Why we need the Washington Blade
By Kevin Naff
On Nov. 16, after slightly more than 40 years as the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender news source of record, the Washington Blade abruptly shut down when parent company Window Media moved into Chapter 7 bankruptcy.
The closure came as an unimaginable shock to nearly two dozen staff members, some of whom had spent decades at the paper. Many questions remain about how this could happen. There had been two bids for the assets of the Blade, which had been placed in receivership by the Small Business Administration. Why was neither of them accepted? Why was Chapter 11 reorganization not an option? Who made the decision to liquidate? Who will relocate and manage the Blade’s extensive, one-of-a-kind archive?
Freed of Window Media’s corporate control, the former Blade staffers will now begin to investigate this fiasco in the hopes of finding some answers and much-needed closure.
The shock of Monday’s announcement quickly gave way to feelings of relief, gratitude and amazement as scores of Blade supporters from the District and around the country began e-mailing and calling. Our phones haven’t stopped ringing. The sentiments were the same: disbelief that this could happen and a desire to help. We’ve had countless offers of support, from pro bono legal services to Web site development to financial backing. During a hastily called staff meeting at a local coffee shop Tuesday morning, a quiet, gray-haired man approached me, said he recognized me from the Blade and offered us the use of two empty buildings he owns in the city. Our publisher, Lynne Brown, and I appreciate all the support more than I can express, and we promise to respond to each offer of help as soon as possible. For others looking to lend a hand with our new venture, please visit savetheblade.com.
A common theme in the ensuing media analysis of the story has been to ask what, exactly, is the role of LGBT media in our modern, progressive society. Why do we need a Blade?
The answer, of course, is that the Blade provided an indispensable resource for stories and information unavailable elsewhere. Mainstream outlets, including The Post, are doing a better job covering LGBT issues, but their focus is on the mainstream stories. One of our roles was to elevate obscure stories to the mainstream, from the early reporting of Lou Chibbaro Jr. on shady practices at the city’s HIV/AIDS administration, which The Post recently followed to great acclaim, to our stories on anti-gay hate crimes that go unreported in mainstream outlets.
And it’s important to remember that while many of us live in gay-friendly urban enclaves where same-sex marriage will soon be a reality, the vast majority of the country isn’t so fortunate. Workplace discrimination, anti-LGBT violence and inequalities in relationship recognition persist. It was only weeks ago that the country enacted into law its first-ever pro-gay federal legislation, a hate crimes bill signed by President Obama. The effort to ban anti-LGBT workplace discrimination has languished in Congress since 1974 and remains unfinished business.
More than a news source, the Blade occupies an emotional place in the hearts of readers. The paper helped many locals navigate the difficult coming-out process and to grieve the loss of a generation of gay men to AIDS. I first encountered the Blade in the aisles of the Lambda Rising bookstore in the 1980s and discovered that an entire gay world awaited me — that it was possible to be out and happy and healthy. Jon Barrett, editor of the Advocate, the nation’s largest monthly LGBT magazine, recently told a story identical to mine about the Blade’s role in his own coming-out process.
Although the paper’s primary mission was to cover the local LGBT community, the Blade evolved into a national voice to hold politicians accountable for their promises, to expose anti-gay hate and corruption, to monitor the LGBT rights movement and to help bring gay-bashers to justice. That mission continues. The staff is united. Our work is unfinished. On Friday, a modest and early version of our new publication will hit the streets of Washington.
Reminiscent of the early days of the “Gay Blade” 40 years ago, the staff is volunteering our time, meeting in coffee shops and basement apartments, and facing long odds. With the support of the full community, we will persevere to celebrate another 40 years.
The writer was editor of the Washington Blade from 2006 until its closing this week.
| November 19, 2009; 10:30 AM ET
Categories: D.C., media
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