Make No Mistake: Change is Happening

Part 2 of a Series: Media Carries the GLBT-Equality Torch

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Jonathon Feit Jonathon Feit
Imbued though I am with hubris on a daily basis, I don't expect my and my fellow bloggers' words to be a prime consideration as companies plan their 2008 marketing cycles. One can hope, however, that the specter of public excoriation will at least give equality-minded executives cause for pause.

Truth is, plenty of finger-pointing goes around as the media and marketing industry tailspins, so I try to identify what's going right, and have had the happy opportunity on prior occasion to praise specific companies (Disney and Goldman Sachs, for example) for moving measurably in a socially just direction.

This week will come another such exaltation, the culmination of what I see as a trend. In the meantime, though, I'd like to draw your attention to a trend of inclusiveness that's bubbling up around the country. It likely started in politics-- the anti-gay marriage movement apparently backfired, building a growing coalition of Americans who feel that if someone in this country actually WANTS to get married, they may as well show the rest of us how to do it. It is media, though -- newspapers, magazines, digital and Web -- that are carrying the torch.

Though Time Warner (as you'll read soon) is arguably the largest media organization to open its arms to the GLBT community, outlets of every ilk -- and not just niche community papers -- are dragging "gay issues" into the mainstream. Consider the Los Angeles Times, which just three weeks ago deemed the aging of HIV-positive men and women (who are thankfully able to harness modern medicine to live longer than every before) to be front page news.

The story in the Los Angeles Times, mind you, wasn't merely about gay men and women -- rather it was about HIV-positive folks, and the GLBT community was wrapped up in the collectivity.

It is hardly a development to disregard, for equality requires one of two conditions: either (1) a complete disregard for the superficial criteria that define a group, like skin color, religion, nationality, disability, or sexual orientation; or (2) a realization that even while identifying someone as belonging to a particular group, that identification doesn't detract at all from one's respect or admiration for the individual. (See my earlier post for "The Big Tent," titled "To Fix Media's Lack of Diversity, Follow ASME.")

One might say, "Well of course the L.A. Times covers GLBT issues; West Hollywood is one of the largest gay havens in the world!" And one might be right.

But how about the New York Times?

Leaving aside my own thoughts about the latter paper in its post-Jayson Blair days, the New York Times remains America's "paper of record" (followed closely by the Wall Street Journal and USA Today -- the world's highest circulation paper). Unlike its West Coast colleague of similar name and different ownership, NYT is an arbiter of national news. So when the lead article in its National Report section reads "GAY MUSLIMS FIND FREEDOM, OF A SORT, IN THE U.S.," there is an emergence happening.

But news is news, and culture extends beyond the paper; at what point is homosexuality acceptable as part of the fabric of American life and culture? When will gay-bashing (in hatred or in "jest," late at night on talk shows) become passé and incorrect?

Perhaps the shift requires an infusion of GLBT lives and times into everyone else's, but not as a point of humor; not as Queer Eye or any other Bravo reali-soap. Last February, GQ made just such a foray into the daily life of a gay man living in post-Saddam Iraq, with a singular purpose: to demonstrate that everybody has a life, and it's not all fun and games and chiffon and leather.

Incidentally, although the black and Hispanic communities (in general) have historically not gotten along especially well with the gay community -- based largely on the long-standing mores of the Catholic and Baptist faiths, but that's a story for another time -- the migration of GLBT issues into the mainstream is a positive for all underrepresented and challenged minorities.

Why? Because the advertising, media, and marketing industries are working to diversify, though some might say reluctantly. This blog is proof of that. GLBT men and women, however, are less pressured now to be closeted than in the past, and so can rise in the agency and corporate ranks, gaining access to dollars, strategy planning, and executive power.

Having been the victims of prejudice and disregard for so long, GLBT executives may be more likely than other repressed groups to push the envelope toward the Greatest Good, which opens the doors to increased inclusiveness without regard for color or creed.
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