LGBT Media Conference Inspires Queer Journalists

Intersectionality. Storytelling. Skill building. Those were just some of the topics and themes at this year’s LGBT media conference.

The 8th annual LGBT Media Journalists Convening was held in Orlando March 23-26 at the Orlando Rosen Centre.  

“This convening really opens my eyes to the many gender identities and lives we are leading that are sometimes foreign to one another,” said Mark S King, an attendee and author of the blog, My Fabulous Disease. “I always learn something from this event and go away with a dozen story ideas. More importantly, I have conversations with people who teach me through their lived lives.” 

The event was presented by the NLGJA: The Association of LGBTQ Journalists. It has been funded and sponsored by the Evelyn & Walter Haas, Jr. Fund since its inception. This year the Arcus Foundation also sponsored the event, which allowed organizers to add an extra day. 

“I’ve been going to the convening for three years and this year's had a lot of new blood that really reinvigorated the trip for me. There were more journalists from local LGBT outlets that helped bring local color to the event,” said Mathew Rodriguez, a staff writer at Mic. “Also, this year's felt like people were able to discuss the pressing need for diversity in LGBTQ media. As a queer journalist of color, I really appreciated everyone's buy-in on the topic.”

More than 70 journalists around the country took part in the two-day event. Most of the participants were journalists from LGBT publications, or journalists who cover the LGBT community for traditional or mainstream outlets. Lizz Winstead, creator of the “The Daily Show,” emceed the event and provided comic relief throughout the two days.   

Everyone SFGN interviewed hailed it as a success. 

"This was by far the most diverse of the three convenings I've been fortunate to attend, and one of my main takeaways was the importance of understanding intersectionality and why it should matter to today's journalist,” said Dawn Ennis, assistant editor at LGBTQ Nation

Some of the sessions included: Objectivity is Dead; International News Coverage Begins at the Source; Visual Storytelling; Covering Transgender People of Color; LGBTQ Equality and Religious Freedom; Covering Pulse; Intersectionality and Storytelling; Social Media and Social Justice Ethics; and Creating and Owning a New Beat. 

Participants were encouraged to tweet during the event using the hashtag #LGBTmedia17. As could be expected the tag quickly drew a handful of trolls.

“#LGBTMedia17 ALL I can say is God is against it and no matter how you try to convince yourself that it is right, it's not. 1 Cor 6:9–10,” @lyan118 tweeted out. 

Being held in Orlando last year’s Pulse shooting was naturally a big part of the discussions that took place. For many, emotions ran high during the event. There was a panel of journalists who spoke about covering the massacre, a survivor of the tragedy who spoke about his experience, and an organized trip to the Pulse nightclub. 

“Hearing a Pulse survivor talk about the emotional pain caused by exploitative journalism in the wake of the tragedy was made all the more real when we visited Pulse later that evening” said Daniel Villarreal, editor at of us had never been to Pulse and the emotional scene really bonded us together. Someone read the victims' names aloud at the site, while others just quietly wept or reflected.”

The Pulse visit inspired Villarreal. 

“It reminded us of our obligations to truth, queer communities of color worldwide and to each other as queer siblings and colleagues,” he added. “Journalism can feel very competitive much of the time; the convening and experiences like that remind us what's really at stake.”

Another attendee, Curtis Wong, senior editor of Queer Voices at The Huffington Post, added “The significance of having the 2017 event in Orlando less than a full year after the Pulse tragedy can't be overstated. Hence, hearing directly from survivor Ricardo Negron-Almodovar, as well as journalists and historians who witnessed the devastation firsthand, was a significant moment for me personally and professionally."

For freelancer writer Elizabeth Daley, who wrote profiles of each of the 49 victims after the tragedy for the Advocate, the Pulse visit was especially meaningful.  

“It was really powerful to visit the site of the pulse shooting after writing about it from a distance,” she said. 

Daley said the session helped her see how the Pulse shooting intersected with undocumented immigrants and gun control. 

“It was also powerful to hear from a shooting survivor about the fact that some undocumented pulse survivors are having trouble obtaining visas which are generally afforded to victims of violent crimes. These visas would enable survivors to work legally and without them the victims are stuck,” she said. “The Pulse shooting is one incident where the struggle for LGBT equality is linked with the lack of gun control and the struggles of undocumented immigrants. It's an important reminder that human rights issues are LGBT issues and LGBT issues are human rights issues.”

Another moment that stood out for some of the attendees was not a session or panel, but a minor controversy that erupted during the event. The convening requested one of the public bathrooms be gender neutral and it was marked as such. Some guests though from another conference at the hotel harassed attendees of the convening outside of the restroom. 

The hotel quickly intervened and handled the situation. Later they addressed the attendees emphasizing ignorance would not be tolerated at their establishment.  

"To no one's surprise, our conference's 'All Gender Bathrooms' did cause a scene,” said Leo Duran, a radio/multimedia journalist for KPCC Southern California Public Radio. “But to my surprise, it got handled before we got to it.”  

Convening organizer and editor of Q. Digital Media, Bil Browning added, “While there were some hiccups with transphobic guests attending another conference, the response from the Rosen Centre was not only quick and determined, they went the extra length to make sure the group knew we were a priority and any behavior that wasn't welcoming wouldn't be tolerated. The entire staff went well beyond normal hospitality to ensure the event wasn't just successful, it was a positive experience for everyone.”

Going forward Derrick Clifton, a freelance writer and leader of a breakout session on intersectionality, feels hopeful. 

“In the era of Trump, and moving forward, we need intentional focus on building networks of support solidarity. I felt that beginning to blossom amongst members of the LGBT media during the convening. We need each other and we need intersectionality to get this right, and we can use our platforms and our influence to put the needs of the LGBT community's most marginalized people up front and center. Because in fixing the problems for those most in need, we fix them at the grassroots for everyone."

Clifton’s session was a highlight for Trish Bendix, editor in chief of GO Magazine.

“It was a really conversational and still informational sharing of thoughts, ideas and tactics that everyone in the room benefitted from, myself included,” she said. 

For others it was the networking opportunities that they enjoyed most. 

It was a great chance to network, and it gave me a chance to start writing on a wider variety of topics by helping me make connections with the right outlets. I think that this sort of cross-pollination makes for a stronger, and more vibrant media environment,” said transgender activist and freelance writer Brynn Tannehill. While Dino-Ray Ramos, another freelance writer added, “as a first timer to the event it was enlightening and insightful to be around and hear from like-minded voices furthering the conversation on LGBTQ issues.” 

Organizer Bil Browning is already looking forward to next year’s event while everyone SFGN interviewed appeared to be inspired from the convening. 

“It was great for me to get out of my own bubble and hear about the struggles that journalists from around the country are dealing with. It really helps with my own job to understand what I can learn from them, and what I can teach them as well,” said Leo Duran, radio/multimedia journalist. While Lynnette Beth Mcfadzen, bisexual activist and host of The BiCast, added, “I feel the groundwork for powerful change will come from it.”

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