Journalists from 20 nations visited the offices of the Washington Blade on Monday as part of a special reporting tour organized by the U.S. State Department to brief the journalists on how the U.S. addresses LGBT-related issues.
Blade editor Kevin Naff spoke to the journalists about how the Blade and other media outlets cover the LGBT community and how coverage from the LGBT press differs from coverage by mainline news organizations.
“LGBT issues are a human rights priority for Secretary of State [Hillary] Clinton,” said Dick Custin, deputy director of the State Department’s Foreign Press Center, which organized the tour.
“Many of the journalists who will be joining us come from countries where homosexuality is not only stigmatized, it is punishable by imprisonment or even death,” Custin said in an email prior to the journalists’ visit. “The courageous participants on this tour are willing to report back to the readers, listeners and viewers in their home countries on how the U.S. is handling this important issue.”
The nations the journalists were from included: Albania, Chile, China, Croatia, Dominica, Guyana, India, Indonesia, Kosovo, Latvia, Liberia, Lithuania, Mexico, Moldova, Nigeria, Philippines, Russia, Singapore, Turkey and Uganda.
Custin said the journalists on the tour include bloggers and reporters from TV, radio, newspapers and online media. One journalist from Uganda noted that in her country the Blade’s offices would be “ransacked and burned.” Others wondered if the paper had ever been targeted by protests, while some wrongly assumed the government funded the paper’s operations. The session ended with many of the journalists offering international story ideas for the Blade to cover.
“We believe this tour would give journalists – and their audiences worldwide – a perspective on how the world’s leading democracy handles issues of sexual orientation and the sensitivities surrounding it,” Custin said.
In addition to their visit to the Blade offices, the foreign journalists met with Diego Sanchez, the LGBT issues coordinator for U.S. Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), and officials at the Pentagon that handle the dismantling of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” and gay members of the U.S. military. They then went to Annapolis to meet with openly gay state lawmakers.
The State Department tour also was scheduled to take the journalists to the offices of the anti-gay National Organization for Marriage to glean insight into U.S. groups opposing LGBT rights.
The seven-day tour was scheduled to travel to Philadelphia and New York City to enable participants to meet with law enforcement officials that work on efforts to curtail anti-LGBT hate crimes, leaders of Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, and organizers of the “It Gets Better” campaign, which seeks to curtail LGBT teen suicides.