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12:31 | 19th October 2017

News: UK

Mon 8 Mar, 2010
By Sam Bristowe


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

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Exclusive: Pinkwire Editor speaks about her role in the media

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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 Green’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.

Words: Chloe Setter from lesbilicious.co.uk



 

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