Zack Ford is a long time journalist on LGBTQ politics who is the editor of ThinkProgress LGBT. He also leads the LGBTQ caucus at Netroots Nation, an annual conference of progressive activists. Knowing his passion for social justice and years in progressive media, we sat down with him recently to ask about the state of queer media, and whether the LGBTQ movement is ready to tackle race and class issues head-on.
Unicorn Booty: What do you do at ThinkProgress exactly?
Zack Ford: I’m responsible for tracking LGBT news and politics and writing about it, and helping ensure the rest of our staff that’s writing about it writes from the same informed perspective that we’ve been writing about for several years.
And ThinkProgress isn’t just a blog or a news site, right? It also does other things.
Well, we’re part of the Center for American Progress, which is a think tank. So there’s a whole lotta things going on behind the scenes, but actually ThinkProgress really is mostly just a news site.
It seems like the demographics of the progressive media conference Netroots Nation have changed (in 2015). I was in a room about social media, and when the bloggers were asked to raise their hands, there were only about three out of like sixty-five people in the room. What happened to all the bloggers?
A lot of it got corporatized. When I started at ThinkProgress it was to launch our LGBT vertical, a section of our site dedicated to LGBT content. And within the next year or two we’ve seen Huffington Post launch Gay Voices, shortly after that Slate launched Outward, and Buzzfeed of course has its hub of LGBT news.
So a lot of the primary LGBT coverage and anti-conservative tracking that a lot of the independent bloggers had done has been soaked up by a lot of these bigger websites that have a lot more income from their ad revenue and viral content. So Pam Spaulding of Pam’s House Blend closed up and the Bilerico Project closed [it has since re-opened], both of which had been big hubs for lots of independent bloggers, so we’ve just centralized and kind of became more mainstream in that way.
There’s still a lot of great independent bloggers out there doing important work, but the tactics that were working so well for the independent bloggers, we realized we could do that mainstream too, and so it kind of got taken over a little bit.
Do you think that maybe racial issues and economic issues of the sorts that we’re talking about are really the next wave of LGBT activism, coverage and identity? Or is something else going on?
Well certainly, the big piece of federal legislation we still need is non-discrimination protections and that’s not just employment but also housing, public accommodations, education and credit. And those are all still barriers for LGBT people to have even the same economic opportunities as other people, and so we’re going to be looking at a lot of these issues in that struggle, and I think it makes sense that they’re starting to kind of galvanize already.
But certainly, once we achieve the things that are particularly discriminatory against people for being LGBT, then we still have to work to improve the lives of LGBT people, right? The lives of Black people did not suddenly become great just because the Civil Rights Act passed, and we’ve seen lots of legislative efforts to continue to make it harder for people of color to have the same opportunities in society. So, the fight is going to be ongoing for some time, and we certainly need to recognize that we are fighting for some of the same relief that lots of other communities are fighting for to support American people across the country.
I also feel that as racial and economic issues start to get more attention, that there are some other ones that are getting less attention. So for example, substance abuse and addiction issues, ageism, body issues, disability, things like that. Are those actually lower-priority issues as other marginalized communities come into the forefront?
Well, I think the challenge is when you have a whole bunch of different kinds of intersections that are clamoring for attention, that some of them will be louder than others, and it’s not a matter of prioritizing one or the other. We have to do better for all of these different groups that have challenging experiences, and it’s a matter of how we find a rising tide that can lift all boats. And that’s different for each group, and so we need to specify, we need to use different tactics, and we need to respond in different ways because the same solution doesn’t work for all people. We have to find a way to sort them out, and give them all their due attention.
There seems to be a huge wedge in American political discourse between disenfranchised people of color and White people. It has occurred to me several times that maybe White activists need a moment of reflection, instruction, space in which to consider the role of Whiteness, physical appearance and their own anti-racist work in order to help unify those two halves. Do you think that there’s a need for that sort of work within the White contingent of the LGBT community?
Well, when you have a movement that has grown and succeeded as much as we have, a lot of that is thanks to people who have money, that have dedicated that money towards that work. And because of the history of our country, a lot of the people who have money are White people, and so a lot of the people who have the opportunity to do this kind of work are also White people. So there’s actually a whole system that we need to untangle to make sure that money is still available, but that it flows towards the issues that we need to address in order to support everybody within the LGBT community. So, I don’t know that it’s a matter of every single individual White person needing to take this epic moment of reflection?
I think the whole movement of White people that have been working towards LGBT victory need to look at how we can lift up people of color, how can we make sure that they’re getting the resources that have previously been funding the marriage fight, or the “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” fight, so that the funding is there to actually create solutions and that we’re not just lost in conversations all the time.