As I boarded the train from Trenton to Philadelphia, all I could do was feel anxious. I was about to spend a week working on a prestigious student journalism project with the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association (NLGJA). My parents reminded me that I was “chosen for a reason,” but I was still struggling to find the confidence I needed to get through the week.
I was chosen among 11 other students from across the country to participate in the program, and I spent most of the week collaborating with mentors from The Washington Post and The New York Times on an original news story and networking with industry professionals. The idea of having professional journalists read my work seemed daunting. However, what I found at the NLGJA conference was the exact opposite of what I expected. The journalism industry can be competitive, but in NLGJA, I found a network of colleagues who lift each other up and share the same common goal: ensuring fair media coverage of issues affecting the LGBTQ community.
By the time the conference came around, my feelings of intimidation and fear were replaced with excitement and empowerment. I learned new lessons about myself and more about covering LGBTQ issues in journalism.
One of the most important things I learned is that the struggle for equality is far from over. Although the nationwide legalization of same-sex marriage in 2015 was a significant victory, the LGBTQ community still faces problems. From the HIV and AIDS epidemic’s effect on gay and bisexual men, to violence and hate crimes against transgender people, there are still urgent issues beyond marriage equality that deserve media attention. People often think large victories imply that a problem doesn’t exist anymore, but the reality is that LGBTQ people still face marginalization, and journalists can help bring those issues to the forefront.
Each student in my program pitched an original story about issues affecting the LGBTQ community. I chose to write about youth homelessness, while other peers explored topics such as LGBTQ education in public schools, openly queer religious leaders and the struggles of growing up queer in cultures that are often unaccepting. The end result was a series of stories that will hopefully bring about awareness of issues that usually don’t make it to primetime news.
I also learned important lessons about myself while at the conference. I realized the importance of being persistent. During a career expo, I visited a table for a news company and was told by a recruiter I needed to get more production skills if I wanted to apply for an internship there. I wasn’t insulted because I knew she was right. But later that day, I stopped by the same table again and met a different recruiter, who told me she was impressed with my resumé and thought I would be a great fit for a different program at the company. This experience taught me that when it comes to your career, you shouldn’t always take no for an answer.
More importantly, I learned about the importance of believing in myself, both as a journalist and as a person. Three months ago, I was applying to the program and reading biographies of past participants, many of whom were graduate students at prestigious institutions who had obtained multiple high-profile internships. Almost immediately, I started to dismiss my own talents. Earlier in the year, I had applied to nearly 20 journalism internships and received mostly rejections, or even worse, no response at all by the time May came around.
One of my professional mentors, Frances Fernandes, a journalist from California, told me I have to keep going regardless of what rejections come my way. It was simple advice, but it was advice I needed to hear from the person I needed to hear it from. It reminded me that I’m more than good enough, that I belonged where I was, and that no matter what obstacles I might face in the field, there are always better things to come.
News Editor of The Rider News
Printed in the 9/13/17 issue.