking them for their take on the scandal.

Blatt responded that there had been “terrible saturation” coverage by the media and that Craig had exercised “terrible judgment.” Schmidt said, “This isn’t a gay issue; this is an issue of people who pursue anonymous sex.” Vaughn asserted that Craig’s behavior “shows how dangerous the closet is.” Most of the scandals, he said, came from people living in the closet, not those who live as open homosexuals.

About 20 minutes into the discussion, Besen announced, “We have a friend of ours here, Allyson, from Americans For Truth Against [sic] Homosexuality.”

Waving my hand, I said light-heartedly, “I’m from the right wing. I’m the opposition researcher.” Many people in the room laughed. “I’m friendly; I don’t bite,” I assured them, and the discussion continued.

GOP Drifting ‘Gay’-ward?
Besen asked what it’s like for a gay Republican to walk into a party convention. “Is it better or worse than when you walk into a gay bar?” Here he was joking about his expose a few years back exposing that John Paulk – then an ex-gay spokesman with Focus on the Family – had visited a homosexual bar while on a business trip to D.C.)

The gay Republican, Vaughn, drew laughter as he answered, “Absolutely. It is much easier . . . to walk into a Republican convention and say you’re gay than it is to walk into a gay bar and say you’re a Republican.” Vaughn said he’d been having a lot of meetings recently with elected officials — and that most of them or their staffers said, “We’re with you,” and that homosexuality is not an issue for them.

Vaughn said that conservative groups like Lou Sheldon’s Traditional Values Coalition can’t hold a meeting that would fill a small conference room these days, when in the past they used to fill convention centers, “because they’re just not relevant anymore. They’re fading; they’re going away. People are getting over the gay issue.”

“What we lack in the Republican Party is not support. What we lack is leadership,” he said, confirming that elected officials have told him privately they support same-sex “marriage” but don’t dare say so publicly for fear of their constituents’ reactions.

Blatt, the Los Angeles writer, confirmed a similar experience, saying he finds it easier to be gay in Republican circles than to be Republican in gay circles. Libertarian in many of his views, Blatt said he does not support hate crimes legislation or the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), because he favors less government.

Schmidt asserted that there is a big divide between activist Republicans and the rank-and-file. “Most Republicans are moving toward the center.”

Blatt said, “The party knows it can’t win by being anti-gay.” Vaughn added that if enough GOP leaders “come out” in favor of homosexual issues, it will help to change the party’s rhetoric.

As I was leaving this session, a young woman approached and asked if she could interview me. She turned out to be a Georgia State University student who was attending the conference, along with several other college students from throughout the United States, to report on the NLGJA conference proceedings. According to the NLGJA conference booklet, this is the 10th year that student journalists have come to the convention. We made arrangements to conduct the interview later in the day.

‘Gay Games’/Clear Channel Media Marketing
The next session I attended was Mainstream Media and the LGBT Press: Co-opting or Cooperation? Moderated by Court Passant, executive producer of CBS News on Logo, the panel included Cynthia Laird of the homosexual newspaper Bay Area Reporter, San Diego Union-Tribune writer Pat Sherman, Jared Cohen of Clear Channel Communications, and Kevin Boyer, director of public relations and marketing for All Terrain in Chicago.

Cohen described his experience being interviewed by Clear Channel. Cohen told the interviewer that, if hired, “I would develop a gay and lesbian wing for Clear Channel,” adding that he explained a model and a method for a national development that could be tailored to local markets. “Two years later, we’re in 19 markets . . .”

Boyer discussed some of the strategies and methods he used to publicize the 2006 “Gay Games,” held in Chicago. He said that he had to do a mainstream public relations effort because he wanted the mainstream media to report on the Gay Games the way the LGBT press would, through sports stories, business stories, and the like. [The event was covered that way by the local, Chicago-area media – especially the Chicago Sun-Times, which also sponsored the “Gay Games” -- as if an event for homosexual athletes was something of daily interest to the media-consuming public. – Editor]

Boyer said he employed one strategy for the mainstream press and another for the homosexual press. Key themes were “inclusion,” “everybody enjoys sports,” “personal best,” and “straight people are always welcome at the Gay Games.” With the mainstream media, he helped educate reporters on homosexual issues; did athlete profiles, making sure to include men, women, elders, youth, and heterosexuals; and promulgated the message “This is a human interest story, not just a gay story.”

Cynthia Laird talked about some of the areas of cooperation and dissension between the mainstream media and the homosexual press. For example, she said there was a lot of support in the mainstream media for “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” after General Peter Pace commented that homosexuality is immoral. On the other hand, she said, mainstream papers fail to give credit to GLBT papers. 

Citing Bill Gates’ recent $26.2 million investment in PlanetOut, Pat Sherman said the gay press is not in danger of being usurped by the mainstream media. “People will always want to go to the gay press” because it can provide history that the mainstream press cannot.

Sherman later added that there is room for both types of media, but the gay press may have to adapt and move toward niche publications, since it lacks the money or resources of the mainstream media.

During the question and answer period, discussion ensued regarding whether homosexual newspapers should report the names of men arrested for public sex. David Webb, a staff reporter for the Dallas Voice, noted that the Dallas police department has begun publicizing names and wondered how such stories should be reported if they involve prominent gays. One respondent said both the good and the bad must be reported.

After this session, I gave an interview to the college student.

Hillary Goes to ‘The Advocate’
Sponsored by the Gill Action Fund and Gill Foundation, organizations founded by Denver software entrepreneur Tim Gill to advocate and finance homosexual causes, the luncheon plenary was themed 40 Years of The Advocate: A Conversation with Anne Stockwell. The Advocate is a national homosexual magazine and website.

However, editor-in-chief Stockwell was unable to participate, so the magazine sent publisher Michael Phelps and deputy editor Rachel Dowd in her place. During the plenary, which was moderated by homosexual blogger and news reporter Rex Wockner, Phelps and Dowd discussed how The Advocate, whose parent corporation is PlanetOut, has evolved and stays relevant, as well as upcoming style and editorial changes planned for the magazine.

Dowd said “The Advocate used to be the only place to hear gay news, and now that’s just not the case . . . We’re not only covering same-sex issues, but we’re also covering things the New York Times is covering.”

When Wockner asked what the magazine will do to make gay people want to pick it up, Phelps answered, “We do a lot of exclusive interviews that you can’t find anywhere else.” An upcoming issue, he said, would feature an exclusive interview with [a major Democratic presidential candidate]. “She decided to do an interview with gay media, and of course sees The Advocate as the one and only place so far. And for a presidential candidate to come and seek you, a gay publication, this far in advance, really is groundbreaking.”

Larry Craig, Covering ‘Public Sex,’ and ‘Emotional Entrapment’
Wockner brought up the Larry Craig scandal and noted that there are some questions he hasn’t seen answered yet: “Why is it illegal to tap your foot in a bathroom? How is that breaking the law? To what extent was he [Larry Craig] entrapped into this?”

“How are you going to cover this story?” Wockner asked the panelists.

The Advocate’s Dowd said she had been involved in an editorial meeting about that topic just the previous day. “When did the bathroom become a beat? It’s kind of an odd question. So that was one angle we were actually looking at.” Another angle, said Dowd, is “perspective.” “We reached out to [former New Jersey governor] Jim McGreevey to write a piece for us on what happened to Larry . . . and it’s from his perspective. We look at it as a Republican phenomenon, what’s going on of living a double life, but that Jim understands perhaps emotional entrapment as being in Congress, and how political personas and political life creates a natural closet.”

Not all was sweetness and light, however, in the open question and answer period that followed. One audience member said, “I don’t feel The Advocate has much relevance to me and my life as I get older” because he isn’t familiar with a lot of the pop culture personalities it features. Another complained that the magazine used to address police entrapment issues, but not anymore, and wondered how many readers had canceled subscriptions as a result.

Gays in Charge of Gay Images
The final session I attended was Gay Panic: LGBT Media Merger Mania, where participants discussed mergers within the homosexual media and whether “gay” media will ever merge with “straight” media.

Moderated by Libby Post, a nationally syndicated commentator on homosexual issues for Q Syndicate and WAMC/Northeast Public Radio, the panel included Stephen Macias, a senior vice president at here! Networks; Sue O’Connell, publisher of Bay Windows, New England’s largest homosexual newspaper; Fred Kuhr, editor of Press Pass Q; editor Kevin Naff of the Washington Blade, “the nation’s oldest and largest LGBT newspaper;” and Joanne Jacobson, vice president of business development and operations at Logo, MTV Network’s homosexual cable channel, whose parent company is Viacom.

Post asked Macias how media mergers impact the way the gay community sees itself. He answered that one benefit is “you have gays and lesbians in charge of gay and lesbian images, whether it’s a media company that is as enormous as Viacom or an independent company like our company predominantly being run by gays and lesbians.”

O’Connell talked how homosexual community newspapers lose local flavor when they are owned by large conglomerates, harkening back to the early days of the homosexual press: “We were all picking up the mimeographed bar rags, and we were not looking at them to see where our rights were coming from. We were looking at them to see where drag night was going to be held.”

Kuhr lamented the fact that there are often identical stories on homosexual websites such as Gay.com and Advocate.com because they are owned by the same parent company.

In response to a questioner who said he still picks up the Washington Blade every Friday but no longer reads it because it lacks “local voices,” editor Naff responded in part, “I always tell people, ‘Write something.’” O’Connell agreed, citing the difficulty getting and keeping good writers due to the fact that they can now write for the mainstream press or blogs, as well as the poor pay.

As she said this, I nodded my head, remembering some of my own experiences as a freelance writer trying to collect payment. Fred Kuhr noticed and said, “Even she’s nodding.”

“We have the same issues in the conservative press,” I said.

One audience member asked Jacobson why there was no one from the gay press, yet there were non-journalists like lesbian rock musician Melissa Etheridge, on the panel during the recent presidential forum on homosexual issues, which was broadcast by the MTV offshoot Logo.

Jacobson replied that she had been at Logo from the beginning, and that she was one of the people who “pitched” Logo to Viacom chairman Sumner Redstone. “Is everything we do perfect? No. But were we able to do a national forum where these guys were seen in 28 million homes about issues that are important to us? Yes. Would I have picked Melissa Etheridge personally? I’m not answering that question (laughter). . . Afterwards, the quotes that were picked up [were hers], and everyone said that she really had the voice of the community.”

After this session, I left the conference for the day, missing the LGBT Media Summit Closing Reception, the Chapter Meet & Greet, the NLGJA Newcomers’ Reception, the Welcoming Reception with remarks by NLGJA national president Eric Hegedus (whose column equating pro-family critics of homosexuality to racists can be seen HERE on the NLJGA site) and executive director David Barre, and a screening of the documentary film Tell – a film critical of the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy on homosexuals.

Look for the Next Installment on the 2007 NLGJA Conference

This article was posted on Friday, September 7th, 2007 at 3:43 pm and is filed under ABC, Authors & Journalists, CBS, CNN, Down Low, FOX News, Homosexual Quotes, Media Promotion, MTV, National GLBTQ Activist Groups, NBC, New York Times, News, NLGJA, Public Sex in Your Neighborhood?, Truth Wins Out, Viacom, Washington Post. You can follow any updates to this article through the RSS 2.0 feed.

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