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This past year was groundbreaking for gays in black journalism. From black churches supporting or opposing gay marriage to the alarming rise in HIV infection rates among black gay and bisexual men, black journalists tackled issues considered taboo by many and generated the beginning of an open and honest dialogue in a community that isn’t necessarily willing or ready to discuss the L, G or H word.
That’s why the absence of any substantive recognition of blacks among this year’s Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) Media Awards, which honors the media for fair, accurate and inclusive representations of the GLBT community, is so shocking. Black journalism plays an important role in covering issues that are important to Americans of African Descent who happen to also be lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.
In the area of overall newspaper coverage, the National Newspaper Publisher’s Association (NNPA), a 65-year-old federation of more than 200 black community newspapers from across the United States featured monthly columns written by black gay and lesbian journalists. The columns dealt directly with gay issues in the context of black America. GLAAD and others were quick to attack George Curry’s column on gay marriage, but ignored Kai Wright’s follow up or NNPA’s fair and balanced response to the reaction to Mr. Curry’s column.
There were also regular major feature stories in the Los Angeles Wave Newspapers, L.A. Watts Times, New York Amsterdam News, Atlanta Daily World, Washington Afro American, the Dallas Examiner, Rolling Out Magazine and others.
The Electronic Urban Report, the leading source for daily entertainment news with over 60,000 visitors per day, consistently ran op-eds on gay issues in 2004. Both Africana.com and Blackplanet.com addressed LGBT issues in 2004.
Several black journalists at mainstream papers addressed gay issues in the context of black America. Los Angeles Times reporter Gayle Pollard-Terry’s syndicated piece “A Shout Rings Out,” which profiled black gay Christians, drew national attention. New York Times reporter Lynette Clementson’s article “Both Sides Court Black Churches In the Battle Over Gay Marriage” also drew national attention and ignited a series of similar articles in the black press. Award-winning syndicated political columnist Earl Ofari Hutchinson wrote several timely op-eds on gay marriage in 2004 including “Gay Marriage Is No Threat to the Black Family.” None of these were nominated for outstanding newspaper article.
Black Entertainment Television (BET) Nightly News and America’s Black Forum produced several segments in 2004 addressing gay marriage. Again a no go for GLAAD’s outstanding television journalism category. The Oprah Winfrey Show was nominated but not for her widely heralded “Down Low” segment featuring black gay men, but rather for her more GLAAD appropriate piece “The 11-Year-Old Who Wants a Sex Change.”
In the area of radio, the nationally syndicated Bev Smith Show and Tavis Smiley on NPR consistently addressed the issue of gay marriage and HIV/AIDS among black men who have sex with men in 2004.
Ebony magazine, the oldest black magazine in the country, ran an article penned by Congressman John Lewis (D-Ga.) on the debate of gay marriage that received much attention. Essence magazine followed suit with a series on black sexuality addressing gay and lesbian issues.
Last year also saw the introduction of a then-DVD series, Noah’s Arc, which has become America’s first black gay television series. GLAAD missed an opportunity for a special recognition here. Set to debut this summer on MTV’s Logo, the Black AIDS Institute and the Human Rights Campaign last year sponsored a national tour promoting the show. With an aggressive marketing and publicity campaign, the series quickly caught the eye of network executives. At the end of the tour, Noah’s Arc had screened in over 22 cities within eight months, garnering press coverage in Essence, the Los Angeles Times and The Advocate.
There were several black gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender themed films produced in 2004. In addition to the critically acclaimed Brother to Brother, Maurice Jamal’s The Ski Trip garnered national attention on the film festival circuit and later signed with MTV’s Logo. Faith Trimell’s lesbian film Black Aura of an Angel along with Debra Wilson’s Butch Mystique told powerful stories of Black lesbians.
Once again GLAAD has failed to live up to its mission of “promoting and ensuring fair, accurate and inclusive representation of people and events in the media as a means of eliminating homophobia and discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation.”
GLAAD expects more than 5,000 people to attend the media awards ceremonies, raising more than $3 million for the group’s work. However, in a time when equality for sexual minorities is front and center in the political, ethical and moral discourse in America, GLAAD’s stated mission is vital. Fair, accurate and inclusive reporting is critical to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender people, regardless of race.
Maya Angelou said, “When we know better, we do better.” Surely, after nearly 20 years, GLAAD knows better.
Phill Wilson is founder and Executive Director of the Black AIDS Institute, the only Black HIV/AIDS think tank in the United States. The mission of the Institute is to stop the HIV/AIDS pandemic in black communities by mobilizing black institutions and individuals in efforts to confront HIV/AIDS.