Treasurer’s Race Sparks Debate on Treatment of LGBTQ+ Members

NABJ LGBTQ+ Taskforce Members

By Noah Tesfaye

This year’s treasurer’s race not only was a reckoning on finances, but also sparked a forum for concerns from the LGBTQ+ community.

Just before the beginning of NABJ’s first virtual convention in August, NABJ member Ernest Owens tweeted a thread detailing his concerns and frustrations about how NABJ treats its LGBTQ+ members and the LGBTQ+ Task Force. 

The thread led to an outpouring of public comments from LGBTQ+ members of the organization expressing their experiences with homophobia and transphobia within the organization, signaling this moment as the catalyst for substantive policy changes to ensure a commitment to include all of NABJ’s members.

In 2017, when Tre’vell Anderson, who identifies as non-binary, was registering for the 2017 New Orleans convention, they saw that the only gender options were male and female, leaving no space to identify themself or fellow LGBTQ+ members. Anderson and Owens, fellow co-chair at the time, got a resolution passed at the 2018 convention to expand gender identity options. 

Current co-chairs Anderson and Femi Redwood say they would like access to the gender self-identification data to better support their members.

“Right now, the way things are set up, we can’t reach our task force members, which means I can’t help anyone who, let’s say, they’re gender nonconforming and they’re trying to deal with the situation that their newsroom in Iowa,” Redwood said. “I can’t help them because we can’t reach them.”

When speaking to members of her task force, Redwood says she hears many personal experiences of discrimination from members, including how career fair employers are not as welcoming to gender non-conforming interviewees.

“What I hear most often is the career fair, when gender non-conforming folks are going to the booths, they’re not getting a warm reception,” Redwood said. “And that means from the job, they’re not getting the same interviewing opportunity. So maybe the person that they’re speaking to is completely cold. They don’t say anything rude, but it’s cold.”

While NABJ’s San Diego chapter chair Jerry McCormick would “like to believe that NABJ is not homophobic,” he feels his experiences say otherwise. 

“I’ve been on elevators back in the day when we identify these little rainbow stickers, I remember when your young lady said, ‘I don’t want to get too close to him, he might have AIDS,’” McCormick said. “I remember that. And so, I thought we had evolved past that.”

Tucker responded to the outpouring of comments via her Twitter account: “To our LGBTQIA members. I hear you. Please let us get through our first virtual convention and I promise we will thoroughly look into your concerns Looking forward to working with @NABJ Task Force Chair Femi Redwood.”

When asked why NABJ had not put out a statement condemning homophobia and transphobia that some members on social media wanted to see, Tucker responded, “I want to do it the right way. When I put something out, I want to not only be able to say, which I think that all of our members know, that we’re not going to tolerate anybody being disrespected. You know, this is a family that’s going to love everybody and allow them to be who they are, no matter what their sexual orientation is. But I want to be able to put something out that says, this is what we believe, this is what we will do, and this is how we will make things better.” 

Anderson hopes that in the future, the organization and its members can speak out in condemning homophobia and transphobia by members and implement inclusive policy with the same urgency and care that the task force strives to do every day. 

“Me and Ernest and Femi and the handful of other visible, unapologetic LGBTQ people in this organization can’t shoulder that responsibility alone,” Anderson said. “We need a variety of other ways for the organization and for people who are coming into the organization to see that, like, certain behaviors are not becoming of a member of NABJ, regardless of how you feel outside of NABJ.”

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