Thursday, May 14, 2015

The LGBT Press is Needed More Than Ever

Two years ago, on the occasion of Baltimore OUTloud’s 10th anniversary, I marveled how so much has changed over that time in terms of progress for LGBT individuals locally and elsewhere while at the same time acknowledging there was plenty of work remaining.  I expressed my gratitude for the opportunity to be an eyewitness to those historical developments.

Displaying copies of Baltimore OUTloud  Photo: Bob Ford
Now as we celebrate the paper’s 12th anniversary, more progress has been noted and much work still needs to be done.  What should be considered somewhat remarkable is the fact we are still here as a publication and not only hanging in there against strong headwinds, but expanding.
That’s right, expanding.  Baltimore OUTloud with its new Out in the Valley section has turned into a regional publication that will now cover LGBT news and events from Frederick west to the West Virginia panhandle and southern Pennsylvania.  This has traditionally been an underserved area as far as LGBT newspapers are concerned, and the hope is that Baltimore OUTloud can fill that void.

Despite the mainstreaming of LGBT news (a welcome development in that past coverage from the straight press had been focused on the more controversial elements of our communities) and the onset of mobile devices to find and receive news in an instant, LGBT publications remain useful and valued.
Lest we forget, consider how the gay press stepped up when mainstream media chose not to report on such huge points in our history.  Examples include: Stonewall (mainstream press coverage at the time marginalized those who participated in the uprising), the AIDS epidemic, key court rulings, anti-discrimination efforts, the repeal of don’t ask- don’t tell, the battle for marriage equality (though mainstream coverage has improved considerably in the last few years), trans* equality, hate crimes, international oppression, the fight for sexual freedom, and so on.

While these were covered by the LGBT press, the mainstream media portrayed homosexuals in a negative light, focusing on stereotypes.  Gays were seen as unhappy, lonely, flamboyant, promiscuous and incapable of having relationships.  Society’s attitudes towards gays and lesbians were negative; the media simply reinforced them. 
“There was a ‘setting straight of the record’ energy in the early days of the gay press,” says Tracy Baim, Editor of Gay Press, Gay Power and Publisher/Editor of Windy City Media Group.  “It was all about representation and making sure that we were heard and seen. The straight media forced the formation of the gay press just like they forced the need of an African-American press because they stereotyped or ignored blacks and gays.”

The LGBT press was needed then and it’s needed now more than ever. When a mainstream media outlet does a story on us, it doesn’t always seem to be complete.  LGBT newspapers tend to provide more depth to a story and offers added context.

“The role of gay media continues … because there are ... many cases where the mainstream media are simply parachuting into a story and therefore providing an incomplete and thus inaccurate picture for their readers,” said Baim.
Michael Lavers, a reporter for the Washington Blade, agrees.  “The LGBT media brings a unique perspective and insight to an LGBT-specific story that mainstream media simply cannot,” he explains.  “For example, the first issue of the [Washington] Blade was published in October 1969 – four months after the Stonewall riots. We have continuously reported on LGBT-specific stories that directly impact the community here in D.C. and beyond since then. The LGBT media shed light on these issues long before the mainstream media ever did.”

Some of these topics would include holding our LGBT leaders accountable and providing useful LGBT-specific health information and news about HIV/AIDS and the latest treatment regimens.  Rarely is that found in the mainstream press.
We explore intra-community homophobia, transphobia and racism with greater candor than you would find elsewhere.  On the positive side, we shine a spotlight on the good works of LGBT individuals and allies as well as the organizations that serve our communities.

"The LGBT media brings a unique perspective and insight to an LGBT-specific story that mainstream media simply cannot."--Michael Lavers, Washington Blade

Moreover, with our diverse communities, the LGBT press provides a platform for community members to air their views so their voices could be heard.  
“There will never be a dearth of stories for us to do. There is always going to be more news for a particular community than can be had in a generalized newspaper,” Baim points out. “I feel very strongly that there will continue to be a need for the gay press. The challenge is for us to do a better job of it.”

We understand in this modern age that more folks, especially the younger generation, receive their news from online sources or are sent links to articles via social media.  With the changing technology, newspapers need to be nimble to keep up with these changes and trends.  News travels fast, and no one can afford to be left behind.  To that end, Baltimore OUTloud has, besides its website, a Twitter account and a Facebook page to satisfy the thirst for instant news.

Nonetheless, when someone opens a link to a particular story, he or she tends to stop there.  The remainder of the publication, which contains useful and informative stories, commentary and ideas to improve the reader’s quality of life, is not necessarily read.  By not opening and perusing a newspaper, people will miss those.
There is no substitute for experiencing all the information contained within a newspaper.  Knowledge is important especially information that is provided to LGBT readers and allies that you won’t see elsewhere.   

That is why there is tremendous value in publishing newspapers, such as Baltimore OUTloud, for 12 years and counting.  As the old adage goes, “We here,. We’re queer. Get used to it.”

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