By: Mark Fitzgerald
WITH PLANNING UNDERWAY for a follow-up in the year 2000 to Unity ’94, gay and lesbian journalists are wrestling with the question of where they would fit in the second joint convention of minority journalists.
Unity ’94 directors have recommended holding a Unity 2000, but after much discussion they decided not to decide whether the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association (NLGJA) should become a full partner with the four minority groups: the Asian American Journalists Association, National Association of Black Journalists, National Association of Hispanic Journalists and Native American Journalists Association.
At the recent NLGJA convention in Minneapolis, there was a widespread misconception among members that the Unity board had voted not to invite the gay and lesbian journalists groups to be formal partners at a possible Unity 2000.
However, some people who attended the Unity board meeting say that while the issue was discussed at length, in the end no vote was taken.
“In essence, what it amounted to was the Unity board had never gotten a formal, written request from NLGJA to join Unity, so there was nothing [the board] could vote on. It received a lot of discussion . . . [but] in the end everybody realized it was a non-issue until we are approached,” said Gordon Regguinti, executive director of the Native American Journalists Association.
In any case, he added, “I doubt there would have been a consensus one way or the other.”
Similarly, there appears to be little consensus among NLGJA members themselves about how formal a role the group should play in Unity.
Several lines of thought developed among NLGJA members at a so-called “Unity Circle” meeting to discuss relationships among and between the ethnic minority journalists groups and gay and lesbian journalists of all races and ethnicity.
Some, believing incorrectly that they had been spurned by the four Unity minority associations, wanted to start immediate lobbying to be included as a formal partner.
But many others, including some of the group’s most vocal members, urged colleagues to go slow.
“I think we should take a longer view and ask ourselves, do we want to be partners in Unity 2000? Do we deserve to be at Unity 2000?” NLGJA president Leroy Aarons said.
“I don’t think we should make a big deal about it,” added Houston Post columnist Juan Palomo.
“We were there [at Unity ’94] in a very big way,” Palomo said. “We got a lot of good press, a little negative press and we didn’t have to do half” the organizing work the four minority journalists groups did.
Indeed, it would not have been immediately obvious to someone at Unity ’94 that NLGJA was not a full partner in the convention.
Gay journalists spoke at several panels, and one entire seminar was devoted to the interaction of gays and minority journalists in the newsroom. NLGJA had a booth at the Unity job fair and sponsored a reception attended by hundreds of convention-goers.
“We really were a magnetic force at Unity,” said free-lance writer James Earl Hardy.
Best of all, some members argued, NLGJA’s presence was showcased ? but the group was not required to get involved in the tedious work of organizing a huge convention.
“I loved our status at Unity ’94,” said Los Angeles Times deputy city editor Alan Acosta. “I thought of it as being ‘special observer’ status. “It doesn’t hurt my feelings to be in Unity as a member of NLGJA” rather than a sponsoring partner, he added.
NLGJA was one of 15 groups ? ranging from the Society of Professional Journalists and Women in Communications to the California Chicano News Media Association ? that were members of the Unity ’94 Advisory Committee.
None of these groups have yet asked to become sponsors along with the four ethnic minority journalists group, according to the Unity board.
In addition to organizational concerns, however, the question of the role of gay and lesbian journalists at Unity is laden with other, deeper concerns.
For instance, much of the discussion at the Unity ’94 session devoted to minority and gay politics in the newsroom turned on whether gay journalists ? especially gay white men ? face anything in the newsroom that even approaches the difficulties racial and ethnic minorities face.
Then, too, there is the question of what role gay journalists of color play in the minority journalists associations.
NLGJA’s “Unity Circle” meeting was one attempt at the Minneapolis convention to address those tensions.
During the discussion, some gay journalists of color complained local NLGJA chapters treated them with a certain coldness.
Unity’s “somewhat standoffish stance towards lesbians and gays is reflective” of a feeling that the gay journalists organization is not very welcoming, said freelance writer James Earl Hardy, an African-American.
At the same time, Hardy urged gay minority journalists to work inside the ethnic associations as openly gay men and women.
“You must be out in your own group,” he said.
Minority journalist groups should be approached with respect and openness, added Isaiah Poole Jr., a copy editor at the Press of Asbury Park, N.J.
“To walk up to them and ask for minority status is a quicker way to close debate than to open it,” Poole said.