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What is Past is Present – Media representation of the LGBTQ community

October 17, 2011

As part of doing research for the LGBTQ People’s History Project in Grand Rapids, we thought it was important to look at local media coverage and to see how people were being represented.

We decided it was important, since many people not only rely on local news for information and local news often is the only source of information people may have had when it came to the struggles of the LGBTQ community in the 1980’s and 90’s.

However, we know that mainstream commercial news coverage is always limited and often reflects the views of the dominant culture. This is why it has always been important for social movements to create their own media as a means of sharing information and perspectives that are often counter to commercial media.

The Network News was formed in 1988 as a mechanism for not only sharing information for the Gay and Lesbian community, it was a tool to hold commercial media accountable.

In one of the first issues of the Network News (August 1988), there is an interesting article about a journalist at the Advance was fired because she was writing stories that were sympathetic to the Gay and Lesbian community. The Network News article read:

The Advance, an area newspaper serving greater Grand Rapids, has dropped the regular religion column written by freelancer Margie Gage. Termination followed soon after the appearance of Gage’s column about the May building dedication of Reconciliation Metropolitan Community Church. An official of The Advance confirmed that the RMCC column was one of the reasons for termination.

Rev. Bruce Roller and Rev. Maggie Beretz met in early July with Advance associate publisher and managing editor to discuss the paper’s reporting of minority issues. Roller and Beretz were told that news of the gay community would upset advertisers and readers and that, economically, “Your community is simply not a force to be reckoned with.

Earlier this year The Advance at the last minute killed an article by one of their own reporters featuring RMCC and the gay Catholic organization Dignity. News from other area churches is reported regularly in the publication.

The Network is in the process of determining a course of action to encourage The Advance and other news organizations to accurately report news of their various constituencies. Network News will continue to report information as it becomes available.

The issue of whether or not the LGBTQ community is being accurately portrayed in the local news media today is a matter worth investigating and discussing. It could be a valuable tool today to have local LGBTQ groups monitoring local news and challenging them, if need be, on whether or not they are being covered accurately or honestly.

The Network News still exists today, as do many other LGBTQ forms of media in the growing digital world. However, even though there is a tremendous amount of media being produced, is there enough media being produced by the LGBTQ community that honestly reflects the issues and concerns it has today?

This brief look at the LGBTQ history in Grand Rapids is part of the Grand Rapids People’s History Project. A feature film on the history of the LGBTQ community, will premier on Thursday, November 17 at the downtown campus of GVSU. For details go to our Facebook event page.

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