- Gallery | Steve Rothaus, George Neary, Morgans Hotel Group, Safe Schools South Florida honored by Miami-Dade Gay & Lesbian Chamber
These are my prepared remarks for Saturday night’s Miami-Dade Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce awards dinner:
Just a few weeks ago, a trusted editor told me that I should write as many high-profile gay stories as possible – that it’s my value at The Herald.
My career reflects the tremendous social change in our community and in the business culture at the newspaper.
Here are a few gay-related Herald headlines* from the 1950s and ‘60s:
· Hypnotist Offers to Help Deviates
· Moral Squad Takes Homo Issue to Parents
And my personal favorite, Stiff laws Urged on Perversion
In 1977, during the Anita Bryant campaign to repeal Dade’s gay rights ordinance, the Herald’s executive editor at the time wrote that the law was “a manufactured issue -- concocted, we suspect, by those more interested in flaunting their new deviate freedom than in preventing discrimination which they conceded they had not experienced.''
The Herald recommended that the law be repealed, which it was with 70 percent of the vote.
Eight years later, while a journalism student at FIU, I got a job at The Herald monitoring the police scanners. I kept my personal life private, not knowing how it would affect my career if co-workers and bosses knew I’m gay.
Over time, I told a few friends at work. I officially came out to an editor in 1987, after being assigned as a reporter in the Miami Beach Neighbors office. The reason for my disclosure: At the time, my partner, publicist Ric Katz, was a political consultant to several Beach elected officials.
Reaction at work was mixed. One straight, married male editor told me to bring Ric to an upcoming employee party, that as my partner he was ‘always welcome.’
A straight female reporter, however, told me that being out might be OK at the Herald, but not at Knight Ridder, then the paper’s Miami-based corporate parent.
Knight Ridder and The Herald turned out to be far more progressive than this woman imagined.
In 1997, we became one of the first big newspaper companies to adopt domestic partner benefits for same-sex couples. The same year, I began covering gay issues, with a bi-weekly column called Outlooks.
No other mainstream newspaper had taken such a chance. GLAAD, the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, rewarded us in 1998 by naming Outlooks outstanding newspaper column of the year.
In late 2000, I took the job of night business editor. Five years later, I officially became The Herald’s gay-beat reporter.
In 2003, I was elected a board member of the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association. At NLGJA, I developed a program we called the Newsroom Outreach Project, to raise awareness of gay coverage and workplace issues.
Knight Ridder gave me a $10,000 annual travel grant and The Herald gave me time off for me to visit dozens of newsrooms across the nation.
I spoke with reporters, editors, producers and directors at newspapers, TV stations and college campuses, from San Francisco and New York City to Omaha and Minneapolis. We discussed topics including:
· When to Identify an Individual as Gay or Lesbian
· Are Bisexuals Overlooked?
· How to identify transgender people, male or female?
We also talked about how these news organizations treated their gay employees. Several times I’d return home to find e-mails waiting from reporters thanking me for the visit.
In 2006, a young man wrote:
“I want to thank you for speaking with us at The Oklahoman yesterday. Like you said, the fact that our paper invited you to come is a really big deal. Frankly, I was in a state of disbelief when I heard you would be coming. I do think things are getting better here as far as gay coverage goes, but it will be a good while before the gay community stops looking at The Oklahoman like readers in Miami looked at the Herald in the 70s.
“I'm one of the few openly gay reporters at The Oklahoman, and it is tough at times. The staff is by and large absolutely wonderful. But there are some serious management issues gay employees here face. I think any kind of group or resource journalists here could turn to for help in that situation would be great.”
My colleagues and I, at The Herald, NLGJA and McClatchy, the company that bought Knight Ridder in 2006, have helped reshape the journalism world and our communities in South Florida and across the United States.
But as some of you in this room know, you’re not going to like every article we write.
Whenever I speak in a newsroom, I always make it clear that gay journalists in mainstream media aren’t gay activists and we’re not working to put a positive spin on the news. That’s GLAAD’s job.
Professional journalists strive for fairness, accuracy and inclusiveness. And I think that in the last 20 years we’ve made a lot of progress.
Thank you for your support tonight and your brave willingness to be visible throughout the years. I couldn’t have done my job without you.