Monday, May 18, 2015

Supreme coverage of marriage equality case

And just how will Chief Justice John Roberts vote?
by Chuck Colbert

There were two questions before the U.S. Supreme Court on April 28 during oral arguments in the case Obergefell v. Hodges: Does the U.S. Constitution require states to “license a marriage between two people of the same sex” and must states “recognize a marriage between two people of the same sex when their marriage was lawfully licensed and performed out of state.”

Inside and outside the courtroom, gay media were on hand to cover yet another historic moment in the legal struggle for full LGBT equality.

As veteran journalist Lisa Keen, founder and chief correspondent for Keen News Service, explained in her coverage, “For two and a half hours — more than twice the time most cases get — an animated bench grilled attorneys for same-sex couples and the four states that seek to ban their marriages.” The four states are: Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee.

Keen News Service (KNS) provides gay content for LGBT publications nationwide. All seven of the service’s clients used KNS oral arguments coverage pieces, including San Francisco-based Bay Area Reporter, Dallas Voice, Atlanta-based GA Voice, Michigan-based Pride Source, South Florida Gay News and Chicago-based Windy City Times.

Mary Bonauto
of GLAD
Keen also wrote a preview piece for the Boston Globe on Mary Bonauto, lead attorney for marriage equality, and a piece detailing Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey’s amicus brief to the court. Healey is the nation’s first openly gay state attorney general.

All said and done, Keen noted in a subsequent analysis piece, “The U.S. Supreme Court has almost certainly made its decision about the right to marry for same-sex couples. The justices met in private conference Friday, May 1, and took a vote. They have until June 30 to issue their decision. Most legal observers who watched or listened to the oral arguments from April 28 in Obergefell v. Hodges … predict Justice Anthony Kennedy will vote with the court's liberal wing and find the bans unconstitutional. A few, like UC Irvine School of Law Professor Erwin Chemerinsky, believe the vote could even be 6-3, with Chief Justice John Roberts on board.”

In his coverage for Buzz Feed, Chris Geidner made the same observation concerning Kennedy and Roberts.

Asked about her approach in covering oral arguments and what's at stake for LGBT people, Keen said in an email, “I looked at the potential for the decision to reach beyond the question of state bans on same-sex marriage and perhaps affect anti-gay laws in a number of contexts, including public accommodations. … Many legal observers believed there was a real potential the court could stipulate what level of scrutiny to apply to gay-specific laws. After the April 28 argument, nobody really expects that to happen anymore.

“I think for the mainstream media, the key question is simply marriage: will gays be allowed to marry? But for LGBT people, this decision has concrete legal implications beyond marriage and the significant potential of saying to LBGT opponents wherever they want to battle that society won't tolerate this kind of blatant discriminatory treatment of our LGBT sisters and brothers.”

Her coverage differs from mainstream reporting, Keen said, insofar as “a lot of media have reported this as ‘gay marriage’ trying to enter the arena with ‘straight marriage,’ but I see the conflict as being about gay couples seeking the license, benefits and dignity of ‘marriage’ the same as straight couples. Straight media sees ‘gay marriage’ and ‘marriage.’ I see ‘marriage.’”

Keen’s analysis piece dealt with how Chief Justice Roberts might vote.

“Those who think Roberts could join a majority to strike down the laws were heartened by a question he posed to the attorney defending Michigan's ban, John Bursch.

“‘I'm not sure it's necessary to get into sexual orientation to resolve the case,’ said Roberts. ‘I mean, if Sue loves Joe and Tom loves Joe, Sue can marry him and Tom can't. And the difference is based upon their different sex. Why isn't that a straightforward question of sexual discrimination?’

“If the court decided state bans on same-sex marriage constitute sex discrimination, ‘then I can promise you that lawyers in almost any case where a law discriminates against gay people will make the argument that the law constitutes unconstitutional sex discrimination,’ said Roberta Kaplan, who argued on behalf of Edith Windsor in the 2013 case that struck down a key provision of the Defense of Marriage Act.

“‘On the other hand, there is always a bit of a disconnect with this argument, particularly when it's clear that the law at issue was passed to treat people differently based on their sexual orientation, not their gender,’ she added.

“For instance, Kaplan said she would be surprised if a ruling in Obergefell will stop the passage of the growing number of laws attempting to provide a religious exemption for businesses to discriminate against LGBT people. The impact of those ‘religious freedom’ laws, she said, is going to be ‘hotly litigated, no matter what.’”

In his reporting, Washington Blade reporter Chris Johnson also noted Roberts’ raising the issue of sex discrimination. In subsequent reporting he also wrote about the possibility of the Supreme Court ruling against same-sex marriage advocates, ruling in favor of marriage equality, and the White House’s confidence in arguments favoring marriage. U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli argued in favor of marriage equality.

Outside the Supreme Court, Blade reporter Michael K. Lavers covered the scene of advocates and detractors of equal marriage rights. There, lead attorney for marriage equality, Mary Bonauto of Boston-based Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, told reporters after oral arguments, “Today was a great day for equality at the U.S. Supreme Court.”

Lavers also reported on advocates awaiting the outcome of marriage in the Supreme Court.

The Advocate provided comprehensive coverage of oral arguments (Sunnivie Brydum, with Lucas Grindley and Neal Broverman contributing) and Washington, D.C.’s Metro Weekly (John Riley and Randy Shulman) had a presence at the court and provided coverage.

Arthur S. Leonard provided coverage of oral arguments for New York City’s Gay City News. Like other legal observers, Leonard believes Kennedy will go with the court’s liberal wing in favor of marriage equality.

Leonard wrote, “An adverse ruling on Question 1 –– the right to marry question –– would be a daunting proposition liable to generate frenzied litigation over the status of thousands of marriages performed in the 18 states where same-sex couples first became eligible to wed after October 6.

“Viewed from that perspective, it seems highly likely Kennedy will overcome any qualms he might have about suddenly abandoning ‘millennia’ of different-sex marriage traditions in favor of avoiding the harms suffered by same-sex couples and their children –– in terms of financial and emotional well-being and dignity –– when their families are denied the benefits of marriage.”

TOP STORY
Volume 17
Issue 2

Bilerico editor steps down citing financial reasons

by Chuck Colbert

The editor in chief of The Bilerico Project has stepped down.

Writing on the popular blog on May 5, John Becker said, “I'm incredibly grateful to my dear friends Bil Browning [Bilerico co-founder and publisher] and Jerame Davis for giving me the opportunity to take the reins at Bilerico. It's been an amazing ride — we've gone from the East Room of the White House to the Values Voter Summit, and the embassy of Brunei to the U.S. Supreme Court, all while providing daily breaking LGBT news and long-form analysis from across the country and around the world.”

John Becker
But as Becker explained, “The reason I'm stepping down is simple: money. Running Bilerico is a full-time job — you’re basically on-call 24/7 — but without the pay to match. During my time as editor, I'm proud to say that we increased traffic, reader engagement and social media reach. My work has largely been a labor of love and while it's been an amazing ride, it's just not sustainable. I'm stepping away in order to focus on finding a new job.”

News of Becker’s departure comes nine months after he had sounded a warning bell, asking readers and fans for financial support in a fundraising appeal.

A more recent appeal asked 50 of Bilerico’s most dedicated fans to give $5 a month for a year. So far, 15 readers have agreed. Thanks to other readers, the site has raised over $800 in one-time donations.

Earlier this year, Bilerico archives became part of a Smithsonian collection.

The Bilerico Project (www.bilerico.com) celebrated its 10th anniversary last September. The name Bilerico is a combination of its founder’s first name (Bil) and the first name of Browning’s college friend, Eric Muramatsu.

In addition to his editorial position at Bilerico, Becker has appeared as a guest commentator on major news and political shows, including ABC’s World News Tonight, Nightline, and Good Morning America; NBC’s Today Show; CNN's Newsroom; Fox’s Alan Colmes Show; MSNBC’s Ed Schultz Show and Live with Al Sharpton; and the Associated Press Television Network. A native of Wisconsin, Becker is also an accomplished classical musician. He holds a master of music degree in vocal performance.

IN THE NEWS
Volume 17
Issue 2

New Washington Blade campaign promotes LGBT-friendly businesses

by Chuck Colbert

In response to efforts in various states to pass laws enabling discrimination against LGBT patrons, the Washington Blade recently launched a campaign to spotlight LGBT-friendly businesses in the District of Columbia. 

The Blade formally launched its LGBT Welcoming Business initiative on March 16 at Duke’s Grocery. The launch included representatives of the D.C. Mayor’s Office of LGBT Affairs; D.C. Department of Small and Local Business Development; Stephen Rutgers, director of sales and marketing for the Blade; and local community business leaders.

As Blade writer Michael K. Lavers’ reporting of the launch noted, “The D.C. Mayor’s Office of LGBT Affairs, the Capital Area Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington, the D.C. Department of Small and Local Business Development and City Center D.C. have partnered with the Blade on the ‘LGBT Welcoming Business’ campaign.'”

“A lot of people aren’t out, and a lot of people just aren’t at that point where they’re being comfortable being out,” said Stephen Rutgers, director of sales and marketing for the Blade, quoted in Lavers’ story. “So that’s why we’ve created the program so people can go into businesses that market to them, feel comfortable, feel safe in going in there and spend money.”

Daniel Kramer of Duke’s Grocery spoke at the launch. “We’re proud to be part of this community,” he told the Blade. “We’re really happy to be a part of this initiative.”

Sheila Alexander-Reid, director of the D.C. Mayor’s Office of LGBT Affairs, also spoke. “We want to make sure that our community not only knows they are welcome, but also that business leaders understand the value of the gay dollar and the power of the dollar,” she said.

According to the campaign’s website, washingtonblade.com/business, establishments joining the initiative “will avoid heterosexist assumptions, confront homophobia and use inclusive language.” Campaign members “believe that their business is enriched by the inclusion of LGBT people.”

Placement of the “LGBT Welcoming Business” logo in their window or website “indicates the establishment is working to create a ‘safe space’ for LGBT patrons.” Businesses that join the welcoming campaign will receive a free window-cling logo.

Altogether, the welcoming campaign is a “way for businesses to highlight their appreciation for all customers regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation.”

“We are excited to launch a new program for D.C. businesses to highlight their support for the LGBT community,” said Blade publisher Lynne Brown, quoted on the welcoming business campaign’s website. “When a member of the community sees this logo in the window, it should make them feel welcome.”

"The LGBT Welcoming Business campaign has gotten off to a strong start with just over 100 local businesses participating and displaying the program's decal in their window," said Blade marketing director Rutgers in an email. "We look forward to growing the program and encourage businesses everywhere to embrace the LGBT market."

Bob Witeck, president and founder of D.C.-based Witeck Communications, Inc., offered his perspective. “For the past 25 years, I’ve worked with business leaders and companies large and small,” he said. “Experience tells me business is a natural ally for the LGBT community, and the Washington Blade’s campaign is perfectly targeted to grow that idea. On the cusp of marriage equality, especially when anti-gay fervor wants to adopt so-called religious freedom laws, businesses are smart to freshen their welcome mat. All of us want to feel comfortable where we live and shop, and no business owner can really afford to lose any customers. As soon as I heard about the campaign, I signed up too and plan to encourage every business I know to do so.”

Witeck Communications provides strategic public relations and marketing communications services for corporate and non-profit clients.

As Lavers’ reporting indicated, campaigns are underway in other states. “Equality Virginia, Equality North Carolina and South Carolina Equality in January launched a campaign designed to highlight LGBT-friendly businesses in their respective states. More than 1,000 businesses in Mississippi and around the country last year joined a campaign against a state law they contend allows business owners to deny services to LGBT people based on their religious beliefs.”

Business owners who want to join the LGBT Welcoming Business campaign can sign up at washingtonblade.com/business.

IN THE NEWS
Volume 17
Issue 2

In a first for LGBT media, Washington Blade sends reporter to Cuba

by Chuck Colbert

The Washington Blade has sent a news reporter to Cuba to cover LGBT life on the island, six months after President Obama began normalizing relations with the country.

The assignment is believed to be the first time an LGBT media outlet has gone to Cuba.

The Washington Blade's
Michael Lavers
The Blade’s Michael Lavers was in Cuba from May 12-19, traveling across the country to interview LGBT rights advocates in Havana, Cienfuegos and Las Tunas. The Blade covered events around the annual International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia that the National Center for Sexual Education (CENESEX) is organizing.

The Cuba trip is part of the Blade's ongoing commitment to in-depth coverage of international LGBT issues. Lavers has reported on LGBT-specific issues in Cuba for many years and has reported from Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Colombia, Peru and the Netherlands for the Blade.

“Cuba’s LGBT history is a complicated one but the country is taking some important steps forward,” said Blade editor Kevin Naff in a press release. “It was a no-brainer for us to travel there to help tell the stories of the LGBT community.”

"Cuba remains a dynamic and complicated country, and it’s important to travel to the island and report on its LGBT rights movement,” said Lavers in a statement. “I am honored and excited to have the opportunity to share it.”

IN THE NEWS
Volume 17
Issue 2

Here Media launches new social network

by Chuck Colbert

Here Media Inc. has launched the new social network Pride.com, “a content and conversation destination where pride belongs to everyone,” according to a press release. “Pride.com gives millennials new tools to amplify their digital voices, raise their social profiles, and lead inspiring conversations fuelled by timely, entertaining content.”

“Our mission is to create fun and entertaining content for a new generation of LGBTs and their social circles, as well as be a place for positive, inspiring conversation,” explained Robert Hebert, Here Media’s director of consumer marketing, in a statement. “Pride.com will promote emerging voices and move the culture forward through stories and videos that our audience is proud to engage with and share.” 

Pride.com’s “priority is to report on currently trending topics and prominently features user-submitted comments, content, and photography. In addition, Pride.com publishes bite-sized stories, clever and comical listicles, and original video content — all connected to top-trending hashtags,” according to a press release.  

Pride.com was developed by Livefyre, a San Francisco-based technology company. “The site uses real-time interactions to inform its editorial focus and promotion, leveraging conversations to create real-time social experiences. Members use their existing Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, or Google+ profiles to instantly log in and engage with other members around the content that matters most to them,” according to the press release. 

"Sharing our content helps you be proud of who you are, no matter which social media account you're using, because Pride.com reflects your life,” said Here Media editorial director Lucas Grindley in a statement. “So many people have told us during the conception of Pride.com that, finally, here's a site that truly reflects who I am and what I love. Pride.com isn't just for one kind of person; it is for everyone." 

The launch of Pride.com on May 11 was an effort to “bolster Here Media’s reach to millennials and complements its existing family of iconic media brands, including The Advocate, OUT, Gay.com, and Here TV, among others," according to the press release.

“We already have the strongest brands in the market reaching an established LGBT audience,” said Joe Landry, Here Media executive vice president, in a statement. “This new product reaches a new audience in the voice and format in which they consume media. Ultimately, the platform is for all equality-minded 20-somethings with interest in content presented through an LGBT lens. We have had a very strong response from the advertising market in pre-launch and expect the launch of Pride.com to be wildly successful.” 

IN THE NEWS
Volume 17
Issue 2

PGN wins a slew of awards, again

by Chuck Colbert

Philadelphia Gay News (PGN) has done it again, recently winning a slew of awards from the Local Media Association and five from the Society of Professional Journalists.

“Please note that those awards represent almost all the departments here at PGN,” said publisher Mark Segal, writing in his “Mark My Words” column on April 30. “It’s why I am so proud of each and every one who works so hard each week to put out a product that not only we can take pride in, but is worthy of being published in the nation’s most LGBT-friendly city.

“While we’re proud of the awards we get from LGBT organizations, we are most proud of those we get from non-LGBT journalism media or press associations because we’re up against every weekly, or in some cases every newspaper, in the nation. And in that field, we can easily say we are the most award-winning newspaper for the LGBT community in the nation, period.”

Here is a list of the accolades:

• Community Service Award, third place

• Best Special Section, second place: World AIDS Day Supplement

• Best Opinion Column, second place: Mark My Words

• Best Breaking News Story, first place: “Pennsylvania Says ‘I Do’”

• Best Breaking News Story, honorable mention: “PA Treasurer Enters Marriage Fray”

• Best Local Election Coverage, second place: Philadelphia 2014 Primary Election

• Best Front Page, second place

• Best Non-Page One Layout, second place: Arts & Culture Feature    Story 

• Best Coverage Life Under 30, first place: LGBTQ Youth Supplement

• Best Arts & Entertainment Feature Writing, second place: “Meshell Ndegeocello’s New Album Burns Bright”

• Best Arts & Entertainment Writing, honorable mention: “Runaways Singer to Perform in Philly”

• Photo Story, first place: Philly Pride 2014 by Scott A. Drake

• Spot News Story, first place: “Pennsylvania Says ‘I Do’” by    
Jen Colletta, Angela Thomas, Scott A. Drake and Sean Dorn

• Editorial Writing, second place: Jen Colletta

• Spot News Story, second place: “City Mourns LGBT
director Gloria Casarez” by Jen Colletta and Sarah Blazucki

• Commentary, third place: “Mark My Words” by Mark Segal

In addition to these 16 recent awards, Segal noted, “Scott A. Drake received the SPJ's 2014 Sigma Delta Chi Award for Sports Photography — a first for any LGBT publication in this category. The Sigma Delta Chi Awards date back to 1932 and are among the premiere prizes given for professional journalism.”

Segal noted that last year, PGN was the first media for the LGBT community to win the Investigative journalism award along with the Wall Street Journal.

IN THE NEWS
Volume 17
Issue 2

Baltimore paper gives voice to activists in coverage of riots

by Chuck Colbert

Mainstream print and broadcast media were all over the death of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old African American, an incident that wreaked havoc on Baltimore.  Arrested by police on April 12, Gray suffered spinal chord injuries in police custody while being transported to a trauma center. He developed a coma and died on April 19, with his death attributed to those injuries.

What ensued were first peaceful protests and marches against police action (Saturday, April 25) and then rioting and looting of businesses (Monday, April 27), all of which played out on national television.

As LGBT residents and businesses were affected by the turmoil, Baltimore OutLoud provided coverage by contacting local activists, particularly people of color, for their reaction to the unfortunate situation.

“Clearly, there is anger and frustration,” wrote Steve Charing in a 1,300-word piece. “Some prefer peaceful solutions; others are more militant.”

Here is a sampling of local reaction:

* Joel Tinsley-Hall, the first ever African-American executive director of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center of Baltimore and Central Maryland (GLCCB), told Baltimore OutLoud that Gray’s death “goes beyond police brutality.” He explained, “As far as the events since Mr. Gray’s death, I fully support the peaceful protests. Through peaceful means we can begin good conversations that will bring forth real solutions to address a broken system. A system that for too long has held in place lines of separation between various groups based on race, ethnicity, age, sexual identity, and orientation and the list goes on.

“I, of course, condemn those who brought violence to the streets of our city. That is not the path to healing our city and certainly does not do justice to the memory of Freddie Gray. The ‘thugs’ as Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake called them are bringing even greater harm. The result of their actions is a further marginalization of the very people and neighborhoods we need to be building up.”

* Carlton Smith, the executive director at the Center for Black Equity Baltimore and community leader at Moving Maryland Forward Network, told Baltimore OutLoud, “Peaceful demonstrations are a significant part of black history. I’m very devastated by the activities of this week and the media also reporting on riots. Especially, when there were peaceful protesters and marchers who participate in their civil rights movement. Baltimore is not Ferguson! All lives matter, especially black LGBTQ lives.

“Constantly, our lives go unnoticed because of who we love. Mia Henderson and so many other black trans individuals’ lives were taken by ruthless criminals and yet the black community didn’t even budge on her murder.

“The LGBTQ community still protests peacefully without tearing down the city. We are still waiting to hear about her murder. We must have communications with our civic leaders and community stakeholders to set the change we believe that needs to happen without riots. We are civil servants here to serve all of humanity.”

* Jabari Lyles, the co-chair and education manager for GLSEN Baltimore, a resident of Reservoir Hill near “ground zero” voiced anger. “I am sad, and I am also fed up,” he told Baltimore OutLoud.  “The problems that caused the civil unrest in Baltimore on Monday and last week are problems that have been facing our nation for centuries. I stand with anyone who is ready to address our deeply entrenched tradition of structural and systemic violence against black people in America.

“It is time for us as social justice advocates and activists, the ones who accurately interpret systemic oppression, to merge our movements, and realize that we are all up against the same wielding power and privilege that continues to limit the idea that we, minorities and allies alike, are secondary citizens fighting for benign causes.”

* Carrie Evans, executive director of Equality Maryland (EQMD) who has lived in Baltimore with her wife for 10 years, offered her perspective.

“What is happening in Baltimore, both the peaceful protests and the lawless behavior of some people, is a response to deep-seated systemic problems that many don’t want to hear about, let alone deal with,” she said. “A history of distrust and mistreatment between the Baltimore Police Department and the black community, a city with a history of deep divides between racial groups that still exists and is manifested in disturbing levels of residential segregation and a public education system that has been abandoned by many of the city’s non-black residents and a city with alarming rates of poverty and lack of opportunities for many of its residents.

“What we are seeing is our city and the people who call it home screaming out in pain to all of these realities. These realties will not change in a week, but all of us who live here will continue the fight to dismantle these realities. Our city and its leaders and residents are tenacious and while this is a very trying time for all of us, we will not be deterred from our commitment to our city and doing all that we can to change its realities.”

In a bizarre twist, however, Right Wing Watch, a project of People for the American Way, noted that U.S. Representative Bill Flores (R-Texas) suggested that same-sex marriage would lead to the breakdown of the family, with more single parent households leading to poverty and the climate that led to Baltimore’s riots.

On April 29, he said in an interview with Family Research Council president Tony Perkins, “Let’s talk about poverty, for instance. The single best indicator of whether or not a child is going to be in poverty or not is whether or not they were raised by a two-parent household or a single parent household, so the breakdown of the family has contributed to poverty. Look at what is going on in Baltimore today, you see the issues that are raised there. Healthy marriages are the ones between a man and a woman because they can have a healthy family and they can raise children in a way that’s best for their future, not only socially but psychologically, economically, from a health perspective. There is nothing like traditional marriage that does that for a child. Each of us have a mother and a father and there is no way to get around that.”

In the aftermath of the riots and peaceful demonstrations, six Baltimore policemen were charged with the death of Freddie Gray after the Baltimore State's Attorney's office ruled on May 1 that his death was a homicide.

IN THE NEWS
Volume 17
Issue 2