LGBT history and the evolution of the media

For years, mainstream press ignored the LGBT community. Thankfully, LGBT media filled the gaps

David-Webb

David Webb The Rare Reporter

Editor’s note: October is National Gay History Month, and as the month begins, Rare Reporter columnist David Webb takes a look at the role the media — both mainstream and LGBT — has played in preserving our history.

If an LGBT person went into a coma a decade or so ago and came out of it today, they likely wouldn’t be able to believe their eyes when they recovered enough to survey the media landscape.

There was a time not so long ago when gay activists literally had to plead with or rant at editors and reporters at mainstream publications and television stations to get them to cover LGBT events. Even editorial staffs at alternative publications often dismissed political and cultural events in the LGBT community as unimportant to the majority of their audience.

Editors and reporters at traditional media outlets who happened to be members of the LGBT community often steared clear of gay issues to fall in line with the prevailing policies set by the publishers in the newsroom . Often, they were deep in the closet, or if not, just afraid to challenge the status quo.

I know all this to be true because as late as the early 1990s, I was engaged in legendary battles with my straight editor at an alternative publication who only wanted two or three “gay stories” per year. After the first quarter of one year I heard the editor telling another writer that I had already used up the newspaper’s quota for gay stories for the whole year.

This long-standing scarcity of coverage opened the door for the launch of gay newspapers to fill the void and the thirst for information that was coming not only from LGBT people but also straight allies, straight enemies and the non-committed in the gay rights movement.

After about two decades of working for the mainstream media and later at the alternative publication for a few years, I moved to a gay newspaper. Upon hearing about it, my former editor advised me that the job sounded “perfect” for me.

At the gay newspaper, I not only covered LGBT issues, but I also liked to scrutinize and comment on the coverage or lack thereof I observed in mainstream publications. It was, at the time, a dream job for me. I was flabbergasted to learn that no one at the newspaper had obtained a media pass from local law enforcement officials nor received official recognition at local law enforcement public relations departments.

What gay activists and enterprising journalists had come to realize was that straight people were just as interested in what our community was doing as we were. I also realized that elected and appointed public officials, civic and religious leaders, law enforcement officials and most others love media coverage, and the fact that it was a gay publication featuring them didn’t much matter at all.

As a result, gay publications across the country were providing coverage that gay and straight readers couldn’t find anywhere else. And those newspapers were flying out of the racks at the libraries, municipal buildings and on the street in front of the big city newspapers as fast as they disappeared from gay and lesbian nightclubs.

What it amounted to was that gay publications were enjoying a lucrative monopoly on LGBT news and, in the process, helping LGBT communities to grow strong in major urban areas.

It’s amazing how long it took the powers that be at the giant media companies to figure out what was going on, but they eventually did.

I would love to say that a social awakening was responsible for the new enlightened approach to LGBT issues by the mainstream media, but alas, I fear it was more motivated by dollars and cents. Publishers began to realize that those small gay publications were raking in lots of advertising revenue from car dealers, retail stores, real estate agencies and many other businesses where the owners knew LGBT people spent money.

Today, you can hardly turn on the television or pick up a newspaper or magazine without hearing or reading about something related to LGBT news or gay and lesbian celebrities and politicians. When I fired up my laptop today, I received an e-mail from the Huffington Post directing me to a story written by Arianna Huffington announcing new features that included the debut of “HuffPost: Gay Voices,” a page that will compile LGBT news stories together each day for the convenience of the readers.

With the power of the Internet and its capacity for documenting and archiving news stories, information about the LGBT community for both the present and the past will always be at our fingertips, except for those three decades between about 1970 and 2000 when the mainstream media couldn’t be bothered with us because they had no idea what a force we would one day become.

For information about that period of time we are going to have to scour the coverage of gay newspapers and magazines published before the days of the Internet, read fiction and non-fiction published by LGBT writers and encourage older members of our community to share their recollections in written and oral form.

It’s vitally important to the history of our culture that we not lose those stories, and it’s largely thanks to our communities’ own publications that we won’t.

David Webb is a veteran journalist who has covered LGBT issues for the mainstream and alternative media for three decades. E-mail him at davidwaynewebb@yahoo.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 7, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

IRONY: Texas lawmakers cite support for man-woman marriage as reason for banning it

Gov. Rick Perry

The mainstream media is finally picking up on efforts by the Texas Legislature to bar transgender people from marrying people of the opposite sex.

The Associated Press has a story today about SB 723 by Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, which would remove a court order of sex change from the list of documents that can be used to obtain marriage licenses. As we’ve reported, the bill was on the Senate’s intent calendar last week but has yet to be called up for a vote.

The irony of Williams’ bill, of course, is that if it becomes law, it will indicate that the Texas Legislature thinks it’s perfectly fine for transgender people to marry people of the same sex. And yet, Williams and others are citing their opposition to same-sex marriage as the reason for supporting the bill.

“The Texas Constitution,” Sen. Williams said told the AP, “clearly defines marriage between one man and one woman.”

“The governor has always believed and advocated that marriage is between a man and a woman,” said Mark Miner, a spokesman for Gov. Rick Perry.

As the story notes, most states allow transgender people to marry people of the opposite sex if they have a court order of sex change.

But you can’t have it both ways, which appears to be what conservative lawmakers in Texas want.

—  John Wright

Dan Ramos to resign Thursday morning?

Dan Ramos

The mainstream media is finally starting to pick up on the story of Dan Ramos, the chairman of the Bexar County Democratic Party who thinks gays are like very sinister Nazi termites with polio legs who are not natural but can’t be swept under the rug — so you might as well seek their endorsement! (This whole thing just goes to show that mental illness is totally nonpartisan.) The ABC affiliate in San Antonio reports tonight that Ramos will hold a press conference at his office Thursday morning, but it’s unclear what for. We’re sure Democrats all over the state — and maybe even some Republicans — are hoping Ramos will come to his senses and heed the many calls for his resignation, but don’t bet the farm on it. A spokesman for the Bexar County Democratic Party’s steering committee said of Ramos, “He’s been in the trenches for a long time and he’s not going to go without a fight.”

 

—  John Wright

Watching the hypocrites self-destruct

As the dirty little secrets of ‘family values’ politicians and religious leaders come to light, the scandals help the cause of LGBT equality

DAVID WEBB  |  The Rare Reporter

The new year is well under way, but it’s like Christmas just keeps coming for the LGBT community in terms of our enemies destroying their credibility by performing what amounts to high dives into empty swimming pools.

Just a few weeks ago we saw New York Republican Congressman Christopher Lee hastily resign after the website Gawker.com published an expose about the congressman’s attempts to hook up via Craigslist.

The website revealed Lee had e-mailed a shirtless picture of himself to a woman, along with the lie that he was a single lobbyist, rather than declaring his true identity as a married father and elected public official.

Now, the National Enquirer is treating us to an expose alleging that married Republican Speaker of the House John “Cry Me a River” Boehner engaged in at least two affairs with mistresses. It would seem that Boehner, who created a sensation tearing up on a 60 Minutes broadcast while discussing his rise to political fame, really has something to cry about now.

I would say that these fellows who portrayed themselves as champions of family values had exhibited a level of stupidity in their behavior that defies reason and distinguishes them as clowns without comparison — but I can’t. Because this is a story that we have seen play out time and time again.

For naysayers who criticize the sources of these exposures: Remember, when it comes to really distasteful news, it usually surfaces in alternative publications before the mainstream media dares to pick it up. A case in point would be the exposure of former presidential candidate John Edward’s infidelity that was revealed by the National Enquirer.

While Edwards wasn’t an enemy of the LGBT community, he was a champion of family values. So it’s only fair to point out that stupidity and compulsively destructive behavior obviously know no political boundaries.

It’s hard to figure out why a prominent public official would secretly engage in an activity that they publicly condemn. But they just keep on keeping on — to our enormous benefit. There’s nothing that turns off people and awakens them to the truth more than a good dose of reality via the exposure of false prophets’ hypocrisy.

My first recollection of this type of hypocrisy dates back to 1981 when I read The Gentleman from Maryland, The Conscience of a Gay Conservative by former Congressman Richard Bauman. Bauman, who by day railed against gay rights and by night cruised Washington, D.C., gay bars, lost re-election in 1980 over a scandal involving a gay prostitute.

Since then it has been one revelation after another involving foes of the gay rights movement. Who could ever forget the 2007 scandal involving former Idaho Sen. Larry Craig when it was revealed that several months earlier he was arrested in a vice squad sex sting in a Minneapolis airport men’s restroom? The married politician’s denials of guilt and attempts to explain away his behavior made him the laughing stock of the country for awhile.

Over the years, straight Americans’ acceptance of gay and lesbian people has steadily grown, and I suspect at least part of the reason for that has been the exposure of the secret lives of political and religious celebrities who denounce homosexuality and bisexuality as aberrant behavior.

It’s sort of like a housewife who is leading a fight against an ordinance that would allow liquor sales in a community getting busted for drunken driving while ferrying the neighborhood’s kids home from school. Her motives suddenly become suspect.

Of course, we can’t thank our foes for all of our good fortune. The relentless fight by gay activists during the past 40 years has had a tremendous impact on public perception about who we are and what we want.

The battles for parental and marriage rights, along with other nondiscrimination goals, have led many people to realize that many members of our community are in fact champions of family values. Our families just happen to look a little different sometimes, but they are essentially the same as the one next door.

It’s been a wildly successful formula for achieving gay rights since the birth of the movement in 1969, and I’m sure the success is going to continue. And for that we can thank ourselves and our foes who just can’t seem to help being true to their real natures.

David Webb is a freelance reporter and former staff writer for the Dallas Voice. He has reported on LGBT issues for the mainstream and alternative media for more than two decades. E-mail him at davidwaynewebb@yahoo.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition Feb. 25.

—  John Wright

Lambda Legal DOMA case heard in California

After the “don’t ask, don’t tell” win this week, mainstream media immediately looked for what we’d be after next. An ABC affiliate in California picked up on partner benefits.

A Lambda Legal case, Golinski v. US Office of Personnel Management, was heard before a district court judge in Northern California on Dec. 17.

“Here it’s very difficult for the government to justify giving unequal health insurance to employees that are doing equal work,” said Lambda Legal Marriage Project Director Jennifer Pizer.

The government’s case is based on the Defense of Marriage Act, which they claim is the basis for denying an employee’s partner health benefits.

In this case, Karen Golinski is an attorney who worked for the San Francisco Federal Appeals Court. She has been a federal employee for 19 years. In 2008, she married her partner. They have a 7-year-old son. Denying her wife benefits given other employees is discriminatory, she claims.

As in other recent cases, this one puts the Obama administration in the position of saying it supports the repeal of DOMA, then sending an attorney to defend the law. If Golinski wins, the ruling probably will apply only to her case.

—  David Taffet

Filmmaker Arthur Dong talks up gay documentaries at UNT

The University of North Texas gets in on the master class action. The college brings in gay filmmaker Arthur Dong to speak to five classes about working as a documentarian. He will also screen films during his stay.

His 1997 film License to Kill focused on anti-gay murders, which lends itself to the hot topic of bullying and its effects on the community. Dong questions mainstream media’s light approach to the resurging trend.

“I think reporters should be asking parents, administrators what their role was in shaping a particular bully,” he says. “It seems as though they are not being called to question their part. That shows mainstream media and society still has an acceptance of an anti-gay society.”

Dong will discuss his work with LGBT documentaries for the class “Lesbian, Gay and Queer Film,” taught by Dr. Harry M. Benshoff, who invited the filmmaker. Overall, his visit to the college will have him discussing techniques in creating documentaries to five classes in UNT’s Radio, Film and TV curriculum.

“I had a master class when I was in film class and it made me think ‘I could really do this,’” he says. “But I wasnt to talk to students about the production side and what to do when they get out of school. I want to express there should be a balance. Because there is no money in changing the world. You can get awards and pats on the back, but you also gotta feed yourself.”

He will screen four of his films over the two days including Forbidden City U.S.A., Hollywood Chinese, Coming Out Under Fire and Family Fundamentals.

— R.L.

Lyceum of UNT’s University Union, 1155 Union Circle, Denton. Oct. 18–19 at 7:30 p.m.  Free. 940-565-2537. UNT.edu.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 15, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas

Texas AG Greg Abbott: Judge in Prop 8 case ‘failed to do what a judge is supposed to do’

A few weeks back we wrote about how anti-gay leaders in Texas were deafeningly silent about U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker’s landmark decision declaring Proposition 8 unconstitutional. As we said at the time, this case has the potential to void gay marriage bans in all states including Texas that have passed them, so one might expect the folks who pushed through the 2005 state constitutional amendment to chime in. Our post was later picked up by Rachel Maddow. Anyhow, looks like Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, who’s been fighting gay divorce tooth and nail, has finally said something about Walker’s ruling, in an interview last week with the Texas Tribune (which has seemingly become the only mainstream media outlet in the state that even pretends to care about LGBT issues). Below is a transcript of the full exchange between Abbott and the Tribune’s Evan Smith, taken directly from the first three minutes of the video. Smith asks legitimate questions but fails to follow them up and seems to let Abbott off the hook pretty darn easily. For example, Smith allows Abbott’s assertion that Baker v. Nelson is binding precedent — which is pretty far-fetched at this point — to go unchallenged. Likewise, Abbott fails to respond substantively about Ken Mehlman’s coming out or the issue of transgender marriage. Again, kudos to the Tribune for bringing up these topics, but ultimately that’s not enough — they need to do their homework and be prepared to hold people’s feet to the fire.

Smith: I want to start with a bit of news that broke yesterday afternoon, and that is about Ken Mehlman. Ken Mehlman is the former chair of the Republican National Committee. He was George W. Bush’s campaign manager in ’04, a close aide to George W. Bush over the years politically, who I think as you know announced yesterday that he’s gay, and that he intended to use that public position to campaign for gay marriage? What do you think about that?
Abbott: What do I think about Ken Mehlman?

Smith: What do you think about the Mehlman announcement and what do you think the larger significance of the Mehlman announcement is if there is any for the discourse about gay marriage in this county?
Abbott: Well it adds further discourse into the whole issue, but it doesn’t change the legal dynamics. What one person feels doesn’t change the law, doesn’t change the constitution, doesn’t change pre-existing Supreme Court precedent on the issue.

Smith: So there’s a legal issue that you addressed. Mehlman’s announcement doesn’t change that. But there’s also a political dynamic, surely you would agree, at work here?
Abbott: Well, there is a political dynamic. There’s a political dynamic that’s been in play for decades. But once again, the political dynamic is not going to rewrite the constitution. The constitution says what it says, and just because one person comes out and says, “Listen, I’m gay, I believe in same-sex marriage, doesn’t change the constitution.

Smith: And nor does necessarily the actions of a judge in California, as one did recently, holding the door open to the overturning of the proposition in California That as well is one judge’s decision and does not overall affect the issue?
Abbott: It doesn’t impact the issue. If you want to delve into the details, the reality is that that judge failed to do what a judge is supposed to do. Lower court judges are supposed to follow higher-court precedents. There is a precedent from the United States Supreme Court on this issue, in Baker v. Nelson, that is binding precedent on the lower courts unless and until the Supreme Court changes that opinion, and that binding opinion is one that doesn’t recognize same-sex marriages.

Smith: You had the opportunity recently in a case here in Texas involving a transgender individual to offer an attorney general’s opinion. This is a case where people say it may be kind of a small crack in the door, where gay marriage is actually in certain instances legal in Texas. Your office was asked to offer an opinion, and you declined to. Can you talk about that?
Abbott: First of all, we had three opportunities to weigh in legally in courts about whether or not gay marriage is legal in the state of Texas. The issue you’re talking about is the transgender issue, and that involved an issue where we got an opinion request from the county attorney in El Paso, and we rejected opining on that opinion because of current pending litigation. Now if I tell the county attorney from El Paso that I will not give them an opinion, Evan, I’m not going to give you an opinion either.

—  John Wright