Panel of journalists, activists tackles outing, Russia, ENDA

Panel of journalists, activists tackles outing, Russia, ENDA

Post-discussion panel photo
Panelists included (left to right) Kevin Naff, Thom Senzee, Mandy Carter, Sarah Blazucki, Rob Smith, Adam Moore and Will Walters. (Photo courtesy of Thom Senzee)

Washington Blade coverage of the February 25, 2014 engagement of the LGBTs In The News panel series at the National Press Club

Panel of journalists, activists tackles outing, Russia, ENDA

Last week’s engagement at the National Press Club of the “LGBTs In The News” panel series, currently on a nationwide tour, revealed differences in opinion about the ethics of outing.

Comprised of leaders from the fields of journalism, entertainment and activism, the panel also shed light on the need for greater opportunities for LGBT actors and broadcast personalities and for better coverage of people of color at the front lines of the LGBT-equality movement.

Citing a landmark report his organization released last year, which was researched and compiled by the Williams Institute at UCLA, SAG-AFTRA’s national director of EEO and diversity, Adam Moore noted that the entertainment industry in the U.S. is the “most visible workplace on Earth,” and that as LGBT actors and media professionals gain parity in job opportunities, the entertainment industry and news business can lead by example as models of equal opportunity.

“We’ve already come a long way in our industries,” said Moore. “But you might be surprised how far we still have to go. This is an industry that is still run by a lot of very traditional, very conservative and highly risk-averse people at the top.”

Perhaps surprisingly, the controversy surrounding the 2014 Winter Olympics at Sochi vis-à-vis Russia’s anti-gay-propaganda law was, for all intents and purposes, only modestly grazed as a point of discussion during the panel.

However, passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act was a hot topic among the panelists.

“What I believe, and as Arizona Governor Jan Brewer learned recently, corporations that have already instituted non-discrimination policies for LGBT workers are inclined to put pressure on congress to pass ENDA,” said panelist Will Walters, whose civil rights education organization, FreeWillUSA is a major sponsor of the panel series. “Ironically, big business may force ENDA to a ‘yes’ vote in the long run.”

The discussion, which was also sponsored by the Washington Blade and SAG-AFTRA (formerly the Screen Actors Guild) and held in the National Press Club’s Edward R. Murrow Room, soon turned to the enduring question of whether it is ethical for, or even incumbent upon, reporters to disclose secretly gay public figures’ sexual orientation.

“If you’re a private citizen with no public persona, that’s one thing,” Blade editor, Kevin Naff said. “However, there’s an entirely different set of rules that are specific to people in the public eye. They’ve chosen a path in the limelight and they are fair game—especially when they’re hurting other gay people and being hypocritical at the same time.”

According to Naff, ultimately it matters not whether a closeted public figure is hostile to the cause of LGBT equality.

“If they’re a public figure, reporting their sexual orientation is fair game,” he said. “If you’re in the public eye, this is part of what you signed up for.”

But author-activist and Iraq war veteran, Rob Smith disagreed.

“It’s not up to me to tell someone, even if they are against us publicly, ‘you’re going to be outed whether you like it or not,’” he said. “I’m sorry, but that’s not right; and it hurts us all in the long run.”

At least one other panelist, civil rights leader Mandy Carter, agreed with Smith.

“It can cause all kinds of damage in a person’s life to be outed, including loss of career and even suicide,” said Carter, who is co-founder of the National Black Justice Coalition. “I’m not going to be the one to decide for you whether or not you should come out of the closet.”

Working with other individuals and organizations, not least among them, Walter Naegle, surviving partner of the late Bayard Rustin, Carter has been a key figure in helping increase awareness about Rustin’s role alongside civil rights activist, A. Philip Randolph as chief organizer of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, where Dr. Martin Luther King delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.

There was consensus among all of the panelists about the importance of educating the world about Bayard Rustin, who was openly gay in the 1940s, ‘50s, ‘60s and beyond, but who—despite being among Dr. King’s closest advisers—was kept out of the public eye as much as possible for fear that the Civil Rights movement might be “tarnished” by Rustin’s homosexuality.

All of the panelists agreed that passing ENDA was probably the most important goal the LGBT community has on its plate at the moment. Yet, each agreed that passage of ENDA in 2014 is all but impossible.

“I think 2015 looks a little more plausible,” said National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association vice president of print and online media, Sarah Blazucki.

The next “LGBTs In The News” panel will be in late spring in New York City and will feature the theme: “LGBTs and Our Allies: We couldn’t do it without you.”

“New York promises to be a decidedly star-studded panel, as we expect to have some of the music industry’s most illustrious LGBT allies and community members on the panel,” said series founder and panel moderator, Thom Senzee, a freelance journalist.

“Stay tuned for a major announcement about our confirmed panelists for the New York engagement of LGBTs In The News.”

State Dept.'s Human Rights Report to Congress Mentions LGBTs Six Times

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State Dept. Press Release:

U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE

Office of the Spokesperson

For Immediate Release                                                                                         February 27, 2014

FACT SHEET

2013 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices

On February 27, 2014, Secretary Kerry submitted the 2013 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices (commonly known as the Human Rights Reports) to the United States Congress.  The reports, now in their 38th year, are available on State.gov and HumanRights.gov.  Mandated by Congress, the Human Rights Reports help inform U.S. government policy and foreign assistance.  They are also a reference for other governments, international institutions, non-governmental organizations, legal professionals, scholars, interested citizens, and journalists.

Key Human Rights Developments around the World

The following were among the most noteworthy human rights developments in 2013:

Increased Crackdown on Civil Society and the Freedoms of Association and Assembly

Governments in every region of the world continued to stifle civil society and restrict citizens’ universal right to freedoms of assembly and association.  Authorities increasingly used legislation to silence political dissidence and used excessive force to crack down on civil society and protest.

Restrictions on Freedom of Speech and Press Freedom

Governments around the world also continued to restrict freedom of expression and press freedom as a means of tightly controlling or eliminating political criticism and opposition.  This included hampering the ability of journalists to report on issues deemed politically sensitive by placing onerous restrictions on members of the press, such as requiring government approval prior to meeting with international organizations or representatives, and limiting visas for foreign journalists.  Governments also used harassment and physical intimidation of journalists to create a climate of fear and self-censorship, both online and offline.  Authorities further censored the media by closing independent newspaper outlets and television stations.  Officials detained or arrested activists and journalists on false charges in order to limit criticism of the government and impede peaceful protest, and some have even been killed for simply voicing dissent. 

 

Accountability Deficits for Security Forces Abuses

In too many places, government security forces abused human rights with impunity and failed to protect their citizens.  Military and security forces in numerous countries engaged in unlawful arrests and extrajudicial killings, gender-based violence, rape, torture, and abductions throughout 2013. Weak or nonexistent justice institutions did not hold security forces accountable for human rights abuses and often failed to uphold the rights to due process and a fair trial.

Lack of Effective Labor Rights Protections

 

People continued to work in conditions that were hazardous to their health and safety, some – often migrant workers – against their will.  Workers’ attempts to organize and bargain collectively for improved labor rights protections were frequently impeded by governments’ inability or unwillingness to enforce labor protections, as well as government interference in their activities and violence and threats against labor leaders.  However, 2013 did see the entry-into-force of International Labor Organization (ILO) Convention 189, which set forth protections for fundamental rights at work, and several countries took steps to enact legislation to protect the rights of domestic workers.

The Continued Marginalization of Vulnerable Groups

2013 saw the continued marginalization of religious and ethnic minorities, women and children, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons, persons with disabilities, and other vulnerable populations.  Governments subjected these groups to repressive policies, societal intolerance, discriminatory laws, and disenfranchisement, and authorities failed to hold those who committed crimes against them accountable. Faith organizations and religious and ethnic minorities suffered growing intolerance and violence, as well as faced threats to and restrictions on their religious belief and practice.  Women and girls in all regions suffered endemic societal discrimination, and there was a surge in gender-based violence.  The rights of LGBT persons were increasingly threatened, as limitations on freedoms of association and assembly for the LGBT community and new laws criminalizing consensual same-sex relations unleashed increased violence and intimidation against LGBT persons.  Finally, persons with disabilities continued to experience a lack of access to quality inclusive education, inaccessible infrastructure, and weak non-discrimination protections.

For further information, please contact Aaron Jensen, Press Officer, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor at DRL-Press@state.gov or (202) 647-0516.

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LGBTs In The News panel at National Press Club

LGBTs In The News panel at National Press Club

Washington D.C. engagement of LGBTs In The News at the National Press Club Feb. 25, 2014 discussion panelists (L-R): Kevin Naff, Thom Senzee (moderator), Mandy Carter, Sarah Blazucki, Rob Smith, Adam Moore and Will Walters