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MetroWeekly profiles the OUTRAGEously serious activist Mike Rogers

I love Mike Rogers – he is a teddy bear. Really. He may be feared by the homophobic closet cases inside the Beltway, but he’s a staunch advocate for equality — and that means using the full spectrum of tools available to achieve our goals in the movement. Not everyone agrees with the approach that has earned him quite a bit of notoriety — outings of Larry Craig and Ed Schrock via BlogActive, and most recently, the documentary Outrage (where Charlie Crist’s closet gets aired out), but for him that’s fine. He’s respected for a lot of the other work you might not be aware of.

Mike Rogers has played a significant behind-the-scenes role in bringing more diverse voices to the table in the LGBT movement. He was one of the first major bloggers in the LGBT community to cite the Blend regularly, and to promote my work to others back in the day (the Blend launched in July 2004, so its birthday was last week).

Mike is the cover story in the current issue of MetroWeekly and it covers the Mike you do know, and what he’s been doing, through his National Blogger and Citizen Journalist Initiative, to bring LGBT media, bloggers/citizen journalists, grassroots activists, and legacy organizations together. It’s a project meant  to foster communication offline, because working in an online realm often leads to more coarse cross-communication, particularly when there are strong opinions out there. Mike:

What I think is very unique about this conference and the work that’s happening in this realm is it’s a safe space for everyone – for HRC, for the Task Force, for street activists, ACT-UPers and Get Equal. When you have this spectrum of people who have what are often seen as disparate goals and views and where they’re headed, this is a place they can come together.

Each year, I’ve tried to expand the program. In 2008, with Netroots and bloggers, I brought together 60 bloggers here in D.C. for a long weekend of training, support, education, networking. We also did some joint events with the Victory Fund conference that coincided with it. We took that and said, ”We have this whole bunch of people who’ve been reading each other.” But nobody knew each other. What’s key here is taking ”online” and bringing it ”offline,” bringing that connection.

There are people I’ve worked with, employees that work for my company that I’ve never met in person. That’s the world we’re in. There’s a great gain in that. Look at voices like Pam Spaulding. Where would Pam be without the blogosphere? Here’s a woman in the Raleigh-Durham [N.C.] area, working at a university, and now she’s a really important voice in the community. That extends beyond when Pam goes to these conferences and she meets people and they like her.

When most people meet me, they say, ”Wow, you’re nice.” I’m a pussycat.

He’s too kind. But what Mike’s obvious strength has always been is to see the next phase of communication and activism, and believe it or not, he has quite a bit of sympathy for Gay Inc’s struggle to figure out how to work with Cheetos-stained PJ bloggers. After all, institutions are not nimble entities; there are boards, and chains of command to filter any online activity that might affect donors, reputation, relationships with movers and shakers, etc. That clearly poses a problem for our movement. You can’t shake things up without cross-pollenation of ideas.

When an activist screams at HRC or the Task Force, they listen. And when those organizations speak, the activists are listening. It shows how important each is. I don’t know of many places that are doing what I’m trying to do at Netroots Nation. I mean, certainly there are wonderful conferences – there’s the Gay & Lesbian Leadership Institute, and NGLTF’s Creating Change. But there’s no real space outside of the movement. It’s okay to kind of step back and say, ”Where can we come together and put a face to the text?” It’s easy to hide behind a keyboard and a screen. That’s why there’s this whole shakedown going on. What is a publication? Who is a journalist? What is an editor? This is still evolving, the future of journalism.

He gets it; the movement is far more than taking calls at night from sources ready to to drop (or toe-tap) that shoe on some self-loathing homobigot. Mike could have pigeon-holed himself as the Man to Fear Inside the Beltway, but he wanted to do more, and I wish we had more stand-up people in our movement like Mike Rogers. He took the pummeling by many in our movement back in the day for outing the sexual hypocrites, because no one wanted to jeopardize contacts and access. It’s almost a quaint era now, just a few years out from some of the scandalous outings – at this point half of the bigots bust themselves at rest stops, parks and no-tell motels. Mike doesn’t have to lift a finger to the keyboard.

Check out the rest of the MetroWeekly feature on Mike.


BTW, I’ll be at Netroots Nation 2010 with Mike, again co-chairing the LGBT Caucus, and the pre-conference LGBT shebang.

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding