By Sue Kerr
Pittsburgh Current Columnist
When I was notified in early May that my lesbian blog had won a national award from GLAAD, I anticipated local media interest in the story.
After all, this was a few weeks before Pride Month, the 50th Anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, and the first Pittsburgh media outlet to win this national award in its 30-year history. Pittsburgh alum Billy Porter also won this year as part of the ensemble for “POSE.” And Michael Fuoco of the Post-Gazette has been nominated twice while photojournalist Michael Henninger was nominated once. But that’s it. No awards for the PG, the Trib, the alt-weeklies, or any of the television or media stations.
Colleagues working in local media markets told me that the story was ignored because newsroom’s resources are limited, staff are overextended (and underpaid) and that more than a few local journalists back away from LGBTQ stories because of the complicated nuances of our language.
I do not dispute these facts, but I think it is important to put another phrase in play—queer erasure (alternatively LGBT erasure or gay erasure, but I prefer queer.) Queer erasure is when queer people are erased from the cultural narrative. Examples include casting queer stories and television shows with cisgender, heterosexual actors. Another example is not including the experiences of bisexual folks in conversations around LGBTQ topics. Queer erasure is sending a reporter out to cover a pickle chip eating contest but not alloting a single resource to cover a local lesbian blog winning a prestigious national award for the first time in the 30 year history of said awards.
Staff being afraid to tackle LGBTQ stories because of the confusion over terminology is just ridiculous. There’s no reason not to know the language and best practices. Yes, language can be fluid but that is not a good reason to avoid a story, especially when the target community has provided multiple resources to address that specific issue. Links to the media guides are always available on my blog. Ironically, GLAAD is the media watchdog for the LGBTQ community so failing to report when they say “this award winner got it right, folx” seems counterintuitive if you are hyper-focused on language.
Tight resources do not lift the ethical responsibility to focus on the news itself. Queer folx are in the top target communities for this administration. We represent about 4.5% of the population, but make up a large portion of the policies being rolled back. I’d argue that’s more of a reason to be attuned to queer visibility in every section of the media and strive for fairness and accuracy.
For example, in May, the Post-Gazette erased us LGBTQ folx from a story in the caption of the new art installation in Shadyside. This art installation is a tribute to the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. This isn’t the long arm of the Block family editing photo captions. Or is it?
The only real solution to queer erasure is to have an LGBTQ beat and an experienced, informed journalist in that role. I’d add the required use of a style guide and an examination of why there are a few dozen LGBTQ folks who aren’t “out out” at work in the local newsrooms. There is a local chapter of the national LGBTQ media association with over 40 members. They don’t all work on LGBTQ beats. Erasure in their workplace cultures is one reason you do not know most of their names.
I do want to acknowledge the first outlet to assign resources to this story – the Northside Chronicle followed by Queer Pgh and then the Pittsburgh Current. The former ETRT curation newsletter picked up the story as did The Incline via their e-newsletter. The very first outlets to cover the story were local blogs 2 Political Junkies and Melissa Firman.
Positive queer stories that underscore our accomplishments, as well as our voices, are far and few between. Refusing to acknowledge that a local queer blog won a national award from a highly respected media institution is just nonsensical for media outlets.
I didn’t expect to be invited to “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” and awarded a new car, but I would hope programs such as Pittsburgh Today Live or the Lynn Hayes-Freeland radio show or the Lynn Cullen podcast would see the value in this conversation. They don’t owe me anything but don’t they owe you that much?
The conversation has now shifted away from the award to the erasure. I’m working with GLAAD and other sources to organize local training for the media and the community. I hope it is not another 30 years until Pittsburgh’s media accomplishments on LGBTQ stories are recognized.