Should a straight woman run a gay news website?

Nobody knows I'm a lesbian March 5th, 2010

Last week the editor of Pink News publicly ‘outed’ herself as straight in the Guardian. ‘So what?’ some might sigh. Surely in this modern world of alleged equality, we gays should well know how sexuality is not a factor in how well someone can do a job? But if this is the case, asks Chloe Setter, how come so many people have got their pink knickers in a twist?

“I’m straight. There, I said it,” Jessica Geen wrote in the Guardian on 3 March 2010. “I’ve been editing the gay news website Pink News for a year, and people are still shocked to discovered [sic] that I’m not actually a lesbian.”

Geen says that reactions to her being a hetero have ranged from “gentle ribbing to disbelief and even occasional anger”.

For Danielle Carter, editor of Pink News rival news site Pink Wire, it just doesn’t feel as “authentic”.

“I personally don’t think it matters if a straight person is writing articles for a gay publication, but when it comes to being the face of the community, which an editor is, it’s a grey area,” says  Carter. “You are communicating directly to those people and having a deep understanding of their issues is really important.”

Yet Geen, in an interview with Lesbilicious after the Guardian article was published, says has been surprised at the level of support. “One lovely activist emailed me to say some of the strongest gay rights advocates he had known had been heterosexual - showing that you don’t need direct experience of a cause to believe in it.”

A deeper understanding

Jessica Geen has admittedly “immersed herself in all things gay” since taking on the role of news editor at Pink News. But how can she truly understand gay lifestyle issues if she has never walked in our shoes?

“Geen can be outraged about a topic such as civil partnerships, but it still doesn’t affect her. That’s where you get the passion from,” argues Carter.

The Guardian statement attracted division among the gay and straight communities, and from both genders. One commentator wrote: “I’m not questioning Jessica’s commitment as a gay ally or ability to the job very well, but I’d prefer representation from my ‘community’.”

Others took objection to the actual wording of her statement, such as the comment that “one gay friend argues that gay people should remember it was predominantly heterosexuals who chose to change laws for the better, such as the equalisation of the age of consent and the removal of Section 28″. “It’s like saying ‘white people ended slavery’,” one response read.

Carter agrees. “As part of my role as editor of the LGBT History Month Magazine, I talk to people who were part of those movements… they would be quite insulted to be told that it was mostly straight people that enacted the changes that they campaigned for for years.”

Another commentator on the Guardian article took umbrage with Geen’s statement that ‘straight women and gay men have often got on like a house on fire. Historically, we’ve both been sexually repressed by straight men’.

“The implication of her comment is that a white straight male would be less suitable than she is,” said the commentator. “Once she admits that one combination of gender and sexuality is more suitable than another, it is merely a question of where you draw the line. The principle that competence is the only criterion has been thrown out of the window by Jessica Geen herself.”

Yet for all of the criticism, many rushed to support Geen’s ‘outing’, some even arguing that it’s a testament to how far gay rights have come that a straight woman can edit a gay and lesbian title.

The crux of the issue seems to come down to a question of representation. Obviously, the editor of every niche magazine will not have an encyclopaedic knowledge of their subjects. Some readers expect nothing more than good quality journalism from their editors, but some want a spokesperson, a champion of their cause; someone who has been through a life like theirs and has the scars to prove it.

Voice of the people?

Wes Streeting, the president of the National Union of Students (NUS), explains that in his organisation, sexuality is not an issue, unless that critical medium of representation comes into play.

“The relevance of an individual’s sexuality really does depend on the nature of their role,” says Streething. “NUS has two elected LGBT officers - one for women and one open place - both of which must be filled by members who define as a member of the NUS LGBT campaign. Given the elected, representative nature of these roles, we believe in having officers who define as lesbian, gay, bisexual or trans.”

In a world in which LGBT people are often painfully under-represented in the public eye, it seems that there is an element of resentment that a woman who many may have automatically assumed (wrongly so perhaps) was a lesbian - and “not even a bisexual” - is actually as straight as an arrow.

But as a group which historically has been discriminated against by all and sundry, we should know better than to judge Geen on who she shares her bed with as it is of no relevance to her news editing skills.

Geen told Lesbilicious: “I am not a spokesperson for the gay community. I give voices to them, I don’t speak for them.”

So it comes down to what exactly do readers expect from the normally unseen editors who bring us our daily fixes of LGBT news? Congratulations must go to Jessica for achieving so much with Pink News - she was obviously selected by the former editor - who was, for the record, gay himself - as being the best person for the job. Yet with an already woeful lack of strong and credible role models for lesbian women in particular, the expectations we hold for our more famous counterparts in the media is often high.

In an ideal world, where gay people were visibly and fully represented in all walks of life, the idea of a straight person editing a gay publication really would show how far rights had come. But for now, in 2010, the Pink News editor position is one less role that a lesbian has filled and is therefore one less high-profile gay woman for us to aspire to and for the straight world to sit up and take notice of.

 comments

  • Very well said! We need all the role models we can get.

    Spacegirl ∼ March 8th, 2010 8:11 am
  • I have spent some time thinking about this, because while I can see the need for positive role models, I feel that getting a job shouldn’t rely on who you happen to be sleeping with at the time. That should be my business.

    And yet I’m torn, because I appreciate that the job has a certain need for LGBT cultural understanding.

    ….And then I come back to ‘it shouldn’t matter who you are sleeping with, if you are absorbing yourself fully in that culture’. Argh!

    Maybe it should be ‘Is that person doing a good job? Yes? Good. No? Find someone who will.’

    If the only problem is her sexuality, then that seems kinda disappointing.

    amy ∼ March 8th, 2010 5:15 pm
  • I agree there is a lack of aspirational role models for gay women, indeed shouldn’t we be looking at what’s missing in the wider media?

    It really shows how far rights have come if a straight woman can edit a gay publication, and I think, why not? If she’s good at the job, that’s enough - isn’t that the kind of fair employment we strive towards? By the same token gay men and women, as all groups facing discrimination, should be employed on their merit and credentials alone, not on their sexuality.

    Emma ∼ March 8th, 2010 7:21 pm
  • The sad fact remains that a significant number of both straight and LGB people alike would be unwilling to take on a public-facing role where they will be widely assumed to be LGB, because of the stick this can still command. If someone who is not even LGB is happy to put themselves in that position, that surely says something very positive about them, their professional abilities and their level of committment. Good on Jessica.

    Maxine ∼ March 8th, 2010 8:46 pm
  • Yes sexuality shouldn’t be an issue, and two wrongs don’t make a right, but the reason we are poorly represented in the media, does unfortunately come down to sexuality. Until the balance is level, sexuality will be the issue.

    Spacegirl ∼ March 8th, 2010 9:52 pm
  • What? Not a lesbian?
    No civil partnership for you, no gay holy communion- dinking pink wine-, no having babies…. Someone call the chruch leaders; this is not allowed in… Utah.

    You go girl!!!! She must like the finer things of life.

    Raymond ∼ March 9th, 2010 12:51 am
  • One question: Is she good at what she does?
    a) Yes. (Then how is this news-worthy, really?)
    b) No. (Then kick her out and stop making such a fuss)

    I honestly tried to care about this, really I did, but I just don’t see the point.

    To summarize: More for me, then. ;P

    Liz ∼ March 9th, 2010 7:27 pm
  • At the risk of being unliberal and unPC i think it *is* an issue.

    If I read a caravan magazine I would want the editor to be a caravan enthusiast. Simple as.

    Why is she doing this, really? is she passionate about the gay community, or is it just a job for her that pays the rent?

    M-Ann ∼ March 9th, 2010 8:47 pm
  • I actualy think that it’s better that she is straight, it shows that some straight people care just as much about issues that affect us and that can only be a good thing.

    M-Ann I take your point about the caravan enthusiast but to be honest with you as long as they were writing about things that interest me I really don’t care if they like them or not.

    Vivien ∼ March 9th, 2010 10:07 pm
  • As long as she is doing a good job, I don’t see an issue. She is an editor so I assume she’s not writing a lot of the pieces. She’s just overseeing the process. It’s surprising, yes. But I think it’s pretty awesome that a straight woman would head a lesbian publication. Since she is assumed to be a lesbian, she probably gets some of the same reactions from the straight community that lesbians do.

    DykeRepublic.com ∼ March 16th, 2010 1:49 am
  • As long as she is doing a good job it shouldn’t matter who she is sleeping with…..it’s that simple

    Trish ∼ March 24th, 2010 3:45 pm
  • I suppose it wouldn’t matter in a job what a sexuality is in one respect. In the respect that one cannot be gay, bi and trans all at once. so the editor cannot represent all of its audience anyway. I think the issue people have is how can a straight man or women feel the acutness of issues that affect us. they can bother, please and disgust her but perhaps not devistate her in the way they can to whom they impact on their lives. Yet a man man cannot understand the irritation a gay woman feels when people tell her that her sex isn’t real sex and shes still a virgin or a trans persons pain if someone says they will never be a real man or woman or bisexuals pain at being called a liar or slut. no one can feel all of these so in that aspect it doesn’t matter that shes straight.
    However I suppose i do have a mild problem that she can’t feel same sex issues but i have a problem with gays and lesbians not feeling the problem of both sex love issues.
    I don’t think shes suitable because she said straight women and gay men get on like a house on fire! why cas you find gay men your little adorable novelty and if thats true what about lesbians you aren’t representing them by her logic straight men and lesbians get on like a house on fir so maybe a straight man would be better at the job. I was behind her till that. that thinking clearly revealed she wasn’t suitable for the job. affiliating gay men are like women mentally.

    Dante ∼ June 22nd, 2010 5:37 pm

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