Take monkeypox, for example, specifically its relationship to our community. LGBTQ+ media reports a depth and breadth of information you won’t get from mainstream media. We immediately understood the impact monkeypox would have on the LGBTQ+ community and began writing about it and taking it seriously much earlier than mainstream media. The reason is that we look at issues based on how they will impact our community. That creates a sense of urgency that isn’t there otherwise. LGBTQ+ media understands the targeted, stigma-free approach necessary to cover monkeypox, while the mainstream media are still attempting to understand it and calibrate the message to a general audience. LGBTQ+ media gives it to you straight, pun intended, with all the knowledge you need to live your life as safely as possible.
But monkeypox is just the most recent and drastic of the issues that LGBTQ+ media has had to get timely and accurate information to our community. It is LGBTQ+ media that got federal, state and city health agencies to answer the major questions that were of need to our community since it was our reporters who knew the correct questions to ask. Just look on this site to see how detailed LGBTQ+ media covered the issue. One of our partners, The Washington Blade, took it to a new level by organizing community forums. That is above and beyond a local newspaper’s responsibilities, and that is what LGBTQ+ media is all about: doing whatever it takes to get information that the community needs. Those of us who have been around a while have done this many times.
LGBTQ+ media’s coverage of health issues for our community goes back over 40 years ago to the HIV/AIDS crisis. We in the LGBTQ+ media were already in three-degree alarm, while over 100 people had died in New York alone before The New York Times published its first article. By that time, publications like Philadelphia Gay News were covering the epidemic so much in detail that people started labeling it Philadelphia AIDS News. Lessons we learned and communicated during that period through our media are being utilized today with Covid-19 and monkeypox.
But health is only the beginning of what LGBTQ+ media does. It also alerts people to safety issues, such as harassment and hate crimes. We continue to report and hold officials to account about murders long after mainstream media moves on to the next flashy story.
Our community is not a monolith; our media give us a safe place to debate issues and those who will lead and represent us. In many cities, LGBTQ+ media has become a political force by simply asking public officials and those running for office questions that are important to you. By doing so, our community gets equal treatment in politics and public service. By holding officials to account, we’re able to help the community take care of our homeless youth, food and housing insecurity of some of our seniors, and of course, demanding that police and prosecutors address the epidemic of violence against our transgender community.
While mainstream media’s travel pages will promote features on great vacation places around the globe, they most likely won’t explain that the place they are spotlighting might not be LGBTQ+ friendly or might even be a place where being an open LGBTQ+ person could be illegal.
LGBTQ+ media helps our community understand their legal rights, which differ from state to state and city to city. For example, what are people’s legal rights as a married couple? Can they be discriminated against in one area but not in another? What about if you’re thinking of parenthood? What are your options and hurdles? What are the laws in your area?
And in these extreme political times, there are several questions that our media must opine. If you’re the parent of a trans child and wish to get them treatment, can you be prosecuted? How does the U.S. Supreme Court ruling over Roe v. Wade affect your marriage and right to privacy/intimacy in your home? These are all questions that LGBTQ+ media are thinking about and are often the first to answer.
What our media does best is give the community a safe platform to respectfully discuss issues of paramount interest to LGBTQ+ people. When we do that, it unites and prepares us for the battles ahead for equality.
Mark Segal is the founder and publisher of Philadelphia Gay News. He is also an author, activist and one of the founding members of the Gay Liberation Front.