Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) has done the unimaginable. It has cracked a firewall in black media with the two titans of black print and online news - Essence and Ebony.
In October 2010, , the online companion to Essence Magazine, featured a newly wedded lesbian couple in its âBridal Blissâ section - Aisha and Danielle Moodie-Mills of Washington, D.C.
And this month, Ebony Magazine, featured a newly wedded lesbian couple in its annual Black Love issue - Yanette L. Freeman and Willa Walker.
And the man behind this Herculean feat is Rashad Robinson, GLAADâs Senior Director of Media Programs.
I asked Robinson how did he do it.
âI met with the folks at both Essence and Ebony earlier last year on how to increased inclusion of us in their magazines. I explained how to avoid stereotypes and bad reporting, and they were receptive to terminology suggestions, story ideas and potential spokespeople for future coverage.â
Getting Aisha and Danielle Moodie-Mills on the bridal pages of Essence was, I told Robinson, a black media coup dâĂ©tat, because I remember back in the day when Essence wouldnât budge on LGBT stories.
For example, in 2005, Amari Sokoya Pearson-Fields, the then Deputy Director of The Mautner Project, a support organization for lesbians with cancer and their love ones, found that her indefatigable efforts to promote the new website âS.H.E.â (Spirit, Health and Education), a wellness community by and for African American LBTQ women, to black media was a no-go.
âWe recently did a press release about the SHE circle website. We sent it to all the black media as well as the gay media. Guess what! No one from the black media covered it. Imagine thatâŠ! I wanted to get your ideas now for pitching a story to Essence magazine about the program and the health of black lesbians. Where do I begin?â Pearson-Fields asked me in an email.
Essence is a magazine with an impressive circulation of roughly over 1 million sister-readers monthly between the ages of 18 and 49. While the magazine purports to be for todayâs black women, not every sister sees a glimpse of her countenance in its pages.
Lesbian, bisexual and trans (LBT) sisters for the most part are invisible to the magazine. While LBT sisters have been reading Essence since its inception in May 1970, we got a glimpse of our reality in the May 1991 Motherâs Day issue when Linda Villarosa, then senior editor at magazine, co-wrote an article with her mother entitled âComing Out.â And in July 2002 Essence did an article titled âTwo Mommy Household.â
While Villarosaâs âComing Outâ piece signaled to the magazine that lesbians, bisexual, and transwomen are part of the Essence sisterhood, too, the piece wasnât a breakthrough moment for more stories, photos, and articles about us.
But then I got an email last year that the magazine was featuring âoneâ of us as same-sex couple on their bridal page.
âI am working on a relationship story for Essence magazine. The piece will highlight several couples and their keys to a successful relationship. I would like to include a Black lesbian couple in my piece. Would you or anyone you know be interested in speaking with me?,â freelancer Niema Jordan wrote me in October 2009.
And a year later, in October 2010, Aisha and Danielle Moodie-Mills appeared in Essence âBridal Blissâ section.
âOther media outlets should follow âs strong example of including stories of gay and lesbian people that spotlight the rich diversity of our community and the issues that affect our lives,â said Jarrett Barrios, president GLAAD.
And Ebony has followed Essenceâs lead with Yanette L. Freeman and Willa Walker in this monthâs Black Love issue.
Like Essence, Ebony has been slim on LGBT coverage.
Johnson Publications featured its first LGBT story in 1994 when Jet included an article about the late Coretta Scott Kingâs support of LGBT rights. In November 2005 Jet covered WNBA great Sheryl Swoopesâ coming out story, and in March 2006 featured a story about Jennifer Jones, an African American lesbian senior at Hood College who won her schoolâs Homecoming King title after being barred from the competition the previous year.
Having Yanette L. Freeman and Willa Walker in this monthâs issue of Ebony is a huge feat for the entire LGBTQ community, because Johnson Publications, founded in November 1942, is the largest and oldest black owned publishing firm in the country. And it coverage of people of African descent has not only impacted and influenced those of us here, but its coverage has also impacted and influenced people around the globe.
Johnson Publications in Chicago is home of Ebony and Jet Magazines, and with a combined circulation of 21 million people per month, both magazines are household and beauty salon staples. Equally as important, these magazines also set the standard for coverage in other Black publications, like Essence, and Black newspapers across the country.
GLADD has made black history in cracking out the firewalls at Essence and Ebony. And longtime readers, like me, are both shocked and awed.
But with folks like Robinson, and GLAADâs People of Color Media Program working with media outlets to improve LGBT coverage, we all can begin to be hopeful.ï±