By: Mark Fitzgerald
Resentment arises when gay white men wear mantle of ‘oppressed’ sp.
UNITY ’94 WAS the Woodstock of multiculturalism, an often moving and always invigorating demonstration of how American journalism is changing and growing.
But all was not sweetness and light at the Atlanta conference.
For at this first-ever meeting of the major minority journalism groups ? the National Association of Black Journalists, National Association of Hispanic Journalists, Asian American Journalists Association and Native American Journalists Association ? there was another group regarded by some as a fifth wheel: the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association.
At a session on minority politics in the newsroom, “How United Do We Stand?,” Linda Villarosa, senior editor of Essence magazine and a lesbian, spoke the question a number of journalists of color seemed to be asking: “Should white gays and lesbians even be here at a convention like this?”
NLGJA was not an official participant in Unity ’94 ? the fast-growing organization did not even exist when Unity planning began in 1988 ? but it was active throughout the conference nonetheless.
NLGJA had a booth at the job fair and sponsored a major reception, and gays and lesbians spoke at many of the sessions.
“The first thing you see when you see me is a Mexican and, if you know me a little bit more, then you see a queer,” Houston Post columnist Juan Palomo said at the plenary session early in the conference.
But the welcome Unity’s minorities extended to each other was a bit cooler when it came to embracing gay and lesbian journalists. For there remains among some minority journalists a lingering resentment stemming from a feeling that gays are coasting along a civil rights road paved by the blood, sweat and tears of people of color.
“Sometimes I still cringe when I hear, at a gay and lesbian conference, a gay white man ? who has a great job I feel locked out of ? refer to himself as an ‘oppressed person’ and quote Martin Luther King Jr.,” Villarosa said.
Helen Zia, an Asian-American lesbian and former executive editor of Ms. magazine, said she felt similarly listening to gay white males speak at the last NLGJA conference.
“I would definitely defend the right of these men to be up there and their right to live and love in this society
. . . . I thought if they only knew what it was like for lesbian and gay people of color. They were so privileged. There was a whole sense of entitlement. I thought they were so full of shit,” Zia said.
If that’s how some homosexuals feel, it’s no surprise that some heterosexual minority journalists expressed skepticism of gay and lesbian industry activism.
“I think the situation with gays and lesbians is more analogous to ‘passing’ than it is to [the situation] of black and Hispanic people,” said Los Angeles Times reporter Andrea Ford, an African American.
Racial and ethnic minorities ? especially African-Americans ? carry a far greater burden than homosexuals, Ford argued.
“You need to understand slavery wasn’t discrimination. Nobody went to Gay land and took you to America,” she said.
Ford said black resentment of groups who piggyback on the civil rights movement is deep and understandable.
“You need to know black people are very sensitive about our movement being appropriated by other people. This is our history. Women have run off with our history and now gays are running off with our history,” Ford said.
But homosexual journalists argued that the push for gay rights is a civil rights movement.
“Homosexuality disqualifies people for citizenship ? just like slavery,” said Alan Acosta, deputy city editor of the Los Angeles Times. “And I want to make it clear: There is nothing in American history or culture like slavery.”
Acosta said he, too, gets “uncomfortable” when gay people quote Martin Luther King or Rosa Parks to advance their cause.
“But it is in the struggle to be a progressive movement ? and not to rip off a piece of the pie ? that we quote those names,” Acosta said.
Blacks and homosexuals are sometimes divided, too, by their shared feeling that the other group is bigoted towards them.
Gays, who sometimes refer to a “homophobia” among black people, directed barbs directed at the National Association of Black Journalists.
Isaiah Jr. Poole, a copy editor at Asbury Park (N.J.) Press and a gay African-American, said he was outraged that the term “faggot” had been bandied about during a session the previous day.
“If we turned this convention upside down because some rap star cusses a woman, we should turn this convention upside down when the word faggot is used,” Poole said. His reference was to the 1993 NABJ convention, when Bushwick Bill of the rap group Geto Boys caused a walkout and a scolding from association leaders for referring to black women as “bitches” and “hos.”
Los Angeles Times reporter Victoria Torres also related the story of a black homosexual who was moving to a city where he intended to live openly as a gay. But the man did not want his sexuality known by fellow NABJ members, Torres said.
“He said he absolutely would not come out at NABJ,” she said.
On the other hand, the L.A. Times’ Andrea Ford said racism among gays and lesbians is a serious issue that needs discussion.
“I can’t walk with you if you don’t like black people,” she said, adding later in the discussion, “There’s no question the gay movement has dissed the black civil rights movement.”
“I hear the black community trod upon a lot ? and by people who say they are gay and lesbian,” she said.
In any case, Ford said, “Black folk aren’t oppressing nobody ? I guarantee you. They don’t have the power to do that.”
Some minority journalists, however, said racial and ethnic minorities have a common cause with homosexuals.
“I do believe gay issues should be on the same plate as the ethnic groups,” said Julio Moran of the Times.
“My general feeling,” added Moran, an NAHJ board member, “is that anything that is targeted at gays now ? Mexicans are next.”