Reflections Of A Gay Journalist p. 19

By: Debra Gersh Hernandez THE FIVE-YEAR anniversary of the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association made Vicki Torres think of the three "R's."
But the Los Angeles Times business writer was not contemplating readin', 'riting and 'rithmetic, but rather remembrance, reassessment and renewal.
Torres, one of the keynote speakers at the NLGJA conference in Washington, remembered the people who used to secretly meet for brunch, a group that was to became the Southern California chapter of NLGJA.
"It was a brave step forward in 1990 for the gay men at the Los Angeles Times to actually meet for the first time and to build a movement," she said. Their first meeting as an NLGJA chapter drew between 80 and 90 people.
"We were astonished at how much of a need we seemed to be fulfilling, and how much of a need there was," Torres recalled, adding that it did not take long before members were marching in gay pride parades and holding fund-raisers.
"When I remember the NLGJA, I recall and recollect that all of this occurred at the same time that, nationwide, huge advances were being made in the cause of gays and lesbians," she said, citing political, social and legal gains.
Even with those "great strides," at this time of reassessment, Torres also took note of some setbacks, such as the conservative majority in Congress, Right Wing attacks, challenges to equality ordinances, and state laws like in Colorado.
"It's open season on gays and lesbians again," Torres lamented. "We have also found setbacks journalistically.
"One of our members who attempted to organize a gay caucus at a major metropolitan daily found herself the object of threats coming from phone calls from employees at the very paper where she was working. The calls were traced back to her own newspaper," Torres said.
But when the woman told management they were homophobic, she was told she was a troublemaker and had her responsibilities cut until she was forced to leave the paper, Torres explained.
Another example came from Texas, where "a newspaper made the sad mistake of running two gay stories on the same day, and the next thing you know, they were receiving bomb threats. A vending box was exploded by a pipe bomb."
At another newspaper in Northern California, "an employee, not in editorial, had been harassed over the last three years and has had to file a gay harassment lawsuit," she continued.
"Such things [were happening] as 'faggot' being scribbled in his nameplate on his desk, condoms stuffed into his mailbox, pornographic pictures stuffed under his office door.
"At a birthday party, when he blew out the candles on the cake, some people afterwards, some people actually said, 'Well I'm not going to eat any of that cake because I don't want to get AIDS.' "
Those were only a few examples, and they are not happening in a vacuum.
"These are the kinds of things that are occurring at the time when there are layoffs and cutbacks throughout our industry . . . all of which serve to dampen the atmosphere, the willingness of editors to support gay stories and gay issues; the willingness of ourselves to even speak out, fearful that we might lose our jobs," Torres pointed out.
Torres asked a friend of hers, whom she considers quite cynical, "Are we not facing a repressive era with setbacks similar to that of Joseph McCarthy, and do we not have to fear for ourselves?"
Her friend's reaction was, "No, it's just business as usual."
Thinking about that led Torres to the second "R," reassessment.
"I find that what is occurring is simply a reactionary measure on the part of people who recognize that change is inevitable and are fighting it," she said.
"I consider it the principle of critical mass," she said.
"We are now in the workplace in numbers sufficient so that they have to take notice of us. We are in the workplace in numbers of sufficient clout that we are now asking for changes and demanding changes.
"And what is happening is that society is changing.
"The reactionary measure of the Right Wing, of the Republicans, of the Christian Coalition, is merely the last gasp of a group trying to go against the historical inevitability of change," she said.
"We should recognize that this is a movement of weakness that is occurring against us, that we indeed carry the weight and that we here should be able to stand up historically and take our place," Torres said, urging NLGJA conference attendees to "renew yourselves here. Renew your allies. Renew the folks that will enter into battle with you when you return to your community."
Dispelling those who would brand her vision of reality as a Polyanna version, Torres said it was her outspokenness that helped her survive cutbacks at the Los Angeles Times.
"I survived three cutbacks at the paper, and I attribute it to my having spoken out; to my having received a higher profile, or earned a higher profile; to the skills and the legitimacy that I have gained by my activism in the NLGJA," she said.
"Becoming active in this group earns you personal and professional ties and growth that I think all of us can profit from.
"So that's why I urge you to renew yourselves here, return to your communities and continue to push us forward in the historically inevitable progress that we'll make," Torres said.


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