For the first time since its inception, UNITY Journalists welcomed the National Lesbian and Gay Journalist Association (NLGJA) to its quadrennial convention. The convention took place Aug. 1-4 in Las Vegas.
Just last year, the boards of directors of both organizations agreed to the partnership that allowed the NLGJA to participate in this year's convention.
The NLGJA was founded in 1990. According to the organization's website, "it is an organization of journalists, media professionals, educators and students working from within the news industry to foster fair and accurate coverage of LGBT issues."
Founded in 1994, UNITY Journalists of Color (which is now named UNITY Journalists after a vote was taken by the board in April of this year to change the name) is, according to the organization's website, "an alliance of four journalism organizations representing more than 4,000 journalists, is the nation's most diverse journalism organization. It is a strategic alliance advocating fair and accurate news coverage about people of color and LGBT issues and aggressively challenges news organizations to increase diversity in whom they employ at all levels of their companies."
The UNITY alliance includes the Asian American Journalists Association (AAJA), the National Association of Hispanic Journalists (NAHJ), the Native American Journalists Association (NAJA) and the NLGJA.
For the first time since UNITY was formed, the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) decided to sever its ties with UNITY, resulting in the organization not attending this year's convention. Earlier reports stated that the NABJ left UNITY due to the inclusion of the NLGJA; however, UNITY and NABJ leadership said this was incorrect.
NABJ President Greg Lee Jr. remarked that, "NABJ departed UNITY in the spring of 2011. We left for financial and governmental reasons." When contacted by Windy City Times, a representative from UNITY corroborated Lee's statement.
During the convention's NLGJA membership meeting, there was a discussion about whether to change the organization's name from NLGJA to a name that would include the bisexual and transgender communities under the LGBT umbrella. In a response to this suggestion, NLGJA President Michael Triplett said, "We've wrestled with having a more inclusive name, like so many LGBT groups. I think the meeting created a great jumping-off point and expect that the board will take a serious look at our brand and how to make it more inclusive."
"UNITY was a great success and reinforced why it was important for NLGJA to be involved," said Triplett. "We had great attendance and what I heard from members was that there were great sessions and they enjoyed being with our UNITY alliance partners."
The convention also featured a women's networking dinner for NLGJA members, a media showcase and career expo, among numerous other events.
President Barack Obama and GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney were both invited to address the convention; however, neither of them attended which was a break with past tradition according to the UNITY leadership.
Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., was sent to address the convention on behalf of the Obama for America presidential campaign. The event was moderated by Willie Lora, news and political director of CNN en Espanol. It should be noted that Romney was in Las Vegas to attend a campaign event on Friday Aug. 3 while the UNITY convention was taking place and he chose to stay away.
In Gutierrez's remarks he discussed the upcoming election, immigration reform, the new immigration law that will help a number of undocumented immigrants under the age of 30 legally stay in the United States, the differences between the president and Romney on various issues and the strides the Obama administration has made on behalf of the LGBT community.
Along with the other convention offerings there were also panels addressing a variety of media issues including the impact of social media on journalism and how to navigate writing, producing and presenting news stories in today's print, radio and television world.
A number of other panels addressed specific issues facing LGBT, Asian-American, Hispanic- American and Native American journalists. The panels that featured LGBT issues were "Speaking Up", "Digital and Diversity", "LGBT Coverage in 2012: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly" and "Inclusive Coverage: Bringing LGBT Voices to Mainstream Outlets."
Pulitzer Prize winner Jose Antonio Vargas was the featured speaker during "Speaking Up," remarking that people have to become their own institutions in journalism. Vargas also said that he looks at himself as a storyteller when he talks about his experiences as an undocumented gay journalist.
In the digital and diversity panel there was a discussion about how Sally Ride's lesbianism was reported in her obituary. What was noted was that in most cases her lesbian identity was overlooked by mainstream news outlets whereas other media outlets reported that she was survived by her female partner. Another member of the audience pointed out that if there are pages dedicated to covering the Hispanic-American, African-American and LGBT American communities there also needs to be pages dedicated to covering Asian-American and Native American stories on the Huffington Post. At the end of the panel there was a consensus that minority voices need to be heard in the media and that the old boy's network needs to change.
The panel dealing with LGBT coverage in the media focused on how various LGBT stories were handled by LGBT media outlets around the country including bullying and the Chick fil a controversy. In the final LGBT specific panel, the discussion shifted to inclusive coverage within mainstream media outlets. The discussion focused on how non-LGBT reporters and editors go about covering stories related to the LGBT community with nuance and sensitivity. Panelists and attendees also provided the other reporters in the room avenues to find sources and resources to cover LGBT stories and how to avoid red flags when covering LGBT stories in the mainstream media.
For more information on the NLGJA and UNITY visit www.nlgja.org/ and www.unityjournalists.org .