This weekend I atended the LGBT Media conference in Philadelphia with 70 other print and internet outlets for a full day of panels on the theme of coalition building. The full list of attendees is available on Bilerico, but some notable national outlets include The Daily Kos, Huffington Post Gay Voices, Buzzfeed and Towleroad.
On Friday night, the group had our first networking opportunity and dinner at the Comcast Center where we were addressed by the cable company’s Vice President and General Manager of Multicultural Video Services Ruben Mendiola. We were shown a video of Comcast/NBC-owned clips from gay-friendly shows like The New Normal, 30 Rock and acquired properties like The Kids Are All Right. The support LGBT employees and viewers of Comcast was made apparent, which was the reason we were dining in their restaurant with a view of the city.
While we were eating, legendary activists Cleve Jones and David Mixner spoke to us and answered questions from audience members which revolved around nominating board members of LGBT organizations, labor conditions in the U.S. and how to engage queer youth. It was too brief for some of the heavy topics, but we still had a full day of processing ahead on Saturday.
Philadelphia Gay Tourism were visibly enthusiastic about our being in the city of brotherly love, and we were staying downtown close to the Gayborhood, which was also where the conference was held. Saturday we convened for eight hours to hear panels on LGBT Issues in the Age of Immigration Reform, Thinking Global: LGBT Action on International Issues, Moving Beyond Trans 101 and LGBT Workers and the Labor Movement with speakers from organizations like Trans-Latina Coalition, The DOMA Project, National Immigration Forum, Outserve-SLDN, National Center for Transgender Equality, Services & Advocacy for GLBT Seniorsand Alliance for Retired Americans. My personal favorite discussion was led by Lauree Hayden of Service Employees International Union, who spoke about growing up gay in East Boston and how her blue collar background led her to her position fighting with the unions and the LGBT community against shared enemies. As someone who has not belonged to a union and admittedly does not know much about them, I was inspired to find out more, as were many others I spoke to after.
LGBT aging was a large focus of the weekend as Philadelphia is currently building their first LGBT-friendly senior housing named after a legendary out politician. The John C. Anderson Apartments will offer affordable housing units for elderly members of the community who qualify for one of their 56 units in the six floor complex. We visited the site and saw that it is in a desirable neighborhood and will have a beautiful courtyard made visible from the community room where events will be held, films shown and other important pieces of information shared. The city could not be more excited about this development, as Mayor Michael Nutter came by to speak with us about how John Anderson was his personal mentor, and why he became a champion for equality.
In terms of the group make-up, there were a handful of out lesbian and bisexual women, including Dana Rudolph of Mombian, Sarah Blazucki of the Peace Corps, Grace Moon of Velvet Park, Faith Cheltanham of BiNetUSA, EJ Graff of American Prospect, Ann Northrop of Gay USA and Adele Stan of Alternet. One woman I was super excited to meet was Ileana Jimenez of Feminist Teacher, whose blog follows her work instructing Queer Lit and Feminism classes in her New York high school. I told her I could not even conceive of having those classes offered in my high school and how lucky her students must be. Even greater is the fact they are learning to share their experiences on their own blogs, and follow along with hers as well. If you’re a teacher, a parent or just plain interested in the idea of having these things happen in education, I highly encourage you to visit her site.
This year there was an attempt to make sure there was a mixed group in terms of diversity and region, with several trans-identified bloggers, people of color and writers from local city papers in attendance. But, unsurprisingly, the media is still largely made up of gay white men. The good news is those I met not only read AfterEllen.com, but are doing their best to be inclusive of all facets of the community. The panels were likely an education for all of us, as we could all take something new away from the topics at hand and the discussions that followed.
Erin Rook (L) and Faith Cheltanham (R)
At the end of the day, we gave feedback and it was clear that everyone has a voice they hope to hear more from and about. Some improvements were asked for in terms of bi-inclusiveness, pronoun and gender assumptions, and if the conference should remain small or opened to more media outlets. It’s worth mentioning that all of us were flown in and hosted made possible because of a grant from the Evelyn & Walter Haas, Jr. Fund, whereas any other conferences that we might otherwise convene at are paid for by our outlets or out of our own pockets. Expanding to invite other outlets could prove to be more expensive, and the funding also dictates the location of future conferences, as flying east seems to be cheaper than other alternatives.
After the panels ended on Saturday, we headed to Tavern on Camac for a meet-up with fans of our sites and each other. It was at the piano bar I met Dana Piccoli and her lovely wife, and Natalie MacDonald and her equally-lovely partner, as well as a handful of you awesome Philly-based readers that I enjoyed speaking to and dancing with immensely. Thank you again for coming and bringing your straight sisters and compliments.
After Dana and I did some processing over Pretty Little Liars, Natalie used her lesbian magic to hook up Dana’s singing for the gays with the piano player accompanying her on “Maybe This Time” from Cabaret. Oh look — a video!
I really wish she could have tried to do it with some feeling. Just kidding! Fans rushed to tell Sally Bowles how fierce she was, and rightfully so. Then I did my lesbian duty and headed to Sisters, the lady bar where I finished the night dancing until my feet hurt.
Sunday was a gay trolley tour of Philadelphia, which was brief and in a tiny area of the city but cool nonetheless. I snapped a few photos of Barbara Gittings Way and a plaque celebrating some peaceful pre-Stonewall protests before we went to brunch and processed for the last time.
Among some of the great writers and thinkers I met this weekend were Kate Sosin of The Windy City Times, Erin Rook of PQ Monthly, Zack Ford of ThinkProgress, all of whose work I highly recommend you follow. I finally met Ed Kennedy of AfterElton.com in the flesh, and was also able to reconnect with some of the other writers I’ve been lucky to know during my years in LGBT journalism, including one of the event’s organizers Bil Browning, Daniel Villareal (Gay.net) and Kevin Farrell (Unicorn Booty). Being able to meet all of my peers IRL is an opportunity I am thankful for, and hope you will all take the time to read and support those sites. (After you read AfterEllen, of course!)
It was a long six hour flight home but I’m not complaining (much). I am back with a renewed sense of what I do and what we all do as a collective community — how we talk about our issues and others we are aligned with, and how we can communicate them with the world at large. The overall theme of the weekend seemed to be that no one is telling our stories but us, so we have to be the ones to put them out there as best we can, as much as we can. We might not cover the important issues of LGBT aging, immigration, labor or trans rights on AfterEllen.com as much as sites like Raw Story or Transgriot do, but that’s because we have a different focus. Our coverage of pop culture through the lesbian, bisexual and queer women’s lens is different from those sites, and our differences are what makes us a strong community as much as our shared interests, thoughts and orientations. There is room for all of us on the web, and we should all be working toward that common goal of putting our stories out into the world so the world is aware of them in the vein we want them to be. If we depend on others to do that, we’re going to a lot of finger-wagging and tongue-lashing. Not a good look.
If you’re lucky enough to live in a city with a local LGBT newspaper, pick up copies, send them comments, read them online, buy advertising if you own a business. And now I’ll step off my soap box, but just want to say thank you for reading because we’re nothing without you.