Those of us who report the news affecting the LGBTQ+ community can often feel whiplashed. In my 48 years in LGBTQ+ news, I can’t remember many moments when there weren’t many important and exhausting stories happening at once. It seems we never have a moment to process one issue when another comes along.
For me, it can be overwhelming, and at times it makes me wonder if those in our community who are not involved with news gathering also feel that whiplash.
It used to be that all news was local, but now, in this era of digital communication when it’s easy to immediately see what other people are doing, policies and ideas spread like wildfire, and news from one place soon becomes news in your hometown. We’ve seen it with states copying each other to try and outlaw trans women in sports. We’ve seen it with “Don’t Say Gay” and various book bannings. Ideas seem to travel from one state to another, turning one local story into a national story and then into many more local stories again.
It’s hard to be unbiased, as we in news should be, when we feel our very right to exist is being attacked. Aside from our personal feelings on a given subject, we need to appreciate what it’s doing to others in our community and make that part of our reporting. It’s not enough to merely report on crimes against LGBTQ+ people. We have to report on how those crimes impact the community and the neighborhoods people live in and whether it shows a trend that should be addressed by the government. We have to report on the emotional toll such crimes take. Organizations such as the Movement Advancement Project have reported on how the stress of being LGBTQ+ can impact a person’s earnings, well being, housing, healthcare, and more. It’s never enough just to say something happened. The ramifications of the news, especially incidents related to the LGBTQ+ community, stretch well beyond the people directly involved.
One issue that might seem isolated to the LGBTQ+ community is the national war on drag performers. On the outside, many say that more important issues are happening, and efforts should be focused on those. But they ignore the fact that discrimination does not happen all at once. It happens little by little. The war on drag performers is one of the flames in the fire of LGBTQ+ discrimination, and you have to combat the fire one section at a time.
We at Philadelphia Gay News, in an attempt to bridge the divide between community and government on issues surrounding LGBTQ+ discrimination, recently did a project that brought some much needed attention to the issue.
The project we produced was titled: “Drag performers are under attack around the country. But we’ve got your back in Philadelphia.” The hook, as we call it, was that each of the candidates running for Mayor in Philadelphia would be photographed with a member of the drag community. 8 Democratic candidates for mayor participated. The lone Republican candidate did not.
We brought a diverse group of drag queens and kings to the photo shoot in City Hall. We soon learned how, even though there are no laws being proposed in our city against drag performances, the national anti-LGBTQ and anti-drag sentiment has affected each one of them, from canceled performances to pickets to death threats.
That is the result of the nationalization of our news. Discrimination spreads as far and wide as the internet will take it. And it doesn’t happen on just one issue.
The Nashville school shooting, which was done by a self-identified trans person, was a complex news story. Any person shooting a gun in a school has mental health issues, no matter what their identity is. And yet I saw numerous reporters suggesting that the shooter being confused about identity might be the root cause of the shooting.
Should we in the LGBTQ+ community, specifically the LGBTQ+ journalism community, be stating the obvious: that maybe it was the pressure from all the anti-trans laws from state to state that sent the shooter over the edge, rather than her identity? This might be a teachable moment. Maybe it’s time, once again, to explain to those wanting to ban books about trans identity that making them feel invisible does not help the mental health of our trans children.
The same is true about the “Don’t Say Gay” legislation taking form in many states. How different my early life would have been if I knew there were others like me with similar thoughts? In my time at school, we were invisible and those who legislate “Don’t Say Gay” laws, want to make us invisible again. Not only does the news never stop, but it repeats itself, again and again and again.
All we can do is press on, gather our strength and energy, and continue to report it as thoroughly and insightfully as we can.