PRESS PASS Q
A Newsletter and Trade Publication for the LGBT Media Professional
JANUARY 2012 [Vol. 13, No. 10)
Celebrating 12 years of serving our community of journalists
TABLE OF CONTENTS
TOP STORY: “Gay marriage” or “marriage equality”?: New polling shows semantics make a difference, but LGBT media not in agreement over best phrase
by Chuck Colbert
As a matter of style or substance, which one is it – “gay marriage” or “same-sex marriage”?
And what about the term “marriage equality”? Is that a more accurate way to describe gay couples’ struggle for the same benefits, responsibilities, and social status that opposite- sex married couples already enjoy?
Or is the term "marriage equality" merely movement-speak – in other words, an activist term?
The issue came to the forefront recently with two postings on Bilerico. The title of one piece was “The semantics of ‘marriage equality,’ activism, and journalism.” In another article, posted the same day [November 1), a headline proclaimed: “Language doesn’t matter: substance does.”
Bilerico’s writers were prompted by early October polling from New Jersey, which showed language made a significant difference in measures of support for the legal right of gays to wed.
Fifty-one percent of Garden State respondents said “gay marriage” should be legal versus 36 percent opposed. Another three percent support civil unions, and nine percent said they did not know.
But support jumped to 61 percent when pollsters used the term “marriage equality” versus 25 percent opposed. Another three percent of respondents favored civil unions, three percent were unfamiliar with the term, and nine percent said they did not know.
The Rutgers-Eagleton Poll, released on October 28, did not use the term “same-sex marriage.”
For some time now, however, the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association [NLGJA), a professional organization of LGBT journalists, public relations professionals and bloggers, has offered guidance on terminology. NLGJA’s stylebook recommends “marriage for same-sex couples” in stories, while suggesting “same-sex marriage” is okay for shorthand descriptions such as headlines. In those situations, “same-sex marriage” is preferred, NLGJA guidelines say, because it is more accurate and inclusive of women than “gay.”
The Associated Press Stylebook does not have an entry for “same-sex marriage” or “gay marriage,” but reporters may use the terms interchangeably. However, AP reporters shy away from using “marriage equality” unless in a direct quote on the theory that it is an activist term, like “pro-life,” which they also do not use. The stylebook does have an entry for “gay.”
And while more and more publishers, editors, and reporters in LGBT publications are coming around to using “same-sex marriage," its usage and other wording vary depending on context like headlines, direct quotes, and ease of story narrative – or accuracy. By no means is there agreement.
Accordingly, Press Pass Q surveyed eight regional LGBT publications and veteran reporters. Here’s a sampling of their thinking:
“We usually use ‘same-sex marriage,’ although I do occasionally use ‘marriage equality’ and mostly in blog posts as opposed to news stories,” said Tammye Nash, editor of Dallas Voice.
“I try to use ‘same-sex marriage’ or ‘marriage equality’ in our copy," said Bay Area Reporter editor Cynthia Laird. “And I make a point not to write ‘gay marriage’ in my weekly editorials, many of which deal with the subject in one way or another.” However, “If a person uses ‘gay marriage’ in a direct quote when they speak to a reporter, or if that’s what they use in a letter to the editor, I leave it as is.”
But headline writing, said Laird, “presents a special problem because quite frankly, ‘gay marriage’ is shorter and to the point. So I am not so rigorous in that regard.”
Peter Frycki, publisher of Trenton, N.J.-based Out in Jersey, explained the rule of thumb for his outlet. “The preferred usage is ‘same-sex marriage’ when talking about the actual issue,” he said. “But when we are talking about the movement or people in the movement, we call it the ‘marriage-equality movement.’”
In the nation’s capital, Metro Weekly and the Washington Blade have taken different approaches.
“Preferred usage for the Blade is ‘same-sex marriage,’" said editor Kevin Naff, agreeing that “marriage equality” is an activist term.
However, Metro Weekly prefers ‘marriage equality,’ said managing editor Will O’Bryan. “While some might feel that the phrase is a form of editorializing, we would argue the same with regard to ‘same-sex marriage.’ In D.C., we live in a jurisdiction where people of the same sex who marry get a marriage license. They don’t get a ‘same-sex marriage license.’ And as an LGBT publication, it’s a given for us that LGBT people are first-class citizens, even when that’s not reflected in law.”
Practical considerations of the Internet era – search engine optimization – also affect word choice. “It seems that when we use 'marriage equality,' our copy is far less likely to get picked up by the Google algorithms … than when we use ‘same-sex marriage,’ O’Bryan said.
He has a point. A Google search yields far greater results for “gay marriage” than “same-sex marriage.” The former generates 29,600,00 results, with the latter pulling up 16,900,000. “Marriage equality” draws 5,550,000 results.
Still, word choice at Charlotte, N.C-based Q-Notes makes little difference. “We’ve used ‘gay marriage,’ ‘same-sex marriage,' and ‘marriage equality’ interchangeably,” said editor Matt Comer.
“A quick search of our web site for those specific terms returns nearly the same number of returns for each,” Comer said. “It’s like splitting hairs, in my opinion. No matter what it’s called, people know what you are talking about.”
Not necessarily, says Duncan Osborne, associate editor of New York City-based Gay City News.
“I use ‘marriage,’ ‘gay marriage,’ or ‘same-sex marriage.’ I never use ‘marriage equality,’” said Osborne. “‘Marriage equality’ is meaningful to some people in the lesbian and gay community, but is probably not understood by most people outside of our community,” he said.
Beyond word-choice semantics, other seasoned journalists grapple with nuance and accuracy.
Nationally syndicated reporter Rex Wockner uses “same-sex marriage” in news writing “because it seem[s] to be the norm,” he said. But “from a messaging – as opposed to a politically correct viewpoint – I think something without the word ‘sex’ in it is better. The public in general, hearing the phrase ‘gay marriage,’ knows instinctively that the matter at hand is letting gays and lesbians get married,” Wockner said.
Lisa Keen, of the nationally syndicated Keen News Service, sees limitations with all three terms.
“I don’t use ‘gay marriage,’ and I don’t like ‘same-sex marriage,’ because they seem to imply that the marriage is something different,” she said. “In other words, it sounds like it’s not ‘marriage.’ It’s ‘same-sex marriage.” And “marriage equality is too vague and could mean things like equality in marriage, something straight people might want,” she said.
Instead, Keen uses the phrase “allowing same-sex couples to obtain marriage licenses the same as straight couples,” which captures the conflict in many but not all stories.
Moreover, in reporting on the various legal challenges to the Defense of Marriage Act, said Keen, the issue is “allowing married same-sex couples to obtain the same rights and benefits that are available to straight married couples.”
“The problem in both cases, for journalists,” she explained, “is that the [longer] phrases, while accurate, are terribly wordy and burdensome for readers to consume. But whenever possible, I go for accuracy. And whenever necessary, I tend to refer to ‘marriage between same-sex spouses,’” Keen said.
Journalists’ discussions about marriage terminology comes as a bipartisan group of marriage advocates, led by the centrist group Third Way, attempts to shift public discourse from equal rights to values.
The conversation also comes at the time when support for gay marriage continues to rise, jumping nine percent in the past two years. A recent poll, conducted by the Pew Research Center in late September and early October, found the American public now evenly divided with 46 percent favoring legal same-sex marriage and 44 percent opposed.
For equal-marriage advocates, the take-away lesson from New Jersey polling is clear: How we talk about the issue may make all the difference in maintaining marriage momentum.
Word choice is a matter of both semantics and substance for them. As Evan Wolfson, founder and president of Freedom to Marry, explained, “The best way to talk about marriage is with its common vocabulary, not modifying it or separating it or lessening it.”
“We are seeking to share in marriage or the freedom to marry, not creating something new,” said Wolfson. It’s about removing “barriers” or “restrictions” to marriage. “That’s why our campaign is called Freedom to Marry,” he said.
For Wolfson, “marriage equality” is preferable to phrases like “gay marriage” or “same-sex marriage.” And yet, even “marriage equality” falls short, he said, because, “it still is not a connecting language; it’s not the way non-gay people think or talk about marriage, or their own marriages and weddings.”
“As Freedom to Marry’s research has shown,” Wolfson continued, “the way we are going to persuade the next five percent to 15 percent of Americans, the people within our reach, is by engaging with them in conversations … in a language of ‘love and commitment, family and connectedness,’ emphasizing emotion and values, not just ‘equality.’”
Wolfson has made a believer out of Karen Ocamb, news editor for Frontiers in L.A., who prefers “marriage equality.” The term “gay marriage,” she said, “makes it sound like something special for gays as opposed to equal marriage rights for lesbian and gay couples, which is way too long when you’ve got a print word count.”
“I do not think [‘marriage equality’] is more ‘activist’ because it’s espoused by an activist organization,” Ocamb said. “I think it’s more accurate for what is trying to be achieved.”
IN THE NEWS: Journalists and friends remember Paul Varnell
First, Paula Ettlebrick, a legal expert in LGBT rights, passed away in October, followed in the same month by Frank Kameny, a pioneering founding father of the modern gay- rights movement. Now, yet another pioneer in the LGBT-rights and liberation movement is gone. This time, he is one of our journalistic own.
Passionate activist and veteran writer Paul Varnell died on Dec. 9, 2010, of complications from pneumonia and a stroke, according to a lengthy obituary and tribute in Windy City Times. Based in Chicago, he was 70.
Beyond Windy City Times, other LGBT newspapers and web sites reported on his death, including the Milwaukee-based Wisconsin Gazette, the Washington Blade, Seattle Gay News, AMERICAblog, Towleroad, Queerty, Bilerico, Box Turtle Bulletin, LGBT POV, Pink Paper, and the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association’s Re-Act blog, among others.
In many ways, as these gay media obituaries, articles, and tributes recount, Varnell was one of a kind: An intellectual, gay and AIDS activist, libertarian, iconoclast, and a highly regarded, well-liked syndicated columnist for LGBT newspapers.
Varnell also founded and edited the Internet-based Independent Gay Forum [IGF), giving voice to some of the country’s most prominent conservative and libertarian gay writers and academics. Some of them include Stephen H. Miller, David Link, Jonathan Rauch, Dale Carpenter and John Corvino.
How did gay media recall Varnell? In a piece for the Wisconsin Gazette, Lisa Neff wrote, “Colleagues – in the press and from the protests – remembered [him] as an independent thinker, a loyal friend, an ardent activist, a devout atheist, a valued mentor to LGBT youth and a meticulous, thorough writer. He kept a detailed notebook in which he jotted and developed his many column ideas.”
Varnell worked with Neff, managing editor of the Gazette, and the publication’s editor in chief and publisher Louis Weisberg for a decade in Chicago, initially at the original Windy City Times and later at the now defunct Chicago Free Press, a weekly LGBT newspaper they helped to create in 1999.
Varnell remained at the Free Press until shortly before it folded in 2009.
That same year, when Weisberg launched the Gazette, Varnell contributed a column to the biweekly newspaper.
For years, the Washington Blade published Varnell’s columns. In the publication’s coverage of his death, editor Kevin Naff recalled Varnell as “professional and kind,” adding, “I enjoyed our conversations and debates of the issues of the day and always found Paul fair and smart, and our readers appreciated and responded to his informed libertarian views. The LGBT movement will miss him.”
Similarly, Press Pass Q editor Fred Kuhr holds Varnell in high regard. "I was an avid reader of his column in the Windy City Times while I lived in Chicago in the early '90s,” he said. “When I became an editor at Boston-based In Newsweekly, and I was in a position to bring new voices and syndicated columnists to the newspaper, Paul was one of the first people I contacted. An intellectual powerhouse, Paul was able to make arguments that no one else could or even would. He was never afraid to go against gay political orthodoxy if he believed that such thinking would end up hurting the movement. I didn't always agree with what he wrote, but it always made me think. And it always made me want to read his next column. You can't ask for more from a writer."
For his part, IGF’s Rauch recalled Varnell’s “quiet way” as “a pioneer and leader among those who made the world safe to be non-leftist and gay, … partly through the power of his logic, partly through the gentleness of his touch.”
Varnell was indeed a one-of-a-kind guy as nationally syndicated reporter Rex Wockner perhaps best explained in a blog posting: “He and I, as a journalistic exercise, tried to get a marriage license in Cook County [Illinois] in 1989! And when rebuffed, we filed human-rights complaints with the city and the state. We lost. We claimed sex discrimination but they told us it was sexual-orientation discrimination and that that wasn't illegal at that time in Illinois. The [Chicago] Sun-Times made a big story of our little effort. We turned down an invite to appear on Oprah. I suppose everyone is unique, but Paul was unlike anyone I've ever known. I think it was the degree of his independence and the degree of his self-sufficiency that stood out. He had very specific ideas about how he wanted to live his life, and that is exactly how he lived it, each day and without compromise.”
Paul Varnell was born April 16, 1942, the son of an attorney for the Pennsylvania Railroad. A graduate of Cornell University, Varnell went on to graduate studies at Indiana University in Bloomington. For some time, he taught at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb but did not receive tenure there, never having completed his dissertation.
By 1982, Varnell had moved to Chicago where his gay-rights and AIDS activism flourished. He served on the board of PFLAG Chicago, chaired an Illinois Gay and Lesbian Task Force committee, served on the Chicago AIDS Task Force, founded the Chicago Area Gay Republican Organization [CARGO), promoted Gay History Month and served on the Illinois Department of Public Health AIDS Interdisciplinary Advisory Committee.
He was such a force in Chicago that local mainstream media also covered Varnell’s passing. Neil Steinberg poignantly noted in a column for the Chicago Sun-Times [“Gay writer saw path to progress,” December 11, 2011), “Back in the 1980s, when newspapers wouldn’t identify the companions of homosexuals in their obituaries, since it was against our style rules, I knew exactly one gay man in Chicago: Paul Varnell.”
Altogether, for Varnell, LGBT progress required mainstreaming. As Steinberg noted, “His constant theme: the path of gays leads to assimilation within society, not living apart in radicalized gay ghettos.”
— Chuck Colbert
Signorile tapped to be editor at large for Huffington Post’s Gay Voices
The Huffington Post announced late last year that Sirius XM host Michelangelo Signorile had been appointed as editor at large for its new Gay Voices section.
Signorile now works alongside Gay Voices editor Noah Michelson to shape the stories and other editorial content that appear on the vertical, which The Huffington Post officially launched in late September. Signorile also live blogs political conventions and other events.
“I’m bringing in a lot of people to post on the blog, to get as many voices as possible and also wanting to bring in voices by doing more stories that are a roundup of thoughts,” Signorile told PressPassQ.
Signorile’s first full-week at The Huffington Post coincided with long-time Massachusetts Congressman Barney Frank’s announcement that he would not seek re-election in 2012. “I want to make sure we have a diverse array of viewpoints on it,” he said. “Barney, obviously, is somebody’s who’s been a lightning rod in the community, so I just asked around a bunch of people – David Mixner and Larry Kramer and Robin McGhee of GetEQUAL and John Aravosis – you know, people who’ve had all points of view on Barney. And some of them were negative and some of them were positive. The idea was to have that array of voices.”
Signorile first rose to prominence in the mid-1980s with his work to publicize ACT UP’s highly visible protests and other actions to highlight AIDS-related issues. He later became a co-founding editor and columnist for OutWeek magazine. Signorile’s 1990 story that exposed late publishing tycoon Malcolm Forbes’ homosexuality placed him at the center of the contentious debate over what became known as “outing.”
Signorile became a columnist for The Advocate in 1991 and Out in 1995. Random House published “Queer in America: Sex, the Media, and the Closets of Power” in 1993. He later published “Outing Yourself,” and his 1995 book “Life Outside: The Signorile Report on Gay Men” became a finalist for the New York Public Library Book Award for Excellence in Journalism.
“I always felt like, yes, I have a strong opinion, but I try to focus on the issues nobody’s talking about rather than coming in at the end of a discussion and say, okay here’s how it is and that’s it, you’re finished,” said Signorile. “I really try to start the discussion.”
Signorile also blogs at The Gist, but he said Gay Voices allows him to have more of what he described as a more permanent presence on the web.
“I really wanted to do more blogging and wanted to be more present on the web because the [Sirius XM] show is so kind of focused on all of the issues I’ve written about,” he said. “I really just wanted sort of more of a home on the web that was more permanent and where I would just throughout the week, throughout the day, connect what’s happening on the show and get that out there on the web.”
— Michael K. Lavers
South Florida Gay News launches new magazine
South Florida Gay News has launched SFGN the Magazine, a glossy quarterly publication featuring personal profiles, editorials and articles about dining, travel and entertainment focusing on LGBT life in south Florida.
SFGN the Magazine is an offshoot of SFGN.com, which bills itself as the largest LGBT-news source in the state of Florida.
The first issue hit newsstands in July of last year and has been enthusiastically received, according to publisher Norm Kent.
“We're sold out for our January edition,” Kent said. “Many of the advertisers in the weekly publication love the fact that they have a glossy they can put on their office table to show people. The key to the magazine's success is that it is content driven. It's a quality product profiling professionals. It's not just an entertainment guide, not just a bar guide.”
The advertisements come from doctors and dentists, lawyers and realtors, who want to reach out to the business community, Kent noted.
Seven thousand and five hundred copies have been published. South Florida Gay News, the newspaper, circulates 10,000 copies and up, depending on the time of year.
SFGN the Magazine has a bar guide, but what makes the publication unique is the people being spotlighted, said Kent. Typically, photos of shirtless men in clubs are featured, but Kent wanted to try a different approach.
“We wanted to show professionals with their clothes on in the daytime,” Kent noted. Those professionals include doctors, lawyers, and judges.
Kent floats the possibility of making SFGN the Magazine into a monthly publication.
Later this year, the magazine is also being rebranded as The Mirror. Kent explained that it will serve as a “reflection of LGBT lives.” It will also have a wider circulation, including Los Angeles, New York City, San Francisco and Boston.
— Joe Siegel
PRESSING QUESTIONS: SWERV Magazine of Washington, D.C.
by David Webb
Geographic coverage area: Nationally in 28 states and 80 cities
Staff size and breakdown: 2 owners and various consulting contributors
Physical dimensions of publication: 8.5” x 11”
Average page count: 32 pages
Key demographics: 70 percent male, 25 percent female, 3 percent trans; median age 35
Print run: 30,000
Web site: www.swervmag.com
PPQ: When did you launch your publication, and what inspired you to do it?
SWERV Publishers Jamil A. Fletcher and Michael-Christopher: We launched in the winter of 2008 after five years of producing an annual Black Pride Resource Guide.
PPQ: What distinguishes your publication from other LGBT publications in your coverage area?
SWERV: Our focus is on the African-American LGBT community.
PPQ: How much support does your publication and the LGBT community receive from the mainstream business community?
SWERV: Much of our support comes from the pharmaceutical industry. Most general market advertisers have yet to include us in their marketing plans.
PPQ: What part of your publication is the most popular?
SWERV: The fashion layouts, especially our annual summer swimsuit issue along with the book and music reviews. The recurring columns are also very popular.
PPQ: What's the most surprising feedback you've received from a reader?
SWERV: The letters we receive from individuals who are incarcerated are the most surprising. First, I am amazed at their ability to secure copies of the publication. The recurring theme is how our publication helps them stay connected to the black LGBT community.
PPQ: What advice do you have for others working in LGBT media?
SWERV: Stay positive and keep moving forward. Perseverance is needed because the LGBT market is so misunderstood by those not a part of the community.
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR: New year will be a good one for our movement
Anyone reading your last issue will need no other information to know that our cause is doing well and will in the coming year.
Looking at the pioneers you honor like Frank Kameny [“Frank Kameny’s death covered: Editors agree passing of gay- rights pioneer warranted front-page coverage, even if he was unknown to many readers,” http://www.presspassq.com/detail.cfm? id=123#feature), and looking forward you cover the newest part, the military [Publication targeting LGBT military personnel now on the front lines,” http://www.presspassq.com/detail.cfm? id=123#news) and new efforts to serve women and older members of our community [“New website targets LGBTs over 50,” “Where the Girls Go is where the girls go”).
Thanks and best wishes for the coming year, even though you just gave the evidence it will be good one.
[What’s your opinion? We’d like to know. Send your letters to editor@PressPassQ.com. Letters should be kept to a maximum of 250 words and may be edited for length and clarity.)
TRANSITIONS AND MILESTONES
[Editor’s note: Are there important changes going on at your publication? E-mail the information to editor@PressPassQ.com.)
BAY WINDOWS, based in Boston, was name-checked during NBC’s “Meet The Press” Republican presidential debate in New Hampshire on January 8. The publication was cited by questioner ANDY HILLER of Boston’s WHDH-TV, who asked candidate MITT ROMNEY about a quote he gave to the newspaper in 1994.
BOSTON SPIRIT MAGAZINE has entered into a partnership with regional online leader BOSTON.COM, where the magazine will serve as the exclusive LGBT blogger for the site. The blog can be found at www.boston.com/lgbt.
WES COMBS announced that he is leaving Washington, D.C.- based WITECK-COMBS COMMUNICATIONS, which will now be known as WITECK COMMUNICATIONS, INC. Combs has joined the global management consulting firm ACCENTURE as a senior manager in their talent and organization practice. In this position, Combs will expand his LGBT and disability focus to help organizations maximize the impact that today’s culturally diverse workforce and marketplace has on achieving their business goals. BOB WITECK remains as CEO of the firm he cofounded with Combs.
ECHO MAGAZINE, based in Phoenix, announced two new columnists. NATE WHITTEN, a personal trainer and life coach, will write “Balanced Living,” while CLAUDINE SANCHEZ will write “Without Reservations,” a restaurant review column.
GAY PARENT MAGAZINE, based in Forest Hills, N.Y., celebrated its 13th anniversary with its November/December 2011 issue.
JUST OUT, based in Portland, Ore., announced that effective December 26, 2011, the newspaper would cease publication. Publisher MARTY DAVIS announced that three years of recession had taken their toll on the 28-year-old publication.
WINDY CITY TIMES, based in Chicago, entered its 27th year of publication with its October 12, 2011, issue.
BARBARA WOLD, a lesbian activist who wrote the blog DEMOCRACY IN NEW MEXICO, has died at the age of 63 at her home in Albuquerque from colon cancer. She launched her blog at the urging of former Democratic National Committee chair HOWARD DEAN. She leaves behind her partner MARY ELLEN BRODERICK.
THE BULLETIN BOARD
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Publisher: Todd Evans, todd@PressPassQ.com
CONTRIBUTORS TO THIS ISSUE
CHUCK COLBERT is a freelance journalist based in Cambridge, Mass. He is a longtime contributor to the National Catholic Reporter and covered the crisis of clerical sex-abuse in the Boston archdiocese. Previously a senior reporter and columnist for the former In Newsweekly, he is a contributor to Keen News Service, Boston Spirit Magazine and Northampton, Mass.-based The Rainbow Times. Also, he has written for major mainstream daily newspapers and magazines, including the Boston Globe, Boston Herald, Dallas Morning News, Philadelphia Inquirer, San Francisco Chronicle, and the Washington Post. He can be reached at email@example.com.
FRED KUHR is an editor, reporter, performer and personal trainer based in Toronto. He has written for the Advocate, AdWeek, Toronto-based Xtra, and Boston Spirit Magazine. He has also served as editor of now-defunct publications In Newsweekly [based in Boston) and Out in the Mountains [based in Vermont). He has served as a news analyst on the Fox News Channel and CBC Radio, as well as other media outlets. Fred, a self-described social media whore, has been rated one of the top Twitterers of "American Idol" and "So You Think You Can Dance."
MICHAEL K. LAVERS is the National News Editor for EDGE Publications. His work has appeared in the Fire Island News, the Guide, the Village Voice and other LGBT and mainstream publications around the world. He has also provided commentaries on LGBT issues to the BBC, “The Brian Lehrer Show” on WNYC in New York, “La Razón” in Spain and other media outlets. He also blogs at Boy in Bushwick, which can be found at www.bushwickboy.blogspot.com.
JOE SIEGEL is a freelance journalist based in Rhode Island. He has written for several New England-based LGBT publications, including In Newsweekly, EDGE Providence, Options and The Rainbow Times. In addition, he has been a reporter for the Attleboro, Mass.-based Sun Chronicle newspaper for the past 8 years. He can he reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
DAVID WEBB worked for both mainstream and alternative media during his 25-year career, including LGBT newspaper Dallas Voice for seven years as a staff writer and news editor. He now lives on Cedar Creek Lake southeast of Dallas. In addition to freelancing, he authors the blog therarereporter.blogspot.com.
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