Michael Goff, the founding editor of Out, is the latest LGBT journalist to sign an open letter condeming the magazine's profile of Milo Yiannopoulos — a right-wing peddler of hate speech that got him banned from Twitter.
As of midday Friday, 80 members of the LGBT media had signed the letter reprimanding Out magazine, twice as many who had signed when The Advocate first reported on the letter Thursday — and three times as many as it was first posted. While condemnation has been widespread, and growing, most LGBT journalists who answered requests for comment by The Advocate haven't called for specific consequences for Out. Instead, most want discussion and change that lasts past this moment.
Out, which described Yiannopoulos in part as a "professional mischief maker and provocateur," published its profile of the gay Breitbart tech editor on its website Wednesday, complete with photo shoot. It will span eight pages in the next printed magazine. The journalists' open letter calls it "dangerous" and a "puff piece."
Zack Ford, the LGBT section editor at ThinkProgress, was one of those who spoke out against the magazine on Twitter, but he decided to do something more. Ford authored the open letter now signed by Goff and called the profile a "serious problem." "This puff piece — complete with a cutesy clown photoshoot — makes light of Yiannopoulos’s trolling while simultaneously providing him a pedestal to further extend his brand of hatred," wrote Ford on behalf of the journalists. The list now also includes three current Out employees plus Goff, its founding editor.
Ford told The Advocate that the Yiannopoulos profile is a turning point in LGBT journalism: "This is a moment that simply symbolizes how bad erasure and negligence can get, a clear-cut example that is just inexcusable." But he stopped short of calling for a retraction, public apology, or more.
"Would anyone actually believe it if they issued an apology?" he said. "I honestly don't know how exactly you walk back publishing a hagiography of a bigot."
"Besides, Aaron Hicklin's indignant tweets over the past two days, including one that specifically referenced the letter, suggest Out might be a lost cause anyway," Ford said. He referred to two specific tweets from the Out magazine editor in chief:
To be clear Out has always honored LGBT diversity, highlighted its struggles, and celebrated the richness of its intersectional cultures.
— Aaron Hicklin (@Aaronhicklin) September 22, 2016
Would @outmagazine have interviewed Goebbels in 1940 someone asks. Umm, yes, of course.
— Aaron Hicklin (@Aaronhicklin) September 22, 2016
Ford isn't alone on the list of journalists in avoiding prescribing any particular reaction, especially given that Yiannopoulos has only gotten more attention after Twitter banned him for inspiring a racist mob that attacked Saturday Night Live comedian Leslie Jones.
Yiannopoulos has also started a scholarship fund for white men only, written articles critical of feminism (which he says is being pushed by "dykes"), and claimed transgender people don't exist — a false claim he repeated along with an anti-trans slur in the Out magazine profile. Since getting banned from Twitter, he's started a college lecture tour, along the way accusing lesbians of faking hate crimes.
Hicklin has repeatedly defended his editorial decision-making on Twitter and in interviews. He gave one such interview to Fusion on Thursday, calling the article "a great top-notch profile piece."
"I do think there’s a bit of a double standard when it comes to LGBT media, and I think that’s disappointing," Hicklin said. "I think we’re seeing that because we’re LGBT, we’re almost seen as having a kind of LGBT mission, rather than a journalistic mission. Our mission first and foremost is always journalistic. It’s a great, top-notch profile piece. I think the writer clearly critiques Milo and lets Milo — though he lets Milo speak for himself — I think in a profile, it really is about the subject damning themselves. It’s not about having an opinionated piece."
Fusion called the profile an example of the powerful ruling over the powerless. The outlet recalled its own reporting from April, which showed at the time 85 percent of magazine covers in the last five years featured white people. Critics used the hashtag #GayMediaSoWhite, and The Advocate was also called on to do better. To that criticism, Hicklin said, "I don’t think anyone in here would say we’re inclusive enough. I don’t know if it’s possible to be inclusive enough, you can always improve that. But it’s definitely something we’re very aware of, it’s something that’s reflected in our staff meetings, and I think anyone watching the evolution of the magazine will see that it has become wildly more inclusive in the last five years, that said it might have been 10 years ago."
Sam Stecklow, the Fusion editor who interviewed Hicklin, later suggested ideas for changes at Out. "It would be great to see some kind of initiative with real, actionable plans to increase both staff and coverage diversity at Here Media, including both Out and The Advocate," Stecklow said. He told The Advocate that "best thing" for Out would be "new leadership and a revamped editorial strategy that does not focus on what Bradley Stern refers to as the 'Grindr aesthetic.'"
Mic senior editor Gabriel Arana also interviewed Hicklin and wrote a lengthy piece condemning Out for providing the Breitbart editor with a platform and the kitschy series of photos that depicted him as a clown: "You don't sprinkle artistic pixie dust on a white supremacist."
Arana found Out's treatment of Yiannopoulos akin to how the media initially handled Donald Trump, who rose through the Republican ranks via free news coverage. "Alas, the surest way to turn a clown into a threat is by treating them with the same uncritical eye with which the mainstream media has treated Donald Trump, who has used billions of dollars in free airtime from the major television networks to rail against Muslims, Mexicans and refugees," Arana wrote.
Ford is not the only LGBT journalist critical of how Aaron Hicklin has responded to the criticism.
Noah Michelson, executive editor of Huffington Post Queer Voices, signed the open letter and also wrote on a public Facebook post that he was "absolutely floored that Out magazine has decided to dedicate thousands of words to one of the most dangerous and disgusting people on the planet: Milo Yiannopoulos." Michelson, who had been an Out editor himself for four years, went on to say that it's "ridiculous" to hide behind an editor's note and that he generally does not comment publicly about other media brands, "but this is just fucked up."
Objections also came Trish Bendix, the editor in chief of AfterEllen. "As someone who has had to balance editorial content with what gets clicks (celebrities, lists, galleries, 'sexy stories') with the real issues of the community and the people on the ground doing the progressive work we sometimes take for granted, I still wondered how Out could justify their piece on someone whose very existence is because of the attention he’s receiving," Bendix told The Advocate. She called the criticism of the story "well-founded." But she too avoided suggesting an immediate consequence.
"Speaking for myself, I would like to see Out respond in a way that acknowledges that they have heard the community and fully investigated why they decided to publish something that gives someone so antithetical to what we are and what we stand for as a community the kind of platform that they did and in the way that they did," she said. "I want it to help to change and shape how they view content going forward and help be the leaders in LGBT publishing that we need and deserve. No one is going to champion and stand up for us but ourselves."
JamesMichael Nichols, the deputy editor of Huffington Post Queer Voices, told The Advocate he signed Ford's letter because "those of us working in queer media have a responsibility to both our community and one another." He called the decision to profile Yiannopoulos a "poor one," but said the biggest issue was "the lack of a challenge to his horrific rhetoric within the article — particularly when we are at such a dangerous cultural moment when it comes to the rights and survival of those living at the intersection of a multitude of identities."
Nichols said he wasn't sure Out needed to take any further action, but that those who work in LGBT media must send a message: "We need to do better."
Editor's note: Out magazine and The Advocate are both owned by Here Media.