LGBTQ+ media fill an important need in the journalism ecosystem. While the mainstream media have come a long way toward more equitable coverage in the past 70 years, authentic media serving these communities are still needed.
In 1924, police shut down the first attempt at a homosexual newsletter, Friendship & Freedom, in Chicago. In the 1950s, U.S. homophile magazines fought in the courts to be able to mail their publications (they were considered obscene); in the same era the mainstream media referred to the community as “perverts.”
In the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, there were protests and pickets outside of mainstream media outlets for their biased coverage of gays. They printed names of people arrested in gay-bar raids, causing lost jobs and even suicides. They mostly missed important stories such as the 1979 and 1987 marches on Washington, and badly covered the early years of the AIDS pandemic.
Now it is very common to see LGBTQ+ people on the covers of major newspapers and magazines, from celebrities to same-gender marriages — to being elected to the U.S. Senate or governor’s offices.
The increased coverage means that sometimes the media explore more than just the surface of the community and go into nuances. But there is still enough to cover on a daily basis to keep LGBTQ+ newspapers, websites and podcasts busy. The mainstream, as with all issues, can’t cover the depth of a community the way community-focused press can.
This is true across all forms of media. A local paper in Flint, Michigan, can give more attention to the water crisis there. A media outlet in Davenport, Iowa, can dig deep every day on the city’s recent building collapse. And media covering the African American, Latino/a, Asian, Native American, Polish, and other communities can simply do more to cover a wider range of issues than the mainstream has time and space to do.
But the importance of LGBTQ+ media continues not just because the LGBTQ+ press can give LGBTQ+ stories more space and more perspective. It continues because there are still so many cases where the mainstream media are simply parachuting into a story and therefore providing an incomplete and thus inaccurate picture for their readers.
By incompletely reporting on our lives and our deaths, the mainstream media continue to sustain the vacuum, one that is at least partially filled by LGBTQ+ media.
So what is the state of LGBTQ+ media? As with all media, they are going through a transformation. Many outlets have closed over the past decade, and those that remain are working hard to adapt to new technologies and new financial realities.
A group of six local LGBTQ+ media, some founded more than 50 years ago, have banded together to form the News is Out collaborative, being incubated at Local Media Association. Our members are the Washington Blade, Philadelphia Gay News, Windy City Times, Dallas Voice, Bay Area Reporter in San Francisco, and Tagg Magazine out of D.C. These legacy media provide important stories that amplify the good work, and struggles, facing LGBTQ+ people.
What can we do together? We have collaborated on dozens of stories in our first year, and we are advocating for more resources to be put into LGBTQ+ community media. We have spoken at local and national media conferences, and applied for grant support from foundations. Coalitions can have an exponential impact, and we hope that News is Out can help expand beyond the current membership, and uplift more LGBTQ+ media.
It’s a big task ahead. But local and niche media are vital to the communities they serve.
Tracy Baim is co-founder and owner of Windy City Times, a founding member of the News Is Out collaborative. She is former publisher of the Chicago Reader. Baim received the 2013 Chicago Headline Club Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2014, she was inducted into the NLGJA: The Association of LGBTQ Journalists Hall of Fame. The Chicago Journalists Association gave her a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2022. She has won numerous LGBTQ community and journalism honors. Baim has written and/or edited 13 books, including Gay Press, Gay Power: The Growth of LGBT Community Newspapers in America; Obama and the Gays: A Political Marriage; and Out and Proud in Chicago.