At NABJ-NAHJ conference, LGBTQ+ members find, create safe spaces

Tre’vell Anderson (they/them), co-chair of the NABJ LGBTQ+ Task Force, at the NABJ-NAHJ Convention and Career Fair in Las Vegas, Nev., on Friday, August 05, 2022. HEIDI PEREZ-MORENO/THE LATINO REPORTER

Truth is, Tre’vell Anderson is exhausted. 

They’re tired of hearing stories about 2022 NABJ-NAHJ Convention and Career Fair members who have been misgendered or of some conference attendees refusing to wear pins displaying preferred pronouns. 

Anderson, who is Region IV Director on the NABJ board and serves as co-chair of the organization’s LGBTQ+ Task Force, is never one to hold their tongue. But the constant emotional labor of educating other people, re-educating some, or repeating talking points to other members can weigh like an anchor. 

“I am tired every day,” said Anderson, who uses they/them pronouns and works as a podcast host in Los Angeles. “But it’s the work that I signed up to do. I have to do it. But that doesn’t take away from the fact that it’s exhausting to do this work.”

Over their past four years in the role, Anderson has been part of key decisions developed through the NABJ LGBTQ+ Task Force to create safer spaces and do advocacy work for Black queer journalists.

That includes initiatives aimed at giving individuals the option of gender-neutral pronouns on NAHJ applications and membership forms and creating scholarships for Black queer journalists. 

But a dismissive comment can sometimes feel like going back to square one, Anderson said. Ample progress has been made in recent years, but improvements are still needed to ensure there are safe spaces for the LGBTQ+ community at NABJ and NAHJ conferences. 

It’s an evolving conversation. Over the last few years, more and more panels have sprouted to help attendees learn to cover LGBTQ+ communities or address anti-queerness in newsrooms. 

Queer spaces within NABJ and NAHJ have developed in informal, organic ways — similar to any group that forms out of shared experiences: Through friendships, seeing each other at social outings, or even going to gay bars and clubs at conferences. 

“We’ve really just found each other,” said Cristela Guerra, an arts and culture reporter with WBUR-FM in Boston. 

“We didn’t have to create really any space or environment to look for other queer reporters,” said Guerra, who uses she/they pronouns. “We will find each other regardless.”

David Plazas, who serves as director of opinion and engagement for USA Today Network newsrooms in Tennessee and The Tennessean, was initially hesitant to come out as gay to his colleagues while working at The Fort Myers News-Press. 

He remembers feeling nervous to tell his boss he was gay or to display framed pictures of himself and his husband. But he did it anyway — petrified to even mutter the words in passing conversations. 

Plazas, who uses he/him pronouns, quickly realized that his first time coming out at work wouldn’t be his last. And the fear that came with sharing the details wasn’t going away any time soon. 

Similar issues rang true when he joined NAHJ in 2001. 

Plazas has a complicated relationship with journalism. He latched onto it at a young age when he would read the latest newspaper on a daily basis, but it was also the source of many anti-queer stereotypes and narratives he saw during the HIV/AIDs epidemic. 

He witnessed traumatic and emotional stories that showed members of his own community dying in disproportionate numbers. Some articles even reiterated harmful stereotypes or stigmas aimed at LGBTQ+ people, especially for communities of color. 

At first, Plazas was nervous to discuss his queer identity with others at the conference. He feared being treated negatively by others or even being fired from his job. 

“It’s a real fear that — thankfully — has improved over the years,” Plazas said. “I don’t fear people at the conference treating me any differently based on my experiences.”

Although that culture of fear has lessened over the years, journalists said, it continues to exist in some spaces at the NABJ and NAHJ conferences.

Anderson, the NABJ LGBTQ+ Task Force co-chair, remembers mentoring three young Black queer journalists who identify as gender non-conforming and feeling concerned about how others will treat them. Anderson needed help passing out pins identifying pronouns and enlisted the younger journalists, who relayed back to Anderson that people rejected the pins. 

They were scared the mentees would feel a sense of shame about themselves and their identities. As someone who is vocal about representation and fair treatment in newsrooms and journalism spheres, Anderson feels the pressure of speaking on these issues. 

On Friday afternoon, Anderson strutted around the conference in black heels and sparkly emerald acrylic nails, freshly done. They want to serve as a role model of someone who is confident in who they are, so younger generations can feel inspired. 

“Everything about what I do and how I present myself is fully intentional,” Anderson said. 

They said there is a lack of explicit queer spaces within the conference — outside of a bar or club scene — and they want to build upon that. One idea includes creating a gathering for queer reporters. 

Some NAHJ members are also talking about creating an LGBTQ+ Task Force in that organization. The group would serve to support and implement initiatives that would help foster safe spaces for Latinos who are part of LGBTQ+ communities, said Guerra, alongside Luis Joel Méndez González, an investigative reporter for the Centro de Periodismo Investigativo, a nonprofit news organization in Puerto Rico. 

The idea, which has circulated in several NAHJ Board meetings as well, is in its starting phases. Guerra said they are hoping to have a task force set up in time for next year’s NAHJ conference. 

“I want to understand and support those who don’t usually get that attention,” Guerra said. 

Heidi Perez-Moreno is a senior at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, where she is pursuing a degree in journalism. She reports in English and Spanish, and is completing an internship as a Metro reporter for the Los Angeles Times en Español. She wants to pursue a career in narrative journalism. Reach her at heidi.perez0123 [at] gmail [dot] com and on Twitter @heyperezmoreno.

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