When CNN anchor Anderson Cooper came out as gay yesterday, the news posed a question for other journalists. Many of us try to keep ourselves out of the issues we are covering. But we also want to be honest with our audience.
As KQED’s Scott Shafer wrote yesterday, it’s easier now than ever for gay and lesbian journalists to be out of the closet without becoming the story they are covering. But many still hesitate about whether, how and when to talk publicly about a very private matter.
KQED reporter Charla Bear asked David Steinberg, president of the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association, how other lesbian and gay journalists are handling the news. Steinberg is one of the copy desk chiefs at the San Francisco Chronicle. The following is an edited version of their conversation.
CHARLA BEAR: In your capacity of president of NLGJA, what is the response to Anderson Cooper’s announcement?
DAVID STEINBERG: We appreciate Anderson’s honesty and decision to publicly come out. I don’t think coming out was necessary. He is a very private person and he has always tried to keep the major aspects of his life just that, private. But people were asking him about his sexuality. And by not addressing it, he could give the impression that he was ashamed. He has dealt with LGBT issues in a fair and accurate way, and he has also treated people who were opposed to gay rights in interviews in fair and accurate way.
CHARLA BEAR: Is Anderson Copper’s coming out is that significant for other gays and lesbians working in journalism?
DAVID STEINBERG: I would say it is significant to the degree that it will get more attention than when other people coming out. When NGLJA was founded in 1990, one of the big things we worked on was to try to make it comfortable for people to feel like they can be open about who they are in the newsroom. But I think over the last 22 years for most people in most places that has been the case. I think probably the fact that Gloria Vanderbilt is his mother has more impact in some of the things that he does than the fact that he is gay.
CHARLA BEAR: How easy is it for journalists to come out here in San Francisco?
DAVID STEINBERG: We are blessed to live in area that it is against the law to discriminate someone based on their gender identity and their sexual orientation. We are sort of in a bubble and to that degree it may impact us personally less. But I think again as more people, especially higher profile people, come out, it makes it just another normal aspect of people’s lives. It probably has a greater impact in places where there is no discrimination law.
A student last year had an adviser who said you shouldn’t put the fact they you are a member of a NLGJA student group on your resume …
CHARLA BEAR: Is it easier to be a gay journalist here?
DAVID STEINBERG: I think it definitely is easier. There are people who it is a big deal for. We just had a letter from a student this last year who said they had an adviser who said you shouldn’t put the fact they you are a member of a NLGJA student group on your resume because it could hurt you professionally. But I think society as a whole has become much more accepting of all sorts of differences. I think you definitely see that with young people today who are coming out in high school and junior high school today. It is not an issue.
CHARLA BEAR: Do you think it would have change when or how Anderson Cooper came out if he had been here in the Bay Area?
DAVID STEINBERG: I doubt it. He is in New York. He is in a very open and accepting area.
CHARLA BEAR: I was kind of curious about the way he came out too in that kind of letter written to a friend that was then posted into the internet and not during an interview or anything like that.
DAVID STEINBERG: And again that sort of fits with his message was, which was “Look it was not a big deal. It’s nothing I’ve been trying to keep secretive. It’s just I didn’t feel it was relevant.”
CHARLA BEAR: How are people in the Bay Area reacting?
DAVID STEINBERG: My sense is that folks here will take it as an opportunity to cheer the fact that he came out, because it is perceived to be so much easier here. I think there is certain amount of “It is about time,” or “Welcome to the party” or “Congratulations, let’s move on.”