By Phill Wilson
Each year the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation Media Awards recognizes and honors members of the media for their fair, accurate and inclusive representations of the LGBT communities and the issues that affect our lives.
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 is why the absence of any substantive recognition of Black journalists among this year’s GLAAD nominees 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 LGBT.
In the area of overall newspaper coverage, the National Newspaper Publisher’s Association, 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.
The Electronic Urban Report consistently ran op-eds on gay issues in 2004. Both Afrcana.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” (Oct. 16, 2004) 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” (March 1, 2004), 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 them were nominated for outstanding newspaper article.
Black Entertainment Television 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 not for its widely heralded “Down Low” segment featuring Black gay men, but rather for its more GLAAD appropriate piece, “The 11-Year-Old Who Wants a Sex Change.”
In the area of radio, nationally syndicated shows The 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 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.
2004 also saw the introduction of the television series Noah’s Arc, 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 sponsored a national tour promoting the show last year.
There were several Black LGBT 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. A possibly more accurate mission statement might read “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 [for people who are not Black].”
GLAAD expects more than 5,000 people to attend the media awards ceremonies, raising more than $3 million for the organization’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 LGBT people, regardless of race.
Maya Angelou said, “When we know better, we do better.” Surely, after nearly 20 years, GLAAD knows better.