By: Joe Strupp
For the first time in its 83-year history, the American Society of Newspaper Editors conference in April will include an official reception for gay journalists.
J. Ford Huffman, an openly gay deputy managing editor at USA Today and a member of the ASNE conference program committee, proposed the idea as a natural step for gay journalists, who continue to gain prominence and acceptance within the field.
“It seems to me that this is a way to allow gay ASNE members to feel that they are included and to let straight ASNE members know that there are gay members,” Huffman told E&P. “It is a way to be inclusive.”
But the event also raises the issue of why there are so few openly gay top editors at U.S. newspapers, and none at the 30 major dailies. “There are at least four editors I know of in ASNE who are openly gay, but no top editors,” Huffman said. “I personally know of some [gay top editors] who are closeted. I’m guessing there are more and perhaps this will help make those gay editors comfortable and they won’t have to hide their gayness.”
He also joked that with so few openly gay editors, “the three or four of us could meet in a phone booth.” Still, he expects a good turnout, especially because the event will be open to all and also be in honor of Roy Aarons, the founder of the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association (NLGJA), who died last year. It is being sponsored by the Annenberg School of Communications at USC, where Aarons taught prior to his death.
Huffman noted that in an industry with more than 1,400 dailies and a reputation for welcoming gay journalists, the number of gay top editors must be higher than it appears. But he adds that the editor position, especially in some non-diverse regions, might draw a lot of fire if it were occupied by an openly gay person.
“Journalists are very respectful of their readership, and some people are afraid that if they are gay, there might be a backlash,” Huffman said. “People might think a gay editor might have a gay agenda.” He adds that when he was managing editor at the Rochester (N.Y.) Democrat & Chronicle nearly 20 years ago, he “was very much in the closet.”
NLGJA President Eric Hegedus, who is a page designer at The Philadelphia Inquirer, said more openness among editors would help all gay journalists. “I would like to think it is embraced from the top down,” he told E&P. “It would help for the visibility of all journalists if you are honest about it.”
The ASNE conference is scheduled to take place at the J.W. Marriott hotel in Washington, D.C., from Tuesday, April 12, to Friday, April 15. The gay reception will be on the evening of April 13.
“It is not just for people who happen to be lesbian or gay, but also for those who happen to be friends,” said Scott Bosley, ASNE executive director. “We are open to any kind of event that is useful to editors and this is a group that believes it will be useful.”