Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Workplace 'Out-Reach.'(out Gays and Lesbians Are Accepted in Many Newsrooms)

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Workplace 'Out-Reach.'(out Gays and Lesbians Are Accepted in Many Newsrooms)

Article excerpt

FOR LESBIAN AND gay journalists, newsrooms aren't closets with terminals anymore.

In the past two or three years, many newspapers have moved dramatically to make openly gay and lesbian employees comfortable in the workplace.

That was apparent at the recent National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association convention in Miami, where more than a dozen newspapers and chains were actively recruiting and the list of event sponsors read like a FAS-FAX report: Cox Newspapers, Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, Gannett Co., Los Angeles Times, Miami Herald, Knight-Ridder, and St. Petersburg Times.

This outreach to gay and lesbian journalists extended even to an ad in the NLGJA convention program for the Knight Fellowships at Stanford University. The ad included this testimonial from 1993-94 fellow Michelle Johnson: "My partner came to Stanford with me for the Knight Fellowship and enjoyed the same privileges as the other fellows' spouses. She even received (and declined) an invitation to join the Faculty Wives Club!" Johnson wrote.

One of the news organizations most active in making itself over as a gayfriendly employer is Knight-Ridder, the nation's secondlargest publisher of daily newspapers.

Among other measures, Knight-Ridder is running "sexual orientation in the workplace" seminars at all its newspapers. There are no exceptions, said Larry Olmstead, the chain's assistant vice president for diversity.

"Some newspapers said to me, `This is a hot-button issue.' And my reaction is, if it's a hot-button issue -- you probably need this training," Olmstead said.

There was no top management resistance at the 53,000-circulation News-Sentinel in Fort Wayne, Ind., however The executive editor there is openly gay, Joe Weiler.

"Should the editor of the newspaper be holding formal -- actually, mandatory -- training sessions on the issues around sexual orientation?" Weiler said."One of the things we saw on the nongay staff is that they never talk about these things as issues. They may think of them as stories, but they never see them as issues."

The sexual diversity program was developed by the NLGJA and Hollywood Supports, a group that began five years ago to do training on the issue of AIDS in the workplace.

While the program has been used in many broadcast operations, Knight-Ridder is the only newspaper company to adopt the program chainwide. said Nancy Murrell, a copy editor at the Miami Herald and coordinator of the NLGJA sexual diversity training program.

"It's been kind of a slow sell," Murrell said. We designed this for journalists and journalists buy into it But what we're finding, is we need to design it for the HR [human resources] folks [because] they're not buying into it."

The NLGJA/Knight-Ridder program,which takes from 90 minutes to three-and-a-half hours depending on what version newspapers use, includes discussions on the legal and business issues involved in sexual orientation, on myths and stereotypes and on suggestions for a specific newspaper workplace.

It also includes a number of exercises such as a "role reversal" questionnaire for heterosexuals -- sample question: "When did you first know you were heterosexual?" -- and role-playing from situations devised from real-life instances at Knight-Ridder newspapers.

"People think this is about bringing your sex life to work when really what it is about is bringing your personhood to work," training coordinator Murrell said.

"The most important thing," Murrell said at another point,"is that [gay and lesbian journalists] make a paradigm shift from thinking, `Is this advocacy?' to `I am bringing a diversity to this newsroom as a lesbian who was born in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and can tell the difference between a Jersey and a Holstein [cows] and that's part of my diversity, too.'"

Murrell added that the program "is designed to be very respectful of religious-diversity just as we're trying to create a respectful atmosphere for sexual orientation in the newsroom"

As for its tangible benefits,Murrell said, "I think it's led to more than feeling good. …

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