NLGJA looks to establish a home in the Philip Merrill College of Journalism
As LGBTQ issues rise to the forefront of media and politics, student journalists see now as the perfect time to ensure these stories are reported with the care they deserve. Undertaken by senior mechanical engineering major Lyna Bentahar, a new proposal sets the Philip Merrill College of Journalism as a potential home to a student chapter of professionals called NLGJA: The Association of LGBTQ Journalists (NLGJA).
The NLGJA is a “journalist-led association working within the news media to advance fair and accurate coverage of LGBTQ communities and issues,” according to the association’s website. Their vision is “fair representation and respect of diverse LGBTQ communities in newsrooms and news coverage.”
As the acting Vice President of Memberships for the chapter, Bentahar became involved with reporting after a few extracurricular courses gave her the journalism bug. Starting the student chapter is not a hard choice for her. She already has journalism experience from working with The Diamondback and Unwind Magazine. For Bentahar, this group is the chance for students of all backgrounds to emerge as part of a generation of journalists who champion fair and accurate reporting of LGBTQ issues.
This potential new chapter would serve as Merrill’s first LGBTQ society of professional journalists and the NLGJA’s eighth U.S.-based student chapter.
“It’s not about being ‘straight’ or ‘gay’, it’s about how these things are represented in the news,” Bentahar said. “As part of this association, you should be working towards making sure that issues are represented accurately and fairly.”
For Bentahar, this association is necessary for any student who seeks to lead the charge in fair and accurate reporting. As a professional society, the NLGJA will strive to eliminate misinformation and set the record straight on LGBTQ issues.
“As queer people are becoming more recognized in society, [it is important] that their accomplishments and their records are taken more seriously,” she said. “That means, that we as journalists have to take it more seriously in how we report.”
For Kevin Naff, editor and co-owner of the Washington Blade, the nation’s oldest LGBTQ newspaper, structural support for inclusion aretantamount to the success of diverse reporting, and the amplification of niche voices – not just within queer stories - within any national story.
“I studied journalism at Penn State University, and I graduated in 1992 and there were very few queer resources, if any at all,” Naff said. “Not having access to those resources is extremely demoralizing. It makes your job much harder if you don’t have any sources who can talk for stories, people who are willing to be out and open so the campus community and your leaders can only benefit by having more resources than fewer.”
Naff has firsthand experience working with the NLGJA. In 1996, while he served as a reporter for the Baltimore Sun, he brought the association in to assist with the reporting of Ellen DeGeneres’ coming out story.
“That’s how you create understanding,” he said. “You advocate for workplace protection, and so having openly LGBT spaces on campus is critically important to making sure our stories get told so the larger community understands who we are and where we’re coming from.”
While Bentahar’s initial plan for the chapter is targeted towards ensuring its recognition as a professional society, she does see it becoming a safe space in the future.
“We don’t have a sort of ‘agenda’ regarding LGBTQ issues, we’re not trying to push them into the forefront,” she said. “It’s just that if there is LGBT news, if there’s something to address, are you going to address that fairly?”
With thanks to a trusted national network, for interested student journalists, investment in this chapter would open interested individuals up to scholarships, mentorships, networking and job opportunities ranging from The New York Times to The Washington Post and the Chicago Tribune.
Locally, the Washington Blade is also preparing to announce two paid, 12-week long fellowships, a $5,000 scholarship and 2-3 unpaid academic credit internships during the summer of 2020.
“Many of us had the option that we came out and that we used our identity, our full selves, at work and that’s the goal,” Naff said. “Whatever your full identity is, if gay is part of it, if trans is part of it, or being a person of color, or your religious background, or your economic status, or your immigrant status or whatever - the goal is to be able to embrace all of that and bring all of those perspectives to your work.”
For the chapter to become official on Maryland’s campus, Bentahar says five students must pay a one-time student membership fee of $25 to the NLGJA. As well, she is working with Merrill’s assistant dean to obtain a faculty advisor. Of this, Bentahar is not worried - outreach has already been met with an enthusiastic response.
“If this is something you care about,” she said. “You should join.”
A meeting will be hosted by Bentahar in October to address questions about the chapter and provide further details about what it will be. For those interested in joining, contact Bentahar at email@example.com.