National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association: Making all reporting better

The National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association wrapped up their annual conference in Chicago, Illinois, this last weekend. The organization, founded in 1990, has been a gathering point for journalists, media professionals, educators, and students to work within the news industry to increase fair and accurate reporting on LGBT people.

The conference that just completed in Chicago focused on transgender journalists, funding for journalism (an issue facing all news media outlets), the greater diversity within the LGBT community, the relationship between reporting and the police (an issue on display right now in Ferguson, Missouri), and smaller breakout sessions that were both practical (getting the most out of an interview) and visionary (the future of religion and the LGBT community).

Presenters and panelists included 4 Pulitzer Prize winners, 14 Emmy winners, 2 DuPont Award winners, 3 Peabody Award winners, 2 Edward R. Murrow winners, 14 AP winners, 6 National Press Club Award winners, 5 Leadership Award winners, 3 Society of American Business Editors Award winners and 3 Gracies.

Fiona Dawson, the host and producer of the documentary series, TransMilitary, has been involved with NLGJA since 2011. She first joined in order to network with others who were doing similar work within the industry. Since then, she's been growing her involvement with the organization, now sitting on the board of directors.

"NLGJA members write about politics, music, sports, arts, theatre, international affairs, the weather... NLGJA members are LGB and/or T. They are also straight and/or cisgender. However, they're black, Asian, Latino/a, Native American, bi-racial, immigrant...the list goes on," Dawson explained. "What we all are is human. NLGJA members can help advance positive, accurate media portrayals in their work through the diversity of beats they cover and throughout the other dimensions of humanity they represent."

The forum has been an opportunity for journalists to reflect on what being out and open has meant to them, as CNN's Richard Quest noted, according to The Advocate. It's also been a place to look ahead to trending stories and set standards for how these stories would be covered.

Dawson moderated a panel of transgender journalists, including GLAAD board member and ESPN writer, Christina Kahrl and Advocate writer Parker Marie Molloy. She said that the panel acknowledged the advances in transgender visibility, but also examined the barriers that still exist.

"The panel's closing question from the audience was, 'How can we help?' Dawson explained. "Parker responded, 'One, educate yourselves before you report and two, hire more transgender people to work within the media. Transgender people are twice as likely to be unemployed. How can we have our accurate stories told if we're not a part of the conversation?' Where else would such an exchange happen? What's important is that it's happening within NLGJA where we are listening and we are taking action."

Even prominent anti-LGBT activists like Peter LaBarbara have taken note. LaBarbara attended the conference as a "critic," to use his term. LaBarbara was particularly interested in the panel on faith, which featured retired Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson and Lutheran Bishop Guy Erwin. Despite including these two bishops from mainline Protestant denominations, LaBarbara complained that there was no "orthodox" Christian voice included.

Bishops Robinson and Erwin were elected ten years apart, and the two reflected on the changes that have occurred within that time. Bobby Blanchard, a student member of NLGJA, wrote more about the conversation:

The two weighed in on current events, including the Supreme Court’s recent decision on the Hobby Lobby case. Although the court’s ruling struck down a federal health care law requiring that women be provided contraception, some say it will allow private companies to claim religious exemptions from other laws.

“This is a very, very slippery slope,” Robinson said. “At first blush, it seems a little bit silly. But very quickly, you understand there is something very huge here.”

They also spoke about Pope Francis and his relatively progressive stance on LGBT issues. While they said he is like “a fresh glass of water” for many Roman Catholics, they said that the pope has not faced the scrutiny he deserves.

“Very little has changed other than tone,” Robinson said. “So far, there has not been a lot of change. I think when the honeymoon is over, there will be that kind of scrutiny.”

Robinson called the decision by The Advocate to call the pope “person of the year” was premature.

“There is great potential there, he just hasn’t had time to execute it yet,” Robinson said.

For Dawson, the work that NLGJA does compliments the work that GLAAD does.

"I imagine our collective goal to be at the core of a large rock. When we each chip away from a different section, together we'll crack that beast and get to the center much quicker," Dawson said. "NLGJA is the media, most of whom are held to journalistic standards that call for a degree of distance from any organization. However, not only are we the boots on the ground working within the network giants, we're also the independent bloggers, freelance journalists and new media storytellers. Our strength is that through our education, collaboration and access to distribution we have the power—and we are—shaping the world in which we live. GLAAD's strength is in its external face. The organization has the ability to lead media consumers. To call out purveyors when they get something wrong and praise them when they get something right.  When GLAAD and NLGJA both work on the same rock we can be a powerful force for human inclusion."