toolbox, professional development
|Being Out Has Its Ups & Downs|
Being Out Has Its Ups & Downs
By Lauren Ober
As long as I’ve worked at newspapers — a whopping three years — I’ve been open about my sexuality. I’ve always looked at being gay as a non-issue, perhaps because I’m oblivious and perhaps because I’ve had the good fortune of living in places where one’s sexuality doesn’t take top billing. I began my soon-to-be illustrious career at The Citizen, a 13,000-circulation paper in Auburn, N.Y., just west of Syracuse. Central New York isn’t known as a bastion of liberalism, nor does it pledge any allegiance to neocon values. It’s just kind of neutral. There were three gay people in Auburn — me and two men, who, of course, worked at the local theater. Surely, there were others of the homosexual persuasion in Auburn, but I never met them. Timmy, Travis and I were the only ones. Some folks in town flitted with same-sex dalliances, and there were even a few rumored bisexuals, but that was the extent of the sexual diversity in Auburn.
For the nearly two years I spent in Central New York, my colleagues at The Citizen never bothered me about being gay. Most were recent college grads, serving a brief tour of duty in the community news trenches, and to them my sexuality was nothing spectacular. I never heard any disparaging comments, though I did have one colleague who thought he could "convert” me by strategically placing photocopied pictures of himself in my desk drawers. For the most part, my sexuality never came up. Granted, I never dated anyone in my time there, so I was only gay in theory and perhaps as a result, less threatening.
After 20 months (yes, I was counting) in Auburn, I
hightailed it out of there in search of greener pastures, or at least greener
mountains, in Vermont, where I had been offered a job at The Burlington Free
Press. I thought I had struck homo gold. I would be living in a gay utopia
where same-sex-loving folks could get unionized to each other and nobody would
bat an eyelash. Gay people in Vermont have nearly the same rights as everyone
else, and they hold hands in public without getting pummeled, and most don’t
even know what a closet looks like. No way! So why doesn’t my newsroom show any
love to the queers?
OK, so that’s not entirely fair. We write about gay people — when I propose the story. Other people have sub-beats here — weather, the environment, immigrants and refugees. I have the de facto homo beat. Any time a lavender press release crosses the metro desk, it gets sent in my direction. When gay advocacy groups call the office, they get forwarded to me. I don’t mind this pigeonholing, because I actually like writing stories about the LGBT community. But I feel that other people should try their hand at it as well. The queers won’t bite.
I don’t mind doing LGBT stories, and there are actually some I’d really like to tackle. But there have been times when my editors have questioned my integrity and my ability to be impartial about LGBT issues. When I covered a debate between a radio talk show host and a queer youth group, I was asked if I was part of the youth group. Well, one, I’m not a youth, and two, I know my boundaries. I would hardly expect them to ask a black staffer (if we ever had one) if he or she was a member of the NAACP before covering a story about the black community.
Not only have my editors brought up my sexuality, but so too have my colleagues. One co-worker told a man that neither of us knew that I was "off the market” because I " batted for the other team.” Another woman I work with told a co-worker not to talk to me because I was gay. She thought she was being funny — apparently it was said in jest — but it was apropos of nothing and off color at best. In another attempt to at humor, one colleague asked me how it was that a local mentoring group let me work with children, seeing as how I was gay. Hilarious. That same colleague’s boyfriend worried aloud about the two of us going shopping together: He didn’t want his girlfriend coming back with "combat boots and a black leather jacket.” Apparently that’s the lesbian uniform. And I thought it was anything plaid.
I can’t explain the difference in the two
newsrooms, because my behavior has been the same at both. I suppose sexuality
is a hurdle that some people just can’t quite get over. But it’d be nice if
they tried to jump it.