Thursday, March 12, 2015

We're Off to Philly for a Media Diversity Conference

Posted By on Thu, Mar 12, 2015 at 11:41 AM

click to enlarge Journalism conferences are one of the few places it isn't rude to be on your phone while listening to someone like NBC News Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent Andrea Mitchell speak.
  • Journalism conferences are one of the few places it isn't rude to be on your phone while listening to someone like NBC News Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent Andrea Mitchell speak.

If you were to poll journalists and ask how they typically spend their weekends, the top two answers would likely be working and drinking. This weekend, I'll be doing a bit of both at a journalism conference in Philly—the 2015 LGBT Media Journalists Convening.

Sponsored by the Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr., Fund and organized by the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association (NLGJA), it's an annual, invite-only conference for media folks who cover lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities and topics. This will be my third year attending and my second year as a member of the host committee. Joining me on the committee are Sarah Blazucki of NLGJA, Brynn Tennehill (whose writing appears at Huffington Post, The New Civil Rights Movement, Salon, and The Bilerico Project), Trish Bendix of AfterEllen, Mark King of My Fabulous Disease,  Faith Cheltenham of BiNet USA, and Bil Browning of The Bilerico Project.

“For journalists focused on the LGBT beat, an invitation has become quite the status symbol for being recognized as a valuable community reporter," says host committee chair Bil Browning, adding that, because it's not uncommon for writers to cover a variety of issues pertaining to diversity, the conference seeks to reflect the diversity of the community in its attendees and presenters. "We specifically aim to bring in not only the LGBT state/local newspapers and large audience bloggers, but we also search for up-and-coming voices and try to lift up the voices of people of color, trans folk, and women.”

As part of my committee responsibilities, I'll be moderating the opening panel," Now What? What to do when the dog catches up to the car." In other words, what does the future of LGBTQ media coverage look like in a post-marriage equality landscape? What other stories are there to tell beyond couples at courthouses and conflicts over cakes, and how do we tell them well? Panelists including GLAAD Senior Media Strategist of National News Tiq Milan, writer and media consultant Spectra Asala, and activist and author Urvashi Vaid will share their perspectives on this timely question. 

LGBTQ coverage is a particular focus and specialty I've developed over the past five years that has informed my reporting for the Source on issues from marriage equality and performance art, to student gay-straight alliances and new policies for transgender students. (I also do some writing on this topic for other publications.)

But the lessons I take away from these conferences have a broader impact than simply sharpening my reportage on LGBTQ issues. Participating in the convening makes me a better all-around journalist by teaching me how to better cover diverse communities of all types and how to dig deep for new stories and new angles. Spending the weekend with 75 professionals and experts gets the gears turning about ways I can better serve my community as a journalist. And I always leave with new perspectives—and tools—to do my job better.

"The intersectionality of the various civil rights movements, whether that’s LGBT rights or race or gender-based rights, only highlights how many thing we have in common," Browning explains. "Sadly, members of every group tend to think about their own issues first, so we’re trying to make sure everyone realizes how connected we actually are."

In that spirit, the event kicks off Friday night with a reception keynote address by Rev. William Barberthe civil rights activist behind Moral Mondays, at the Comcast Center. On Saturday, we'll be spending the day in back-to-back sessions addressing a wide range of topics including media coverage of bisexuality and HIV/AIDS as well as the intersections of race and gender and the trajectory of religious exemption legislation. 

So whether you have an interest in LGBT issues, or you simply want to be a fly on the wall at a gathering of journalists (who are you—should we be friends?), watch it all go down by following the hashtag #LGBTMedia15. In past years, the convening hashtag has risen to the top trending hashtags of day as fingers fly across keyboards—tweeting, Facebooking and blogging everything as it happens.

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