Friday, June 27, 2014

TOP STORY: Reporting the backlash on "Forcing the Spring"

LGBT media tackle community outrage over Jo Becker’s controversial book
by Chuck Colbert

The pushback was fierce and swift within the LGBT community against a Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times reporter, Jo Becker, and her new book, “Forcing the Spring: The Inside Fight for Marriage Equality.”

Not surprisingly, journalists, bloggers and LGBT media professionals were all over the story with reports and analysis.

Articles and book reviews ran in any number of LGBT media outlets, including Keen News Service clients: San Francisco-based Bay Area Reporter, Chicago-based Windy City Times; Michigan-based Between the Lines; Boston-based The Rainbow Times; Dallas Voice; South Florida Gay News; Arizona-based lgbtqnation.com; Nashville-based Out & About Newspaper; Atlanta-based Georgia Voice; and Gay San Diego.

Other LGBT outlets with notable coverage were Los Angles-based Frontiers Magazine; New York-based Gay City News; the Washington Blade; the Wisconsin Gazette; and San Diego LGBT Weekly.

Online-based media dealing with the kerfuffle included San Diego Gay and Lesbian News (sdgln.com) Queerty, Bilerico, LGBTQ Nation and Huffington Post Gay Voices.

For nearly all of Becker’s detractors’ outrage, the book’s opening sentences were a red-hot button pusher:

“This is how a revolution begins,” she wrote. “It begins when someone grows tired of standing idly by, waiting for history’s arc to bend toward justice, and instead decides to give it a swift shove. It begins when a black seamstress named Rosa Parks refuses to give up her seat on a bus to a white man in the segregated South. And in this story, it begins with a handsome, bespectacled 35-year-old political consultant named Chad Griffin, in a spacious suite at the Westin St. Francis hotel in San Francisco on election night 2008.”

Writing in the Dish, in an April 16 piece entitled “Jo Becker’s Troubling Travesty of Gay History,” Andrew Sullivan minced few words. “After that surreal opening, the book descends into more jaw-dropping distortion,” he wrote, noting any number of Becker’s other problematic claims, namely “that for years” the marriage equality movement was a cause that “had largely languished in obscurity.”

“The intellectual foundation of the movement is also non-existent in Becker’s book,” Sullivan charged. “More staggeringly, the critical, indispensable role of Evan Wolfson in pioneering this cause is actually treated with active contempt in the book.”

For Sullivan, “Then, the key question about this book is how on earth such a distorted and ahistorical and polemical attack on the architects of the marriage equality movement can have been written.”

“The answer,” according to Sullivan, “is access-journalism. It’s clear from the notes in the book that an overwhelming amount of the material comes from the sources she embedded herself with.”

In a similar vein, Gay City News (GCN) associated editor Duncan Osborne offered his corrective. “Let me first say what Jo Becker’s book ... is not,” he wrote in “A Contested Account of the Marriage Spring” (April 30). “Its title, promotional materials, and a few bits of errant prose notwithstanding, this book is not a history of the movement to win marriage rights for same-sex couples in America. It is the story of the lawsuit brought by the American Foundation for Equal Rights (AFER) that overturned Proposition 8, a 2008 California ballot initiative that amended the State Constitution to bar gay and lesbian couples from marrying there.”

The U.S. Supreme Court last June threw out Prop 8 on a technicality and same-sex marriage is now legal again in the Golden State.

Like Sullivan, Osborne pondered the craft of journalism. “Just as important, and as my Gay City News colleague Arthur S. Leonard has noted elsewhere, ‘Forcing the Spring’ is not even history; it is journalism and the only question that confronts us is whether this book is good journalism or bad journalism,” Osborne wrote. “I would say that the entire book is told from the plaintiffs’ perspective and that is a significant flaw in this story. The consequence is that ‘Forcing the Spring’ is a lot of cheerleading from start to finish. Cheerleading has been endemic in the mainstream and gay press coverage of the marriage movement for years, but the author takes it to a whole new level.”

As Osborne points out, “The marriage movement is run by lawyers, public relations experts,and political consultants.”

In Becker’s book, in fact some of the leading protagonists are — in addition to public relations and political strategist Griffin, now president of the Human Rights Campaign (since June 2012) — Hollywood actor and producer Rob Reiner, who along Griffin, co-founded the American Foundation for Equal Rights, which initiated the court challenge against California; AFER’s two star lawyers, the team of Ted Olsen and David Boies; and Republican political operative Ken Mehlman.

Therein lay the rub for Osborne. “To make her protagonists heroic, Becker renders Evan Wolfson, the founder of Freedom to Marry, a pro-marriage group, as an obstacle to progress in the marriage fight. This is ridiculous,” he wrote. “Wolfson was among the leading voices, if not the leading voice, that got LGBT legal groups into the marriage business in the first place.”

Also coming to mind are Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders’ Mary Bonauto, who won the right for gays to marry in Massachusetts’ historic Goodridge decision; Roberta Kaplan, who argued the Windsor case in front of the Supreme Court; and Andrew Sullivan, who as early as the late 1980s writing in The New Republic argued a conservative case for gay marriage 

“Ultimately,” Osborne concludes, “I wondered if Becker is telling an authentic story or if this book was just one more piece of the Gay Marriage: The Brand marketing campaign that was the Prop 8 trial. And so the answer to my colleague’s question is that this is bad journalism.”

What to make of all the uproar?

For all the LGBT communal outcry over Becker’s book, what are some takeaway messages for gay journalists in dealing with straight writers who pen accounts and histories of “our” movement?  What role can community-based journalists and bloggers play in — for lack of a better word — setting the historical record straight?

Veteran journalist Keen offered some thoughts. “LGBT journalists are vastly outnumbered and out-gunned by straight journalists who are writing our history,” she said. “News reporting really is a kind of ‘first draft of history,’ and straight people, especially those working for the Associated Press, are writing the lion's share of ours. There are many advantages to this: AP is everywhere and we and the general public are getting a vast deal more news about LGBT-related events now than ever before.”

Still, she added, “There are problems with it, too. Straight media seem to have either no understanding or no moral compunction about taking such shortcuts as calling things ‘gay marriage’ and ‘gay rights,’ things that don't exist. It's ‘marriage for gay people’ and ‘equal rights for gay people.’ The difference between those shortcuts and what our community is really fighting for is enormous; and straight media do us a great disservice when they leave the public with the impression that we're seeking something special. 

“It's also out of line for a straight person to designate who the LGBT movement's heroes are. It's fine when a New York Times reporter quotes Barney Frank as calling Mary Bonauto ‘our Thurgood Marshall.’ But it feels inappropriate for a New York Times reporter to simply anoint Bonauto the LGBT community's ‘Thurgood Marshall’ — and I think that's what some of the backlash against Jo Becker's book was about — that and the fact that she just really overstated Chad Griffin's contribution to the marriage equality movement.

“I don't think she needed to lay out the whole history of the marriage equality movement; that's a different book than what she was writing. I just think that, in her desire to write an opening that would draw readers into her story — which truly was filled with drama and historic significance — she tried the Rosa Parks analogy and it just doesn't fit.”

In addition to Keen News Service’s stories, other LGBT journalists contributed to the pool of reporting, analysis and book reviews.

Veteran journalist and Frontiers Magazine news editor Karen Ocamb said that she “appreciate[ed] the book Becker actually wrote, rather than the title the publishers want[ed] to sell her.” 

However, Ocamb continued in her April 28 Frontiers piece, “Jo Becker’s Prop. 8 Trial Book, ‘Forcing the Spring,’ is Hardly Dangerous Revisionism,” “I suspect the embedded journalist thought she was witnessing a birth-of-a-king moment. What she didn’t realize was that the LGBT community likes to do its own myth-making, and there hasn’t been a gay MLK yet.”
   
For his part in coverage of the Becker book flap, the Washington Blade’s Chris Johnson, chief political and White House reporter, got Becker on the record, asking her at a D.C. book signing if she thought criticism of her work was unfair.

To that question, Becker replied that the book is "one chapter in a much longer narrative."

"I chose to write about this chapter because it was a defining moment in the sense that there was a decision that was made to go to the federal courts — and that was not the consensus of the established gay rights legal groups who had been fighting this for years, who had given a great deal of thought to this," Becker said, quoted by Johnson in “Becker Defends her book during D.C. appearance” (April 28).

"The movie ending of this would have been the Supreme Court [issues a] 50-state ruling, everybody that brought this case gets what he or she wants," Becker continued. "It wasn't the ending that the people that I write about in the book wanted, but it was an ending that was very important to the people at [San Francisco] City Hall and as a result of this case, a fifth of the country has been able to resume ... having marriage equality."

Johnson also asked Becker if she had any conversations with Andrew Sullivan, a major critic of her book. Becker told Johnson that she had not spoken with him but had "put herself out there on forums and on TV."

"I think that ... criticism is of a book I didn't write," Becker said. "The criticism is how could I leave out characters, really important people, in the marriage equality movement. And the answer is I chose to write about this case and in this case and this litigation effort, they weren't a part of that."

Washington Blade editor Kevin Naff also took fingers to keyboard to weigh in on the controversy. “Much gnashing of teeth followed publication of the book. Part of the reason for the backlash is that the book played into a narrative of HRC swooping in at the 11th hour and taking credit for the work of grassroots activists. Many of them have complained (often privately and off the record, fearing retribution) of HRC’s tactics, from Maryland to Maine and California to New York,” he wrote in a May 8 opinion piece, “Gays behaving badly.”

“We all know the marriage equality movement didn’t start in 2008 with the Prop 8 case and that Griffin is no Rosa Parks. In fact, that case fell far short of its goals; it’s an odd choice for Becker’s grandiose claims,” Naff wrote. "As gays find increasing acceptance and move openly into the halls of power, we mustn’t forget our own history, as HRC bet wrongly we would in the case of Becker’s book. That history has always been about a shared responsibility for helping each other overcome discrimination and hate. We all stand on the shoulders of a generation of gay men who died and the LGBT survivors who took care of them.”

In a followup email correspondence, Naff added, “My take was that the reason [all of this] blew up in Chad Griffin's face is that the book plays into the narrative of HRC parachuting into situations at the 11th hour and claiming credit for the work of local grassroots activists. Remember, HRC opposed that Prop 8 lawsuit. Now they are raising money off of it. Typical HRC.”

During a West Coast book-signing event, Matthew Bajko, Bay Area Reporter (BAR) assistant news editor, also pressed Becker about criticism of her book in “Online Extra: Political Notes: Prop 8 lawsuit book author plugs tome in SF” (May 22).

Becker told him that if she had “planned to write a book about the decades-long fight to win marriage equality for LGBT Americans then, ‘the criticism out there would be fair. But that is not the book I set out to do.’”

She acknowledged to Bajko, "Many other people worked on this movement long before this story where I picked it up who should be celebrated. I hope those books will be written and I think they will be."

In addition, BAR ran a May 8 book review, “To the Barricades,” which concluded with taking Sullivan and Becker’s other big detractors to task.

“While Becker errs in not giving the many actors in this decades-long saga credit for their role in securing marriage benefits for LGBTs, the insider scenarios and intimate narratives of the principal players compensate for this lack,” wrote Brian Jackle. “Andrew, Michelangelo, Dan, and the rest of the LGBT PC/Gay Inc. bully brigade, please give Jo Becker a break!”

Yet another Becker defender offered her take.

“‘Forcing the Spring’ is a thrilling book. We know the ending and we still want to read every word,” wrote Torie Osborn for Huffington Post, “In Defense of Forcing the Spring: A Longtime Activist's Appraisal” (April 30). “So here's my message to the guys who piled on: It's A book, not THE book, on the Prop 8 fight. It's one bold chapter of our vibrant social movement history, told in vivid color and compelling detail.”

A former executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Center, Osborn continued, “We feel what the plaintiffs feel as their lives are splayed open by Supreme Court justices. We see the parade of witnesses (experts in sociology, history, psychology, economics and more) bearing and baring our collective truth, making the case for our humanity from every conceivable point of view. The proceedings in Judge Walker's courtroom were, indeed, an historic 'Truth Commission,' as Mary Bonauto called it. The weight of that truth, as presented in the book, was so powerful that the reader can actually experience how the pro-Prop 8 arguments withered away from the force of it. I've never read anything close to Becker's beautifully written account of such a sweeping indictment of any ‘ism.’”

TOP STORY
Volume 16
Issue 3

LGBT publication and state AIDS agencies launch HIV prevention campaign

by Chuck Colbert

Michigan’s Between The Lines newspaper, along with several non-profit groups working statewide to fight the HIV/AIDS epidemic, has launched a new social media and web campaign to draw attention to significant changes in HIV prevention and health-care sciences which are changing the fight against HIV/AIDS. 

At the heart of the campaign is a new website, PrEP4ITNow.com, which features videos of Michigan residents who have taken the HIV test, a call to join the new “rEVOLUTION” against HIV, and detailed information about new discoveries related to HIV prevention.

Drawing on a body of scientific literature, which has assessed many of the prevention options available to the public,  everything from chemoprophylaxis to behavior interventions to condoms, the site draws a direct connection between the necessity of HIV antibody testing and the fight against HIV. 

It is the first Michigan-based website to outline how recent scientific discoveries about HIV transmission can be applied to a ‘rEVOLUTIONARY’ change in the fight against the epidemic.

The new campaign features tweets, Facebook memes, and videos driving traffic to the website PrEP4ITNow.com (also PrEP4ITNow.Today). There, viewers will have the option to explore why testing is important, what science has taught us about HIV transmission, and what we now know works to prevent new infections. Initial videos promoting the new site feature local opinion leaders and drag performers. The videos have also been customized to promote HIV testing events in partner areas across the state.

The website and campaign were launched in honor of National HIV Testing Day, June 27, 2014.

“Too often, today, when we talk about HIV, we hear folks operating from an understanding of HIV which is two decades old – and completely wrong,” said Todd Heywood, who developed the project for Between The Lines. “This fundamental misunderstanding of HIV is actually resulting in more people – particularly men who have sex with men and transgender women – becoming infected. Prevention has to include access to up-to-date, scientifically accurate information. We can no longer afford to pretend that current prevention and intervention messaging, based on out-of-date science, works. It has become abundantly clear that messaging to men who have sex with men and transwomen has become too watered down to truly be effective. This is the result of state and federal obstacles. But with this program, AIDS service organizations will be able to promote direct, culturally sensitive messaging without running afoul of federal and state concerns, and we can actually drive the information necessary to change the landscape on HIV in our community."

Heywood is a freelance journalist and noted HIV/AIDS educator and activist.

Susan Horowitz, editor and publisher of Between The Lines, said the decision to sponsor and promote the program was an easy one.

“We made a commitment one year ago to make HIV an editorial priority,” she said. “We told our readers then we were doing it, and we are continuing. We believe this is an essential tool and message for our readers. We are exceedingly excited to be joined by AIDS service organizations across the state, and believe that shows this message and website are, in fact, going to be important tools in the fight against HIV.”

Horowitz cautioned, however, that the program would only be successful with the help of traditional media.

“Despite nearly two decades of science showing that having HIV is no longer a death sentence, media continue to paint the infection in that light. That, in turn, impacts American’s everyday understanding of HIV,” she said. “A Kaiser Family Foundation reports that 6 in 10 Americans get their information about HIV from the media. When the media is incorrectly reporting on the virus, is it any wonder the vast majority of Americans are also misinformed about the infection, treatment and prevention? Our hope is that traditional media outlets throughout Michigan will help us promote this new project so we can work together to provide clear, accurate information about HIV infection and prevention to the public.”

Several non-profit AIDS service organizations in Michigan have become partners with the new initiative, including Lansing Area AIDS Network, Red Project Grand Rapids, Wellness AIDS Services in Flint, Michigan AIDS Coalition in Detroit and Community AIDS Resources and Education Services of Kalamazoo and Benton Harbor.

“With the advent of prevention options like pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), a new understanding of HIV transmission and the science of caring for those already infected, we know that we can slow this virus down,” said  Dwayne Riley, prevention manager at Lansing Area AIDS Network.

“I think with the advent of PrEP, in combination with all the other science we have, it means we truly have reached a point of rEVOLUTIONARY choices,” said Teresa Spring, prevention manager at Wellness AIDS Services in Flint. “I am proud to add PrEP to the toolbox of options available to us, and satisfied we can finally have rational conversations about what our toolbox of options should consist of and what it looks like.”

For Ingham County Commissioner Todd Tennis, the new website promoting the science and evidence behind HIV prevention options is essential to ending the HIV crisis.

“We have seen revolutionary advances in medical science to combat HIV infection, but it is meaningless without rEVOLUTIONARY changes in our thinking and behavior,” said Tennis, who also serves as the vice chair of the Ingham County Commission Health Policy Committee. “We can finally make huge strides to reduce the prevalence of HIV, and this program is the first step.”

In mentioning PrEP, Riley and Spring were referring to a new intervention technique, which includes a new HIV drug, the anti-retroviral Truvada, which, if taken daily, has been shown through scientific studies to be 99 percent effective in preventing HIV transmission for those who are HIV-negative. That’s more effective than any other prevention option currently being used in the United States.

In addition, for those who are HIV-positive, treatment with a combination of anti-HIV drugs can reduce the viral load in that person’s blood to fewer than 28 viral particles per milliliter of blood. Studies show that suppressing the virus to that level reduces the potential to transmit HIV by 96 percent. In fact, public health officials have not documented a single case of a person with an undetectable or suppressed viral load transmitting the virus to another person.

IN THE NEWS
Volume 16
Issue 3

Rhode Island's Options teams with RI Pride

by Joe Siegel

Readers of Options, Rhode Island's veteran monthly LGBT publication, were given a huge surprise when the June issue arrived in their mailboxes.

In a unique move, the issue also doubled as the official 2014 Pridefest Guide. Printed on a heavier than normal paper stock, all of Options’ usual features were included as well as a schedule of Pridefest entertainers, a parade map and greetings from LGBT political leaders.

“The collaboration was the idea of Kurt Bagley, the president of RI Pride,” explained Options publisher Kyle McKendall. “I met with Kurt in the winter to talk about ways that our organizations could partner on the 2014 Pride Guide. Serving as the official guide to RI Pride's 2014 PrideFest and Illuminated Night Parade made so much sense.”

“[Former RI Pride President] Rodney Davis had spearheaded Pride Guide production for many years,” said Jennifer Stevens, Options' editor as well as the office manager for RI Pride. “When he stepped back, Kurt had the idea to collaborate with Options. Pride has always been a key contributor to Options, especially for the June issue, so it wasn't a huge leap.” 

The collaboration has been hugely beneficial for Options, according to McKendall.

“Options Magazine nearly tripled our print run, more than doubled the size of the publication, saw improvements in print and paper quality, and an increased circulation,” McKendall said. “Options [had] the strongest presence it has ever had at PrideFest and [was also] distributed at the Boston Pride parade.”

McKendall said that although the costs associated with the production of the June/Pride Guide issue were higher, “the substantial increase in advertising revenue for this issue offset these higher costs. This offset allows for a profitable issue, even with the increase in costs.”

Stevens said Options' deadlines corresponded with Pride's needs and as a result, RI Pride was able to release the Pride Guide earlier than in recent years.

“It also freed up time for Pride volunteers to prepare for the festival,” Stevens noted. “The Options crew has been coming out in force to Pride events and the collaboration is bringing new energy toward establishing the LGBT Community Center. The long-range vision is to share space and resources.” 

McKendall also feels the long-term impact on Options will be positive as a result of the partnership with RI Pride.

“We saw our highest invoiced issue of Options ever and were able to establish relationships with new advertisers,” McKendall said. “This partnership has given RI Pride a respected and reputable platform to deliver their information on, and has given Options a boost in readership and circulation.” 

The feedback from readers has also been favorable, according to Stevens, “The improved paper quality, compelling cover art and engaging editorial content has reengaged our subscribers and attracted new readers to pick up copies and share with friends.”

“Our June 2014 issue of Options is the best issue we've put out in a very long time,” McKendall added. “Aesthetically, editorially, financially, it's been a fantastic partnership. As our readers and community evolve, we must continue to adapt.” 

Stevens said another collaboration between Options and Pride is possible. “While an official decision by any board of directors has not been made, I'd like to say that a partnership on the 2015 Pride Guide is very likely,” Stevens said. “Both organizations have benefited from this partnership already, and it will continue to prove rewarding as we build upon this first year.”

IN THE NEWS
Volume 16
Issu 3

Washington Blade wins awards for excellence

by Chuck Colbert

Just in time for a noteworthy anniversary celebration, the Washington Blade won three first-place awards in the Dateline Awards competition sponsored by the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) D.C. chapter.

As publisher Lynne Brown commented regarding the timing of the awards, “The Blade is celebrating its 45th anniversary this year,” she said, quoted in the publication on June 12. “These awards demonstrate we haven’t let up in our commitment to quality journalism and to serving the local market.”

Joey DiGuglielmo, the publication’s features editor, won for best feature story in the weekly newspaper category for “Remembering Sean Sasser” (Sept. 18, 2013), a piece about the former “Real World” cast member who died last year.

“The piece goes beyond the usual ‘he was such a great guy and will be missed’ obit to include the significance of his TV appearance and the career he crafted for himself after the cameras move on,” the judges wrote.

DiGuglielmo also won best arts criticism for a piece on organ music in D.C. titled, “Dynamic differences” (Oct. 22, 2013).
Washington Blade Features Editor Joey DiGuglielmo (left)
with Blade Editor Kevin Naff

Yet another honor went to Blade editor Kevin Naff who won his eighth SPJ award, taking first place in the editorial writing category for a piece titled, “Victory, vindication and tears” (June 27, 2013) — about last year’s U.S. Supreme Court rulings in the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and Prop 8 cases.

“The editorial has a sound analysis of the court’s opinion and asks readers to contemplate several ‘tantalizing questions for the future’ of gay rights in states without marriage-equality laws,” the judges wrote.

Naff begin his opinion piece this way: “For those of us old enough to remember the passage of the Defense of Marriage Act — and then-President Bill Clinton’s craven boasting about it in Christian radio ads during the 1996 campaign — this week brought vindication, a victory unimaginable just a few years ago and more than a few tears of joy.”

As Naff explained concerning the significance of the Court’s DOMA ruling, “It’s a refreshing and honest take on the impact of DOMA, which has stigmatized gay and lesbian couples for 17 years and done real harm to our families. Kennedy’s opinion at long last recognizes this basic fact. The stories of DOMA’s impact on our community have formed the basis for literally hundreds of Blade stories over the years. Many of those stories involve serious life-changing consequences as in survivors like the courageous Edith Windsor facing financial ruin after the death of a partner. But those dark days are over. Kennedy touches on the broad reach of the decision in his opinion.”

In his piece, Naff also took on Justice Antonin Scalia for what Naff calls Scalia’s “overwrought and predictably curmudgeonly dissent,” which he fears is judicial overreach. “It is an assertion of judicial supremacy over the people’s Representatives in Congress and the Executive. It envisions a Supreme Court standing (or rather enthroned) at the apex of government, empowered to decide all constitutional questions, always and everywhere ‘primary’ in its role.” Scalia, Naff wrote, “goes on to say the question of same-sex marriage ‘should be resolved primarily at the state level.’

“That is now an open question, as same-sex couples in California rejoin the growing group of now 13 states and D.C. that have enacted marriage equality. Will a gay couple in Texas sue the government for marriage rights? Has Kennedy set the stage for a Loving v. Virginia-type showdown for the gay community?”

IN THE NEWS
Volume 16
Issue 3

PRESSING QUESTIONS: Living Out of Long Island, N.Y.

by Joe Siegel

Geographic coverage area: Long Island including Fire Island and The Hamptons. Distribution also includes Penn Station in Manhattan and the borough of Queens.

Year founded: 2012

Staff size and breakdown [writers, sales reps., etc.]: 4 full-time employees, 10 writers and 2 sales reps.

Physical dimensions of publication: 9.75” x 12.5”

Average page count: 44

Key demographics: 45% of Living Out’s readership is between 35-44, 25% between 25-34, 17% 55+ and 13% between 18-24 with an even split on gender.

Print run: 15,000 monthly


*****

Press Pass Q: What part of Living Out is the most popular? 

Publisher David Kilmnick: There is no one “most popular” part of Living Out. Feedback from readers indicates an even split between enjoying the vast amount of news provided, both local, international and national, the thought provoking op-ed pieces, travel columns, Be Scene photo section and celebrity interviews, and arts and culture. We continually receive great feedback about the design and layout of the publication as well.

PPQ: Who came up with the name for the publication? 

Kilmnick: Sitting around a small round table brainstorming for hours,  a group of four including myself as publisher, the editor and art director came up with the concept and name. The premise of Living Out is the “LI” in the beginning and OUT at the end. Long Island is a fascinating place to live with no “gayborhood.” Long Island’s LGBT community is integrated into all towns, cities and villages and we wanted folks to be able to walk into their local grocery or drug store, pick up an LGBT publication and be able to live “out” and “proud” no matter whether they resided on the New York City border in Mineola or 120 miles further east on the tip in Montauk. 

PPQ: What challenges has your publication had to overcome? 

Kilmnick: The biggest challenges we had to overcome was the expansive geographic area we cover. Long Island is home to more than 3 million people and is the largest contiguous island in the United States. Having the publication accessible to all of Long Island was very important to us and we have been able to achieve that. 

PPQ: How has your publication changed since it was first launched? 

Kilmnick: The biggest change that we made since we first launched in 2012 was taking over operations of printing and distribution ourselves. Initially we worked with a local alternative weekly paper to handle the printing and distribution for us. Another change was having to increase the print run as Living Out flies off the racks. 

PPQ: What one change would you like to make? 

Kilmnick: The biggest change we would like to make is actually an addition. We are working on developing a home subscription program to give the option for people to receive Living Out in their mailbox.

PPQ: Do you see yourself as an 'activist journalist'? If so, in what way? 

Kilmnick: The very nature of reporting and providing information that others are afraid to touch or cannot do so competently makes us activist journalists. We embrace and celebrate the term as we are creating change and challenging minds through Living Out.

PPQ: What's the most surprising feedback you've received from a reader? 

Kilmnick: The most surprising feedback from a reader was around our fourth issue. With Living Out being a 100 percent LGBT publication and after featuring Adam Levine, Lisa Lampanelli and Barbra Streisand on the cover of the first three issues of the publication, it did not occur to us that we had not featured an LGBT person on the cover until one of our readers wrote to us inquiring about why this was the case.

PPQ: What is the biggest story Living Out has reported on? 

Kilmnick: The biggest story that we have reported on was our own Long Island hometown hero Edie Windsor, as she single handedly took down the Defense of Marriage Act winning her case in the U.S. Supreme Court and forever changing the lives of tens of thousands of families across the nation.

PPQ: What advice do you have for others working in LGBT media? 
Kilmnick: The advice that we would have to offer in our young history is that there still is a thirst for an LGBT publication that people can hold in their hands. The visibility of LGBT media goes beyond providing information and news. It provides a sense of community and belonging and it helps to educate the masses and change lives for many individuals and families.
PRESSING QUESTIONS
Volume 16
Issue 3

TRANSITIONS AND MILESTONES

(What’s happening at your publication? Let us know at editor@presspassq.com.)

DIANE ANDERSON-MINSHALL, Editor at Large for THE ADVOCATE and ADVOCATE.COM, is a finalist in the 56th California Journalism Awards, which honor the best in broadcast, print and online media. She is competing in the Online Feature Writing category for her article, “Remembering the Worst Mass Killing of LGBT People in U.S. History” (http://www.advocate.com/crime/2013/11/15/remembering-worst-mass-killing-lgbt-people-us-history).

#BOOM MAGAZINE, based in St. Louis, debuted online at BOOMMAGSTL.COM on June 17, 2014.

GoPride Corp. President
R. Matthew Inawat
CHICAGOPRIDE.COM, part of the GO PRIDE NETWORK, celebrated its 12th anniversary on June 19, 2014.

DESERT OUTLOOK, based in Palm Springs, Calif., celebrated its second anniversary with its April 2014 issue.

FRONTIERS MEDIA, based in Los Angeles, and West Hollywood Mayor JOHN D’AMICO presented a roundtable of LGBT mayors from across the United States on June 6, 2014. Frontiers News Editor KAREN OCAMB moderated the gathering of openly gay municipal leaders at the West Hollywood City Council Chambers. Confirmed guests included Mayor JERRY PIERCE of Valley Mills, Texas; Mayor RON STROUSE of Doylestown, Penn.; and Mayor RICH WATERMAN of Campbell, Calif.

GLENN GULLICKSON, managing editor of Phoenix-based ECHO MAGAZINE, won the Community Journalist of the Year Award presented by the Arizona Press Club at a ceremony on May 31.

James A. Grady
THE MONTROSE STAR, based in Houston, Texas, entered its fifth year of publication with its April 9, 2014, issue.

OUT & ABOUT NASHVILLE has named two top journalists to lead the publication as it begins its 12thyear in publication. On June 1, 2014, JAMES A. GRADY took over as Managing Print Editor and JOSEPH BRANT will head all digital efforts as Managing Digital Editor. Grady has been a volunteer writer with the newspaper for the past year and will oversee the print publication, including setting the creative and editorial direction. Brant worked with the newspaper from 2003 to 2008 as a senior writer, reporter and columnist. He will oversee all digital properties including the website, Facebook page (now close to 7,000 followers), Twitter (2,313 followers) and its weekly email newsletter.OUTSMART MAGAZINE, based in Houston, Texas, celebrated its 20th anniversary with its April 2014 issue.
MATTHEW PIZZUTI has stepped down as editor of Denver-based OUTFRONT COLORADO after three years at the helm.

QUORUM COLUMBUS, based in Ohio, celebrated its first anniversary with its April 2014 issue.

TRANSITIONS AND MILESTONES
Volume 16
Issue 3

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Florida publisher, a formerly closeted athlete, pens memoir

by Chuck Colbert

Publishers of LGBT publications come from any number of backgrounds, including activism, journalism, law and business. But none has yet to come to gay media publishing quite like an acclaimed former professional tennis coach.

Meet Bobby Blair, publisher of Ft. Lauderdale-based Florida Agenda and Guy Magazine, and now author of “Hiding Behind the Baseline,” a coming out memoir about a closeted gay athlete and coach in the 1980s and 1990s.
Blair was a top-ranked junior and collegiate player who went professional for five years and then enjoyed a successful coaching career.

“I spent so many years in the closet during my tennis career as a player and a coach,” he said during a recent phone interview, “and all during that time I was completely in hiding and living straight and dating girls. I just felt that had I just come out, I would have been able to do so much in those days to make a difference.”
Florida Agenda publisher, and author of
"Hiding Behind the Baseline,"
Bobby Blair

As Blair started to come out in Ft. Lauderdale, he realized, “I had such an interesting story to tell, and I felt I could help people not to waste their lives away. Here I was, in my forties and not living my truth, not living an honest life. I felt, how can I be a credible and legitimate publisher, how could I make a difference in the LGBT community? How could I reach out to straight people who have gay kids and family members, gay friends, gay employers or employees? How could I help make a difference toward equality and acceptance?”

Altogether, Blair said of his motivation for writing “Hiding Behind the Baseline,” “What is the best way for me to apologize to the LGBT community for not being out, for not being a role model for all those years? I could have made a difference. I wasn’t going to make the same mistake twice and just be a low-profile publisher.”

And so, “I decided to tell my story, and it made a real difference.”

Released earlier this year by Making a Difference Publishing, “Hiding Behind the Baseline” chronicles the decades long struggles and turmoil — if not inner angst — inherent in inauthentic living.

And yet, as the book’s promotional literature puts it, “This story has the star power and life lessons to empower and inspire LGBT athletes to live their truth, while also encouraging family, friends, teachers, coaches, sponsors and the fans to better understand the importance to accept and embrace all people as they strive to achieve their goals personally and professionally while living their truth.”

Reviewers of the book agree, noting the power and reach of “Hiding Behind the Baseline” goes well beyond the sport of tennis.

LZ Granderson, an openly gay journalist and commentator for CNN and ESPN, offered his thoughts in a short statement. “It is said that courage isn’t the absence of fear but the fortitude to confront fear. And as long as homophobia continues to be an accepted element of the locker room culture and homophobic language a coach’s motivational tool, we can never dismiss the courage it takes for an athlete, on any level, to be openly gay. Bobby Blair may not be a household name, but his journey — from frightened collegiate athlete to empowered advocate — is one that has an important lesson for anyone who believes in the unifying power of sports.”

Billie Jean King, a former World No. 1 professional tennis player, also voiced praise. “Bobby Blair is committed to providing a safe and confidential support team for LGBT athletes around the globe and by sharing his own experiences and showing how important it is to live your truth. I know he will make a major impact in the lives of those he reaches through his foundation and his new book.”

Through Blair’s foundation, he has launched a mentoring program that will assist and guide LGBT athletes in pursuit of living their truth. In other words, the program aims to assist athletes in the coming out process.

In anguishing over coming out or not, Blair did not want to let anyone down. “My uncle, Dick Rosenthal, was the athletics director at Notre Dame. He married my dad’s sister, and so I could not let my Catholic family down, didn’t want to let my uncle down,” said Blair. “There were so many things gnawing at me. I didn’t want to disrespect my mother who died of cancer when I was 18 and was an incredible Catholic. I never wanted to let my sick mom down with this truth of being gay,” Blair added, pointing to a chapter in the book that deals with that piece of his life story.
Sure enough, along the way, the messages from Catholicism were not helpful to a young man trying to find his way. “I just heard [homosexuality] was a sin and mental sickness,” said Blair.  

The effect of Catholic Church negativity on him, he said, “Guilty, guilty, guilty. I felt so wrong. I felt dirty. I felt like I was going to hell. And I felt like I wasn’t a good person.”

Over time, despite his “childhood upbringing,” Blair came to see “there is no way God would create me and give me the talents he gave me not to enjoy the fruits of heaven.”

Nonetheless, he said, “I still deal with that, and it takes all in my power to believe that I will go to heaven. It took a long time to believe that.”

These days, Blair’s faith “is stronger than ever as I finally believe I am living the life God gave me. What got me through tough times was Robert Schuller in younger years and today Joel Osteen,” both televangelists.
In all, “There were so many reasons that I didn’t come out, and they are all explained in the book,” said Blair.
But for one thing, he is perhaps most grateful. That is the love and support of his famed tennis coach Nick Bollettieri, whom “I loved so much and [who] took me from my home at age 14 when my mom was dying of cancer and my dad was broke and gave me a life before I was anybody on this planet,” said Blair. “For a tough-as-nails military guy and a hard-core personality male, to say ‘I love you and don’t give a crap [that you are gay],’ that changed my life. Nick was not the only person who loved and embraced me on this planet for who I am, but his OK gave me the biggest sigh of relief and boost to live my truth.”

Consequently, “I could live my life with my head on my shoulders.”

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