NLGJA low on numbers, high in benefits

by STEPHANIE FERRER-CARTER

They are called under-represented, minority groups for a reason. Groups that fall under this category often have their images skewed, stereotyped or all together forgotten in America’s newsrooms.

In 1975, the National Association of Black Journalists was founded in an attempt to combat this growing problem. Other ethnic minority groups — Hispanic, Asian and Native American — followed suit, establishing their own associations all sharing the same goal, an effort to find a solution to misrepresentation through education.

Then, in 1990, the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association (NLGJA) was founded. It was time to address the needs of a group that was not identified by their ethnicity or race, but by their sexual orientation.

Headquartered in the nation’s capital, NLGJA has spread across the nation into 25 chapters, located in cities or states that have at least 10 official members. According to NLGJA executive assistant Brian Salkin, the Indiana chapter and the Nashville, TN, chapter were the most recent to be instated, Alaska will be the next state to add a chapter.

“As an organization we do primarily three things: we first advocate for fair coverage of LBGT issues in the media, we advocate for equal work place benefits in news media and related fields and we train professionals,” Salkin explained.

According to NLGJA’s Web site, approximately 1,300 “journalists, media professionals, educators and students” who are gay, straight, lesbian, bisexual and transgender have become members in NLGJA’s nearly two decades of existence.

Two of those members reside and work in Utah. Salt Lake City is one of four cities and states that are categorized as significantly smaller groups called satellite chapters.

The low membership in Utah may come as a surprise considering the benefits NLGJA offers. The group strongly advocates for equal work-place benefits, and labels itself as a support group, providing a wide variety of programs such as the Diversity Oversight Committee and Podunk, a task force for the group’s smaller markets. NLGJA also posts job listings, events calendars and provides resources, such as an official LGBT style guide.

“And then there are the intangible benefits,” Salkin said. “It serves as a huge networking pool for our members and people who want to be members .… It provides you with someone who you can relate to as a fellow journalist who is out.”

NLGJA is especially student friendly. For an annual fee of $25 aspiring journalists can apply for scholarships and internships that are offered through the group. An Excellence in Student Journalism Award with $1,000 in prize money that student members can qualify for is offered. And perhaps most importantly, students can find professional mentors willing to share the experiences and challenges of being gay and working in a newsroom.

Much like gay journalists, Salt Lake has some stereotypes of its own to break. JoSelle Vanderhooft, NLGJA’s Utah representative and assistant city editor at QSaltLake, said the state’s reputation makes her somewhat of a “celebrity” at NLGJA conventions. “They say, ‘Wow, Utah. What’s that like,’” Vanderhooft said.   

What is Utah like?

As far as media coverage, QSaltLake and the Pillar are two examples LGBT media publications in the state.

In Vanderhooft’s opinion, KSTU FOX 13 has provided some of the best LGBT coverage in the state. However, a story by another Utah television station about gay men soliciting sex in Memory Grove, a park in Salt Lake City, warranted Vanderhooft’s harshest criticism.

“It was ridiculous. They made a lot of assumptions. If I had known about it I would’ve called NLGJA’s rapid response task force,” Vanderhooft said. The rapid response task force referring is a part of NLGJA that examines specific complaints from media consumers and journalists. 

Her criticism has nothing to do with sexual orientation. Vanderhooft said she felt the story did not have accurate sources. Vanderhooft fully believes a “straight” journalist is just as cable of covering the LGBT population as a “gay” journalist would be; it just takes a little more effort. “You’ve got to be educated. You’ve go to do your homework,” she said.

Gay or straight, bisexual or transgender, the fact is, a journalist is likely to be asked to cover a story involving the LGBT community at some point in his or her career. NLGJA is there to act as a watchdog, but more importantly, to help journalists make sure their coverage is accurate.

“We’re actually having conversations about gay marriage … it makes for a different newsroom,” Vanderhooft said. “Ultimately, I’m looking forward to the day we won’t need to say LGBT media and people just write about it.”