Summit brings together LGBT bloggers to talk about future of the blogosphere and how it can affect the gay rights movement
In a sterile conference room on the 11th floor of a non-descript office building in Washington, D.C., more than two dozen LGBT bloggers listened intently the first weekend in December as their more veteran peers instructed them in the art of "blog swarms," "astro-turfing" and "cross-posting."
Bloggers, said one, can enable a minor event to "take on a whole new life" in the mainstream media by spreading news about it across 10 or 15 different blogs (aka the "blog swarm").
Lone bloggers can acquire the clout of large groups by assuming a moniker that makes them appear to be a "national" entity when, in fact, they are "a fake grassroots organization" (aka "astro-turfing").
And bloggers can increase readership for their views by posting them not just on their own sites but on other, more widely read, sites (aka "cross-posting").
Blogs, said Mike Rogers, organizer of the summit, can be used to "drag people out of the closet" and persuade a corporation that has donated to an anti-gay cause to make amends to the LGBT community.
Rogers gained considerable notoriety in 2007 after he posted blogs about U.S. Sen. Larry Craig, the Idaho Republican arrested for solicitation in an airport men’s room. A Washington Post headline that year referred to Rogers as possibly "the most feared man on [Capitol] Hill" because he’s made clear he’s willing to use his blog — blogActive.com — to out closeted politicians who vote against the rights of LGBT people.
"I’m an angry gay man," quipped Rogers to a workshop Dec. 6 on "Fighting Back" against anti-gay institutions and people. He urged LGBT bloggers to "take it to the next level" in their posting against anti-gay entities and people.
This first "National LGBT Citizen Journalist Bloggers Summit" attracted about 60 LGBT bloggers. The conference was separate from but simultaneous to the Gay & Lesbian Leadership Institute, and bloggers and the more conventional leaders met in a few joint sessions.
The conference included such topics as how bloggers can contribute to political campaigns, how to enhance their work with investigative reporting skills and practices, and what federal laws might have an impact on their blogging.
Conference sponsors included political activist Jonathan Lewis and the Microsoft Corp. Rogers said Lewis contributed $50,000 toward the meeting and Microsoft contributed a free copy of Microsoft Office Professional to eager attendees.
"I think Microsoft’s contribution shows the impact a small group of bloggers can have and the corporation’s commitment to working with us," said Rogers.
Most of the bloggers at the summit appeared to be in their 20s, about two-thirds were men, and a few were people of color.
There were well-known political bloggers, such as Pam Spaulding of
PamsHouseBlend.com, Bil Browning of Bilerico.com, Nan Hunter of HunterforJustice.com, and Ramon Johnson of About.com’s "Gay Life."
One attendee, Eric Leven of New York (at Knucklecrack.blogspot.com), described the conference as empowering.
"For me there was something in those rooms, something in those workshops," he blogged after the meeting.
"Maybe it was the sense of community or the downright simple feeling of being empowered by teachers, writers, techies and activists but something in that room made me feel as though we were all on our digital surfboards, in this new world of ours, riding the crest of the wave of this new movement."
"I think it’s important that we provide the tools to successful and new and emerging bloggers," said Rogers, "so they can be more engaged in their community."
Although Rogers said he was not sure he had time to turn the summit into an annual event, he said it was part of an overall initiative that will provide grants to help bloggers (aka "citizen journalists") with specific projects or to attend other conferences.
"A small grant to a blogger today," said Rogers, "can help develop tomorrow’s effective citizen journalist."
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 19, 2008.