Change Always Seems Slow Especially for Traditional Media

A story broke over the weekend of an Atlanta wedding photographer who’s advertisement was rejected from an Atlanta wedding magazine because it feature two women getting married. The photographer, Anne Almasy, responded with an open letter on her website. The letter prompted a response from the magazine editors.

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In brief, the response was apologetic but it sounded a little too familiar. Familiar because it sounded like the choice to reject the ad was made not because of sound or, at least, established protocol but on a gut reaction. A gut reaction that the publishers are more than likely wishing they would have mulled over a little longer.

Almasy’s letter has been reposted via social media sites and featured on larger blog sites since she first posted it, which means negative attention for Weddings Unveiled, the publication that first rejected the advertisement.

I had a several reactions to story, but my initial reaction was how had a wedding magazine not prepared for this? How? Why? In 2013, when same-sex marriage is legal in nine states as well as the District of Columbia, representing 15.7% of the US population (based on 2011 population). Additionally, two Native American tribes—have legalized same-sex marriage, and Rhode Island recognizes same-sex marriages performed in other states or jurisdictions.

These are questions the media has to ask itself. What is the newspaper’s policy on running same-sex engagement and wedding announcements? Will our wedding magazine feature same-sex weddings? How do we defend our stance to the public? Do we announce this using our editorial or commentary space?

We have seen from this instance what can happen when a media outlet doesn’t plan ahead. When media professional act on a gut feeling or hunch or act in a discriminatory fashion, it gets notice. Just do a quick Google search for “gay couple denied wedding announcement in newspaper.”

The media should already be prepared and ready to move forward, but if you’re not just take a look at Anne Almasy’s website and the responses to her post.

Queer Presidents’ Day: An Argument for Queering Abraham Lincoln

This morning Huffington Post Gay Voice posted about gay rumors among American presidents. The blog was interesting but nothing I’d never heard before. What was the most interesting to me were some of the reader comments under the post. I know, I know the reader comments can be kooky from time to time, but I think they are sometimes more revealing than the blog post itself.lincolnTHUMB

The readers’ comments let you know what the community of users or readers is thinking. The general feeling of this particular topic, gay presidents—who cares it’s no body’s business. I disagree. A lot of folks care. Just ask the percentage of LGBTQ people in the United States—they care. Better yet ask the homophobic population of this country—they care.

So why does it matter? It matters for so many reasons. A community like the LGBTQ community has a long history, in reality, but officially the community’s history is pretty short. It is pieced together using documents filled with innuendo or coded reference to sexuality. Queer people are now in a position to go back in time and claim our history.

The LGBTQ community needs a group memory to know our place in history. Queering historical figures gives us those memories and establishes our place in American history, but, more importantly, it empowers the community. Figures like Lincoln, the emancipator, the man who saved the Union, the man who may have even slayed thousands of vampires (OK so maybe not the last one), are important to LGBTQs just the same as they are important to every other American—they are part of our identity. And if those figures also happen to be queer, then our queer identity is legitimized that much more.

Do you remember the feeling you got the first time you met another gay man or lesbian? Or the first time you met someone with a similar interest as you? You almost certainly felt some sort of validation for who you are. A queer historical hero is the amplified version of that instance. A queer Lincoln inspires pride.

Maybe a person’s sexuality is no one’s business—and for most ordinary citizens I might agree. But sometimes it is our business. Sometimes we should make it our business.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the story behind the queer Abraham Lincoln here are some great pieces to get you caught up. The first is from Salon. It was written in 1999 after activists Larry Kramer spoke in Wisconsin about the first gay president. This is a more current piece written around the time that the recent release of the biopic Lincoln. Finally, for a more academic look at the queering of Lincoln, this book chapter by Charles E. Morris III is incredible.

A Tornado In Hattiesburg Brings Back Old Journalistic Memories and Impulses

In August 2005, I worked at a newspaper in Meridian, Miss. during one of the worst natural disasters in history, Hurricane Katrina. I remember getting up for work that morning (I was the assistant sports editor so morning meant like 10 a.m.) and arriving to only to wait a few hours before the storm arrived. We knew it was coming, but we weren’t prepared for the aftermath. How could we be?

I remember how hectic newspaper life was for the month after Katrina made landfall. Even in sports. Every week there was a “first since Katrina” story. It was a crazy time that I never want to relive, but, admittedly, it was kind of thrilling as a journalist.

On Sunday, around 4:45 p.m. or so, I was working in my home office—like any good PhD student. Tornado sirens began going off, but they had been most all day long so I just kind of ignored them. After I posted the blog I had been writing, I went up stairs for a little catnap (another trait of a good PhD student is being able to take short naps and awaken refreshed).

The sirens went off again—this time so did the electricity. The combination of the two caused me to take notice this time. I came down stairs looked out the peephole—as if I had heard an unexpected guest knocking at the door. I wish it had been an unexpected guest. I ran for the closet under our staircase in the living room. We store all of our cleaning junk in there like the vacuum and brooms along with our bulk warehouse store supply of paper goods.

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To the Top: A view of the University of Southern Mississippi campus entrance on Monday.

I ripped open the door and evicted the vacuum, and there I stood half in the closet and half out waiting for the worst. The sound of the wind got louder and louder (and by the way it didn’t sound like a freight train, which is what every person in the history of tornadoes says on the nightly news). It reminded me of the sound of a washing machine. Anyway 15 seconds later it was gone. I was fine. The apartment was still standing, and naïve as it sounds I just thought the world around me was fine too.

I was wrong. The world around me was not fine.

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A car parked in front of Southern Hall on Monday at USM.

It still amazing to me that something that moves so fast and so unpredictably can do so much damage in so little time. It was here then it was gone. Scary isn’t it?

After seeing all of the damage to building and homes just blocks away from my own apartment, I’m happy to report that we were without electricity for 24 hours and that we still don’t have cable or Internet service. I’m happy I missed the Grammys on Sunday night (from looks of things on Twitter, I’m really happy). I’m happy that we have to take a detour around the hardest hit areas, which adds about 15 to 20 minutes to even the shortest of trips. I’m happy because I can see the alternative from my front door.

So I say all this to say that maybe I haven’t fully recovered from being a journalist. I still have this need to know what is going on. To see it first hand. I want to hear other people’s stories from the tornado—that may just be human nature.

I know this blog is a departure from my usual material, but this has occupied my thoughts for the last few days. I needed to share.

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USM’s alumni house after a tornado touched down on Sunday.

Help Still Needed And Appreciated For LGBTQ Blogger Research

I posted this link a little over a week ago and I’m excited to say that I did get a pretty nice response. With that being said, I still need help. If you are an LGBTQ blogger please take a few moments to help, or if you now an LGBTQ blogger please pass this along. It will only take about 10 minutes to complete.

I’m currently working on research that is exploring the motivations and goals for LGBTQ bloggers. I’m curious to know why we blog, what we think we accomplish by blogging, and what we blog about.

Here is the link to the questionnaire, which is a combination of closed questions and open-ended short answer questions. It shouldn’t take more than 10 minutes to answer the questions—and you’ll be adding to the current body of knowledge on blogging and the LGBTQ community. Trust me we don’t know a lot, yet, about our motivations and uses of blogs.

You’ll also be helping a poor doctoral student get one step closer to greatness! Please (notice how I’m begging) help. After you’ve finished sharing your thoughts, please pass the link on to your LGBTQ blogger friends too. The more the merrier.

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me or post a comment below.

Thanks again everyone.

Research Update: LGBTQ Historical Research Can Be Rewarding At Times And Down Right Chilling At Others

The past few weeks I’ve been working to gather as many primary newspaper sources from New Orleans regarding the UpStairs Lounge fire—a fire in a New Orleans gay bar that killed 32 on June 24, 1973.

I’ve read a lot of secondary source material about the fire, which included quotes from newspaper and television news stories about the tragedy. But sometimes seeing the coverage with your own eyes is more impactful than originally thought.

There was a passage the day after the fire in the New Orleans States-Item, which was merged with the Times-Picayune in 1980, about the bar and those killed by the arsonist. The passage features quotes and paraphrased quotes from a New Orleans lead detective as to the identities of the victims of the arson. It reads:

…Maj. Morris asked that anyone who believes relatives of theirs may have been in the fire and would have knowledge of their dental records to contact Charity Hospital.
. . . “We don’t even know if these papers belonged to the people we found them on,” Morris said. “Some thieves hung out there and you know this was a queer bar.”
. . . Another police source said it is not uncommon fro homosexuals to carry false identification, which could complicate the identification procedure.

Angus Lind, Lanny Thomas, & Walt Philbin. “13 Fire Victims are Identified.”                     The States-Item Monday, June 25, 1973 A-1 Col. 6

So much for compassion for the victims of a mass murder.

Click the thumbnail below to view the entire first day of coverage from the States-Item.

The States-Item Day One Coverage

Have Television Representations of Queer Sexuality Changed in the Last 40 Years?

This spring semester marks my last full semester of course work—FOREVER! Wow! That’s a great thing to say. But the last semester of course work can only mean one thing—in a year I will be defending my dissertation. That’s almost as frightening as no more course work is relieving.

In preparation for dissertation season, I’ve been reading as much previous research on mass media representations of gays and lesbians from as early as the 1950s. The differences between past coverage of the LGBTQ community as, in some instances, extraordinary, but in other ways we really haven’t come that far.

Last week I wrote about the media’s coverage of homophobia in sports and the potential for an out gay professional athlete in the US. The days of being called “perverts” and “faggots” by the mainstream media are behind us—what the folks on the fringes call us, on the other hand, is a completely different story.

But is not being called a “pervert” enough? Is the presence of gay (and a few lesbian) characters enough?

One thing I’ve noticed in my own media consuming is that very few lesbians or bisexuals are represented, and when a transgendered woman or man is represented he or she is usually the butt of a joke. Most gay men in the media are white. Most white gay men in the media are wealthy, and it seems that the current trend is that most wealthy, white gay men represented in the media are married or at least partnered with children or children on the way.

Oh yeah and they obey the gender binary—one is the “femme” and one is the “butch”.

Gay men on television have gone from “perverts” threatening national security to conservative family men, who are just like everyone else. They represent the heterosexual majority. They have the same desires, the same needs and the same family dynamic.

Isn’t that what we’ve been fighting for? Maybe not.

Since the pre-fall television season, I awaited the arrival of NBC’s The New Normal. Mostly because I sensed that it would give me plenty to talk about in my research, but also just to see how the show would play out in the media and how popular it might become. The show has been successful—or at least it’s still on the air.

I’m just not so sure it lives up to its name. It seems that the only normal the show is portraying is The Same Old Heteronormative. But what does that mean for the LGBTQ community? What does that mean for the non-LGBTQ community? I’m not sure I can answer that—at least not now.

I’ll leave you with a couple of clips. One is from the 1970s Soap, which featured a gay character, Jodie, played by Billy Crystal, and the other clip, is from recent episode of The New Normal. What do you think? How much have we changed?

Season 1 of Soap (1977)

Season 1 of The New Normal (2012)

Some great books to read for additional insights into queer representations in the media.
Straight News: Gays, Lesbians, and the News Media by Edward Alwood
Up From Invisibility: Lesbians, Gay Men, and the Media in America by Larry Gross
From ‘Perverts’ to ‘Fab Five’: The Media’s Changing Depiction of Gay Men and Lesbians by Rodger Streitmatter

Has the LGBTQ Community Gone from Public Enemy No. 1 to Cause Célèbre for the Media?

This week San Francisco 49er Chris Culliver said, according to Yahoo! Sports, a gay player would not be welcomed in the 49er locker room. Culliver, who will be playing in today’s Super Bowl, made the remarks during a radio interview with Artie Lange. The comments have made their rounds this week from blog to blog with several different analyses.

Some have argued that Culliver’s comments are a broader reflection of homophobia in sports, and others see his comments as an anomaly—a relic leftover from a sports world that is transitioning to a more open and welcoming venue for LGBTQ athletes.

Video of Culliver’s comments

I happen to agree with the latter, at least in part. The sports world is changing or at least the expectations are changing. Culliver’s comments and the backlash from the media, his teammates and coaches, and players from other teams and leagues are proof that expectations are different, even for athletes, when it comes to how the mainstream discusses LGBTQ people and issues. Athletes are expected to be inclusive in both their actions and language.

This change, although not completely new, is amazing when you consider media history.

Think back to the 1950s when “homosexuals” were talked about—in the media—as threats to national security. The media helped fuel the Lavender Scare by reporting on the potential destruction of the country at the hands of “sexual perverts.”

In the 1980s, at the beginning of the AIDS crisis in the United States the press, once again, fed fears and stirred homophobia by attaching language like “Gay Plague” or “Gays’ Disease” to a disease of unknown origin or expiration.

So this week—not the first it just stands out because of the Super Bowl and its tie in to sports—has been a refreshing experience. Among other big stories for the LGBTQ community, Culliver was held responsible for his comments in the media and, in the end, sparked a conversation that needed to be had.

Visibility hasn’t always been easy to come by for the LGBTQ community when it comes to mainstream media coverage—especially in sports. But conversations like the one this week or stories about straight allies in the sports world like Brendon Ayanbadejo, who is also playing in today’s game, keep the community, or at least parts of the community, out front.

Sports Illustrated’s photo of two gay 49ers fans kissing in a San Francisco bar this week is more proof that statements like the one Culliver made are aberrant (coinsidentaly another term used by the media in the 1950s and 1960s to describe gay and lesbian men and women).

My only question at this point: Is the entirety of the LGBTQ community benefitting in this change, or are large segments of the community excluded from visibility and mainstream inclusion? Is this a case of gay/masculine visibility trumping a broader queer perspective? Tell me what you think.

I Need Help with LGBTQ Blogger Research

This post may seem more like neurotic self-promotion, but I’m willing to take that chance. I need help!

I’m currently working on research that is exploring the motivations and goals for LGBTQ bloggers. I’m curious to know why we blog, what we think we accomplish by blogging, and what we blog about.

Here is the link to the questionnaire, which is a combination of closed questions and open-ended short answer questions. It shouldn’t take more than 10 minutes to answer the questions—and you’ll be adding to the current body of knowledge on blogging and the LGBTQ community. Trust me we don’t know a lot, yet, about our motivations and uses of blogs.

You’ll also be helping a poor doctoral student get one step closer to greatness! Please (notice how I’m begging) help. After you’ve finished sharing your thoughts, please pass the link on to your LGBTQ blogger friends too. The more the merrier.

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me or post a comment below.

Thanks again everyone.

Manti Te’o Addressed Gay Rumors With Awkward Exchange on Katie Couric’s Talk Show

Since I wrote about the Manti Te’o gay rumors last week, I thought I should follow up on the rumor mill and discuss Katie Couric’s interview with the soon-to-be NFL rookie.

In the interview, which you’ve probably already seen but posted here if you haven’t, Couric asked Te’o, are you gay? His answer seemed odd at best, but he did say he was not gay (far from it to be exact).

The exchange, which happens at about the 1:40 mark in this video, seems a bit too forced and almost rehearsed. I’m not suggesting Te’o is gay and that he’s lying, FARRRR from it. I’m only suggesting that it is odd that in 2013, he has to give himself so much distance from being anything other than heterosexual.

His “FAR from that” comment says so much about what he thinks queerness means for his professional football career. Recently more and more researchers and sports pundits have argued that the world of sport is becoming less and less homophobic and more and more ready for an openly gay, male professional athlete (see Outsports.com’s blogs on the subject).

The problem is we won’t know until someone comes out. We won’t know how his teammates will respond or how the press will cover the story. We won’t know if sponsors will flock to the uniqueness of the event or stay away for fear of backlash. We don’t know if any of these things or any other scenarios will play out until some has the courage to say they are FAR from being ashamed and proud to be an out athlete.

Until then we have to call out exchanges like the one between Te’o and Couric for what they are. Unwarranted, fear-induced denials. Do you see an issue with his response? Why does he have to be FAR from being gay and not just straight? Do you think he would have said he is gay during that interview?

Let me know what you think. I’d love to hear.

UpStairs Lounge Fire Story Still Obscure Nearly 40 Years Later

A few years ago, while working on my master’s thesis, I read about a fire in New Orleans that killed 32 people, mostly gay men. The fire, set by an arson, engulfed the UpStairs Lounge in the matter of minutes while its 60 or so patrons, who were hindered from escape by barred windows, unlit exits and thick clouds of smoke, scrambled to find a way out.

I was shocked by several parts of the story. First, the mainstream media in New Orleans and the rest of the country covered the murders and the fire as though the fire was nothing more than a means to get rid of an even bigger nuisance, the homosexuals.

According to a story published in the July 13, 1973, edition of The Advocate, the New Orleans mainstream newspapers placed the story on the front pages for two days before burying it 14 pages inside. The local press ran quotes from residents that ranged from, “I hoped the fire burned off their dresses,” to “the Lord had something to do with this,” which only fed the wave of homophobia in the city.

The national media also said very little about the murders. This clip from CBS News on YouTube has been circulated before, but I think it shows just how little most folks in the mainstream media covered the crime.

I was also shocked that I had never heard of the UpStairs Lounge fire until 2010. Was I that ill-informed? But I guess the story of more than 30 gay men getting murder in New Orleans isn’t going to make the history books—but the story of 30 straight, white men burned alive at a church service would have probably garnered a memorial and a national holiday (just saying).

Finally, I’m shocked that the arsonists/murderer was never official arrested or tried for what is now referred to as the worst hate crime in American history. Apparently a suspect was detained but never charged and then was never seen again.

This story needs more attention. It should be more well-known and recognized.

This semester I’m working on a media history project about the UpStairs Lounge fire, and I’m asking for your help. I have fairly easy access to New Orleans media coverage (newspaper) and some national coverage, but I would like access to other local accounts and documentation of the fire and the response.

My focus is on the media, but any and all materials will help to piece together the story. If you know of any one who was at the fire or any one who covered the event for the media, please let me know.

I plan on keeping you all up-to-date on the project as it unfolds. Thanks for your help.