Last year, I attended a panel at the National Lesbian and Gay Journalist Association convention called “Off Camera: The Challenges for LGBT TV Anchors” (my post here).  This was the panel where CNN Headline News anchor Thomas Roberts came out publicly, as did a local anchor here in Durham, Mike Dunston, Weekend Anchor, WTVD-TV.

There’s a good piece on the topic up at AfterElton by James Hillis that’s worth the click, “Gay Newsmen – A Clearer Picture.”

In a two-part series, explores the careers and choices of gay television journalists. First, we highlight the work and experiences of nine of the most high-profile gay on-camera newsmen in the country – with more journalists featured throughout the week on the AE blog. Part II, which will be published on on May 21, investigates the issues surrounding being out within news organizations and in public, and looks at the impact of those choices on the individual and society. That discussion includes all the newsmen as well as network news executives – both straight and gay.

The out newsmen interviewed (and there are no women, more on that later):
* ABC News correspondent Miguel Marquez
* NBC News Washington correspondent John Yang
* CBS Newspath correspondent Manuel Gallegus (he publicly comes out for the first time in the article)
* ABC News correspondent Jeffrey Kofman
* CBS News on Logo correspondent and host Jason Bellini
* WHDH (Boston) anchor Randy Price
* CBS 5 (San Francisco) political editor Hank Plante
* WSVN (Miami) anchor Craig Stevens (who was also on the Miami panel I attended)
* KCOY (Santa Barbara, CA) noon news anchor Randol White

Yang’s remarks about the late Peter Jennings’ advocacy of Yang’s assignment to the Jerusalem beat are interesting:

Regarding the Jerusalem appointment, Yang admitted, “I was extremely flattered because at ABC News, Peter Jennings had veto power over foreign correspondents. And this was an area that Peter cared deeply about. And actually Peter got on the phone ? and said ‘I’d really love for you to do this.'”

And being gay may have given Yang an edge landing the post. “It’s actually something that Peter said to me,” Yang recalled. “It’s that he thought that – and looking back, you can take what he said a couple of different ways, whether he meant [me] being Asian or being gay – but that he thought that what I would bring to that reporting was an understanding or an insight into ? people who are marginalized.”

More on local anchors and the lack of visible lesbian newscasters, after the flip.WHDH’s Randy Price’s comments about being an closeted anchor in a local market in the 80s:

Price experienced that collusion firsthand in the ’80s, when he was a young anchor who had already been living with his partner for almost a decade. In newspaper profiles of himself from that time, readers could see him at home with his dog, “all these things about my life. And never one – not one mention – of do I live with anybody, what’s the story of my personal situation. ? They didn’t ask any of those questions because they knew the answers.” And Price confessed, “I probably didn’t push the point.”

Those remarks describe how matters are still handled today in many  markets —  most stations goes out of their way not to mention the orientation of its gay anchor — and the anchors/reporters by and large willingly participate in the charade, even as the families of het anchors and reporters are mentioned on station web sites or are featured in promo ads. From my post on the Miami panel:

Most of them [the gay newsmen] 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.

…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.

Regarding the lack of out lesbians in the article, this is AfterElton, so I didn’t necessarily expect to see lesbian anchorwomen or reporters in the piece (those would probably appear on AfterEllen, the sister site).

That said, I don’t think Hillis would have found many, if any, willing to go on the record. There were no women on the NLGJA panel, and there was much discussion about why, even though some were approached by moderator Patrick Nolan and Garrett Glaser, CNBC and former Entertainment Tonight reporter to appear. All declined, some wouldn’t even acknowledge that they were gay, and others said no because they didn’t want to come out publicly in a forum.

I’ll ask the question that I asked at the time:

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

Hat tip, Rex.

Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding