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Where are the lesbian anchorwomen?

I attended an interesting panel today at the NLGJA convention, “Off Camera: The Challenges for LGBT TV Anchors,” which featured four anchors, all men.

Moderator: Patrick Nolan, Main Anchor, WFTX-TV, Fort Myers
Mike Dunston, Weekend Anchor, WTVD-TV, Raleigh [he’s from our local ABC affiliate, and it’s actually based in Durham, not Raleigh.]
Thomas Roberts, Anchor, CNN Headline News
Craig Stevens, Main Anchor, WSVN-TV, Miami

The discussion was lively, and it offered the insight on what it’s like to be an anchor where your choice to be out — and how out — of the closet varies a great deal. All of them are in various stages, from completely closet-free (Stevens, who has appeared in Pride parades) to a belief your colleagues and bosses know and don’t care (Dunston, who hasn’t specifically outed himself to his co-anchor Shae Crisson, assumes she knows because of common acquaintances).

Most of them made clear distinctions between their comfort with their work colleagues knowing about their orientation versus the general viewing public knowing. Part of the discussion, for those who are not out to the public, revolved around how or if any feel free to out themselves on the air, even though their jobs wouldn’t be in jeopardy. There was clear discomfort with this, but it was hard to tell whether the stressor was about personal disclosure, versus a passive indication from management that casually outing oneself would affect ratings or community relations — a fair question to ponder.

That said, everyone knows that, particularly in local news, local anchors have a “brand”, and are often featured in station promos with the family and the dog and marketed as “part of the community.” For gay anchors, there is a pressure — real or perceived (it was hard to tell from the panelists’ comments) to do a DADT on personal matters.

And you know Anderson Cooper came up as part of the discussion, referencing anchors who write bios that seem to skip an essential fact about themselves — being gay. It does boil down to a personal decision; all of the panelists wished there were more out anchor role models to help them navigate these choppy waters of personal and professional lives and disclosure of sexual orientation. The irony is that all of these panelists have high enough profiles to be role models if they choose to do so. It’s a matter of degree. It’s about how you handle that newscast on Valentine’s Day when all the “happy talk” turns to what people are doing for their honeys. Do you dodge making a comment, or answer honestly about your partner? Thomas and Dunston choose to live privately out, but not publicly out — if someone finds out fine, they just aren’t necessarily volunteering information unless asked directly. The irony is that even a toe out of the closet counts for something, but there was a palpable uneasiness from the panelists about being a role model themselves by being publicly out, even as they wish for an out gay anchor’s lead to follow in their industry.

But to get back to the title of the post — where are the lesbian anchorwomen — at some point the question came up about the lack of a dyke presence on the panel (and other panels of this type at similar conferences). Moderator Patrick Nolan and Garrett Glaser, CNBC and former Entertainment Tonight reporter, who is out (and was present today), noted that they have tried to book out or semi-closeted lesbian anchors to participate in discussions and all of them have turned them down. Some refused to acknowledge that they were gay, others just didn’t want to discuss the issue in a public forum.

Folks in the audience were buzzing about the need for a panel on just this topic, because no one could figure out why there were plenty of gay men willing to come forward and discuss what it’s like to deal with being out on the job in this field, while the public closet door is firmly shut for women, even though it’s clear that the employers don’t have a problem hiring queer reporters/anchors.

Back when I was in either HS or college, I interviewed a local NYC news anchor (who’s still in the chair). Even at that time, rumors swirled about that she was a lesbian, though it was never confirmed. Her bio lacked any personal information other than she lived in New York, and that she was related to a well-known jazz musician; it’s the kind of generalized dodge you’d expect to see. Today she has a high enough profile (and clearly job security if she’s spent over 20 years at one station) to make a difference if she was out and willing to speak openly about what it’s like to be gay.

Why do you think lesbian anchors have the professional closet padlocked?

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding