Lesbian and gay journalists see themselves as reporters, not activists

"Today" coanchor Ann Curry takes questions as a headliner at the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association's convention in Philadelphia.
"Today" coanchor Ann Curry takes questions as a headliner at the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association's convention in Philadelphia. (RON TARVER / Staff Photographer)
Posted: August 28, 2011

NBC's Today coanchor Ann Curry was full of one-liners when she addressed the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association here Friday.

Some of her lines were funny and others poignant, but in the end Curry, who coincidentally was named last week to Forbes' list of the 100 most powerful women in the world, had the crowd on its feet.

"I'm the queen of stories nobody really wants to know about," she said, referring to her passion for stories about the suffering of women and children in Congo.

And: "Journalism is an act of faith in the future," she said, by way of encouragement.

Born in Guam, where her Japanese mother married an American career Navy man, Curry is not gay - she is married to a software executive and has two grown children - but said she knew the sting of discrimination when she was called "a Jap."

Curry and a fellow Emmy winner, Don Lemon, CNN's weekend anchor, were the headliners of the three-day conference, which drew 350 people from across the country to the Loews Philadelphia Hotel. Some cut their trips short because of the impending hurricane, while others accepted the hotel's offer to stay an additional night Sunday for a reduced rate of $99.

Lemon, who was a reporter and weekend anchor at NBC10 from 1999 to 2002, revealed his homosexuality four months ago with the publication of his book, Transparent. And in September, while reporting on allegations against Georgia pastor Eddie Long, Lemon revealed that someone in his neighborhood abused him when he was a child.

Lemon joins Rachel Maddow and Thomas Roberts, both of MSNBC, as the best-known openly gay television news anchors. Lemon is the only African American.

"It's quite different for an African American male," he said. "It's about the worst thing you can be in black culture."

The crowded conference schedule zeroed in on a range of hot topics: same-sex marriage, coverage of the transgender community, and how "the field" is changing for gay athletes.

In a workshop titled "Using History to Correct/Rebut Myths Perpetrated by the Opposition," Malcolm Lazin of Equality Forum announced the creation of a searchable online database of gay icons that can be used as a teaching tool. Set to launch in October, which is LGBT History Month, lgbthistorymonth.com will feature photos, biographies, and videos of 186 individuals.

Not everyone at the conference was gay or a journalist.

"This group is for everyone - international, national, journalist, non-journalist, a member of the LGBT community, or a straight ally who understands the importance of fair and accurate coverage in the media as well as a strong, diverse newsroom," said Michael Tune, the association's executive director.

And identifying as a gay journalist does not necessarily conflict with a reporter's ethical obligation to avoid bias, said David Steinberg, the group's national president.

"We're not activists," Steinberg said. "We're journalists, so we work from within the newsroom, working on behalf of fair and accurate coverage of the community.

"If another reporter is writing a story about a transgender person and they don't know what terminology they should use, we're there to help," he said. "If we see bad coverage, we'll talk to the reporter or the editor and say: 'We saw this and why it was problematic' or 'How can we help you get more information about XYZ?' . . .

"We see ourselves as journalists, not activists."

Contact staff writer Dianna Marder at 215-854-4211, dmarder@phillynews.com, or @marderd on Twitter. Read her recent work at http://go.philly.com/diannamarder

Inquirer staff writer Vernon Clark contributed to this article.

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