Media, Message and Meaning: The “Queer As . . . What?” Symposium

On October 11, scholars, journalists, media watch activists, and community intellectuals examined
depictions and productions of LGTBQ people in television, the World Wide Web, and print journalism
at a CLAGS symposium with the wily title, “Queer as . . . What?”
The first of two panel discussions, Sisters are Doing it for Themselves: Queer Media in Queer Hands,
(moderated by writer Michael Bronski) highlighted the successes and challenges of LGTBQ-produced print
and web-based journalism. Jay Pastrana, a doctoral student in Sociology at the The Graduate Center, CUNY
and former staff member of the New York Blade News, voiced his suspicions that LGTBQ publishers have
misjudged their papers’ readership. Judging by its advertising, he said, one might believe that only upperclass
males read LGTBQ publications. He chided GLAAD and other media watch
groups for not adequately addressing the limited representation of people of color
in the queer press and the paucity of women in management positions. And he
pointed out that as LGTBQ people appear with greater frequency in mainstream
media, the queer press must re-examine its mission and its relationship to
advertisers.
Richard Goldstein, author of The Attack Queers: Liberal Society and the Gay Right
and Executive Editor of the Village Voice, added media owners to that list of people
who must reexamine their relationship to a queer readership. Noting that these are
ominous times for the alternative press in general, he said that a radical gay press
currently does not exist. A gay press does continue to survive and succeed,
Goldstein suggested, because the coverage it offers is unique (especially in cities
with less queer coverage in the mainstream press) and the publications are firmly rooted in their
communities. But he called attention to the paradox of the queer press: we want ownership of our media,
but our owners don’t necessarily reflect the community’s politics. Goldstein noted the prevalent airtime
and print space given to conservative viewpoints and the rejection of multicultural perspectives among
gay journalists, editors, and publishers. Along with other panelists, he identified Gay City News as one of
few entrepreneurial and feisty publications circulating amid conglomerate newspapers.
Writer and activist Ana Simo concurred with Goldstein’s criticism of American queer media conglomerates,
but expressed optimism about other parts of the world. As co-founder and editor of the online
publication thegully.com, Simo has witnessed the dramatic growth of LGTBQ information sites on the
World Wide Web. She cited such examples as Asia’s Fridae (www.fridae.com), Brazil’s Mix
(http://www.mixbrasil.com.br), and South Africa’s Q (www.q.co.za) and Behind the Mask
(http://www.mask.org.za). Simo agreed that most printed publications are bland and that queer readers
must take responsibility for their improvement. We need to break the political dichotomy of left and right
and demand that publications reflect new voices, especially LGTBQ people who may not identify as
activists but want to share their experiences of daily life, she urged.
An entertaining presentation by Michael Wilke on the image of LGBTQ people in television
advertising served as a tasty intermezzo between the two panels. According to Wilke, Executive Director
of the non-profit Commercial Closet, advertisers rarely use LGBTQ people to reflect diversity. He showed
some exceptions — among them a John Hancock insurance commercial featuring a lesbian couple
adopting a baby and an ACLU ad featuring an older gay couple — as well as some ads he regarded as
propagating negative portrayals of gays.
The second panel When Mary Met Mary: Gay Images in Mainstream Media, moderated by José
Quiroga, Professor of Spanish at Emory University, examined the relationship of queers to cable, broadcast

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