In 1998, Florida Atlantic University hired me to revive its dormant student newspaper. I’ve advised there ever since, and I’ve learned as much as I’ve taught – no lesson more important than this…
True equality is only achieved when young people get bored.
In my first few months on the job, I discovered the student body president was deeply in the closet. He begged to stay there. Our managing editor was an officer in Lambda United, FAU’s gay-straight alliance. Some Student Government leaders wondered if the newspaper could objectively cover “gay issues” if a gay man was a newsroom leader.
Nine years later, an openly gay student was elected editor. During his campaign, no one asked him how he’d cover “gay issues.” No one cared.
That student is now editor of South Florida Gay News. Jason Parsley certainly faced discrimination during his years at FAU – most remarkably from a home-schooled Pentecostal freshman. She was taught people like Jason will burn in a lake of fire. But after a few months of working side by side in the newsroom, they became fast friends. That changed her mind about more than just “gay issues.”
A few years after that, the newspaper’s art director transitioned from female to male. The students had questions, but quickly moved on. They cared more about how their paper looked than how their art director looked.
Parsley hired that art director.
Over the years, he’s recruited a dozen FAU students as freelance writers. Most have been straight cis men and women. To them, writing for SFGN is just another assignment. Like covering an election in a city you don’t live in.
In praise of youthful ignorance
It’s no great revelation that young people are the vanguard of equality. German physicist Max Planck once declared, “Science advances one funeral at a time.” In other words, change doesn’t happen because you convince old people to expand their fossilized minds. You simply wait for young people to embrace new concepts – and for old people to die off.
But true equality is achieved only when there’s no longer a need for social protest or government protection.
In the FAU newsroom, I once referenced the term “Irish need not apply.” Of course, no one knew what I was talking about. Our education system stinks at teaching that kind of U.S. history, so I explained how the Irish were discriminated against in the 19th century. The students uniformly replied, “Why the hell would anyone hate on Irish people?” They couldn’t fathom one group of straight white Christians despising another group of straight white Christians.
I believe we’re approaching a similar moment for all discrimination tied to race, sex, and gender. If I live another 20 years, I expect FAU’s Class of 2044 will ask, “Why the hell would anyone hate on gay people?” Today will be ancient history to them. They’ll grow up looking back at our era’s gay marriage opponents the way I grew up looking back at civil rights opponents in the 1960s: “How could those assholes defend themselves? Why did it take more than five minutes to slap down their bigotry? It doesn’t make sense.”
Not needed for the right reasons
In the mid-1990s, I met Lee Ivory, the publisher of the Palm Beach Gazette. His small weekly was known as the county’s “black newspaper.”
At the time, I published an “alternative” monthly in Palm Beach County. Ivory was a 60-year-old black man covering weighty issues of race and poverty. I was a 28-year-old white dude covering bands and nightclubs. But we had one thing in common: We were both broke.
We commiserated over slow ad sales and meager budgets. But Ivory said my future was brighter than his: “My audience doesn’t need me anymore.”
Certainly, racism didn’t disappear in the ’90s. But that’s when The Palm Beach Post and Sun Sentinel began covering more “black news” and investigating institutional racism with more vigor than ever before.
In fact, it was an open secret that Post and Sun Sentinel editors read Ivory’s Gazette and stole story ideas. Ivory was more flattered than angry. It made sense: If the goal was to combat racism, white people needed to be allies. And not many white people were reading The Palm Beach Gazette.
I felt bad for Ivory – more than he did for himself. He said if he was forced out of business, the best reason would be the mainstream media doing his job for him. “They have more money and people than I do,” he told me.
Will the same thing happen to SFGN? By 2030, I sure hope so.
Michael Koretzky is editor of Debt.com and has advised FAU’s University Press for 21 years.