Convention schedule leaves little time for selfish pursuits
Ah, the beauty of it imagine four gorgeous days in San Diego over the Labor Day weekend while I attended the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association convention.
I thought I’d attend a few convention sessions, then jump ship to stroll on the Pacific coast, tour the famed San Diego Zoo and lounge around the gay bars and restaurants in Hillcrest, the coastal city’s gay area.
That was my plan, but I didn’t realize the convention coordinators would have me up and running the first thing in the morning and going strong way into the night. I was able to escape the convention activities only occasionally to grab a meal somewhere.
I was one of four Dallas participants at the convention, which attracted 500 LGBT journalists and one Christian conservative activist (See story on Page 1) to the Horton Plaza Westin Hotel in downtown San Diego.
Joining me in San Diego from Dallas for the convention were Ian McCann, a reporter for The Dallas Morning News, Sergio Chapa, a reporter for the Spanish language newspaper Al Dia and Steven Jolly, who as owner of SRJ Marketing Communications was representing the Dallas Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Jolly said it was the third year for his company to represent DCVB at the convention.
“Once again it has provided a wonderful opportunity to showcase the Dallas GLBT community in front of hundreds of national and international journalists,” Jolly said. “Our presence has generated a variety of reactions, including “‘Dallas seems to be everywhere these days.'”
The first day of the convention was devoted to the fourth annual LGBT media summit, which drew about 100 journalists who work for gay publications. It was great to put names with faces and share war stories.
That evening, the fun kicked off with a chapter meet and greet, a newcomers reception and finally a general reception. All three receptions were on different floors so several hundred people many of them tipsy were wandering the hotel in mass to the amazement of other curious hotel guests.
I had fun, merrily explaining that we were “just a bunch of gay journalists” and not to worry. “Unless you’ve got a dark secret, we’re harmless,” I said. That was followed by nervous laughter. Everybody has a secret.
The next day it was back to business, and everyone I talked to seemed to get as much out of the experience as I did which was substantial.
Kevin Naff, editor of the Washington Blade, said in a telephone interview after the convention that he had enjoyed the experience his first time at one of the NLGJA conventions.
“I thought it was a great opportunity for members of the gay press and the mainstream press to interact,” Naff said.
“I think that the mainstream media have a lot to learn about covering issues. It’s important for gay members of the mainstream media to interact with those of us who are maybe a little closer to the issues to help teach their colleagues how to cover sexual orientation in a more complete and honest way.”
Naff said he learned that most of the journalists at the convention were facing similar struggles and changes. The convention provided an opportunity to discuss best practices, he said.
“I got a lot out of it, and I look forward to the conference in D.C. next year,” Naff said.
Cynthia Laird, editor of the Bay Area Reporter in San Francisco, said the highlight of the convention was the LGBT media summit.
“I thought the panels were all really good,” Laird said. “It was great to see the number of people from the LGBT press there.”
McCann, who is on NLGJA’s national board of directors and just stepped down as president of the Dallas chapter, said this year’s LGBT summit was one of the best ever. It was his seventh NLGJA convention.
“I’ve made friends, developed contacts and continue to make new ones every year,” said McCann, who served as president of the Dallas chapter for five years.
Karen Ocamb, news editor for In Magazine in Los Angeles, said she also was impressed by the LGBT media summit. It brought “respectful” attention to the issue of gay Republicans, she noted.
“I found that to be very interesting,” Ocamb said. “I thought that the whole LGBT media day was very good.”
Ocamb said she was concerned to learn through her interaction with some of the younger journalists that they had little knowledge of the gay rights movement and a sense of the struggle that has occurred.
“We have another generation of openly gay journalists who really don’t necessarily have a sense of history,” Ocamb said. “A lot of them are in mainstream journalism and so assimilated that there’s almost a sense of not being clear we have rights to fight for.”
Many of those young journalists apparently have never felt discrimination and appear not to have the self-awareness they need to push for equality in mainstream journalism, she said.
“It kind of made me feel like an old timer,” Ocamb said.
Ocamb noted that LGBT journalism today does not “push the envelope” the way it once did.
The Advocate has become more of a mainstream magazine, compared to the days in the 1990s when it lived up to its name, she said.
“The publisher actually told me if The Advocate was to be started today, it probably would not be called The Advocate,” Ocamb said. “The decisions are almost more marketing and advertising driven than news and advocacy driven.”
Ocamb’s observations and my own similar ones about LGBT people in general have left me wondering what gay journalism and the readership it serves will look like in 10 or 20 years.
Attendance at this year’s NLGJA convention was down by about 38 percent, but many attributed the decline to the conference being on the West Coast and it occurring over the Labor Day holiday.
Thomas C. Avila, NLGJA’s deputy executive director, said the presentation of The Advocate’s new design, the one-on-one conversation with famed gay activist Larry Kramer and a broadcasted telephone interview with Idaho Statesman reporter Dan Popkey about his coverage of Sen. Larry Craig’s resignation announcement made for an extraordinary convention.
“We had some amazing programming and have had some terrific feedback,” Avila said.
And that’s pretty much how I viewed the convention amazing.
And as I rode the bus along the Pacific coast highway to the San Diego Airport feeling a little sad to be leaving, I finally got a chance to do some sightseeing.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 7, 2007