Hero of the Month: Rachel Maddow

NOTE FROM JOHN: We are pleased to welcome Liz Newcomb as a new writer on AMERICAblog Gay. I’ll let Liz’s bio speak for itself. She’ll be writing a monthly LGBT Hero of the Month piece, and hopefully other post as often as she can (she does have a pesky law job that apparently she has to give some time to each day).

Liz Newcomb is an attorney by day and committed LGBT activist by night and weekend. She lives in West Hollywood with her wife Lynne. They are one of the 18,000 California same-sex couples who got married during the summer before proposition 8 passed. Liz has lived in California for over 20 years and brings a left coast perspective to AMERICAblog.

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Hero of the Month: Rachel Maddow
by Liz Newcomb

Google “Katie Couric” “Uganda” and “gay.” Just try to find a story Couric has done on the “Kill the Gays” bill in that African country. Any luck? Me neither. Try searching under “Uganda” on the homepage for ABC World News. What do you get? Some AP print stories. And, now the New York Times has weighed in. Has NBC’s anchor, Brian Williams, done a piece on the Uganda legislation? Not to my knowledge.

But when you search the NBC Nightly News website, a funny thing happens. There you will get many hits to video clips – 16 at last count. But it was not Brian Williams who covered the story. They all link to pieces by Rachel Maddow, from the month of December. And that is why Rachel Maddow is the hero of the month.

Pogroms against LGBTs have barely registered a blip in mainstream news coverage. Take the recent atrocities against gay men in Iraq. When I started reading about Iraq on the gay blogs, I was glad the story was getting attention, even though the reports were horrifying to read. When it got picked up by the AP, it perversely felt like a major triumph. Progress! We are moving forward! A pogrom against people like us merits an AP story!

Rachel Maddow is helping to change this. Maybe not single-handedly (thank you, bloggers), but she has been bold in her coverage like no other. And she has expanded our understanding of what is possible in the mainstream media’s coverage of LGBT issues.

When I first saw that Rachel was covering Uganda in a seven minute lead story, “Uganda Be Kidding Me,” I was worried. No one else on TV was touching it, and yet she was hammering it, night after night. Even though I consider myself a fire-breathing LGBT activist, I thought Rachel might be going too far out on a limb. I thought she might lose her show for focusing on an LGBT story. I allowed my own internalized homophobia to rear its ugly head. I was wrong. I should have trusted Rachel’s instincts. Her ratings are up 14% over 2008 according to a recent LA Times report.

Night after night she continued covering new angles to the story, showing how the American religious right had their handprints all over the legislation. She took on Rick Warren. She took on an “ex-gay” minister. She took on “the Family.” And guess what? Rick Warren finally denounced the legislation, as has Iowa Senator and Family member, Chuck Grassley. Five Republican members of Congress have issued a statement against it. And now, finally, the New York Times is on the story. Who knows, Katie Couric may not be far behind.

I’m convinced we have Rachel Maddow, and a handful of LGBT bloggers, to thank for this. The tide might be turning now in Uganda itself, as international attention has forced their own politicians to start to backtrack. Let’s hope so.

I hope Rachel wins an Emmy for her ground-breaking defense of LGBT civil rights. Take note, Anderson Cooper.


Liz Newcomb is an attorney by day and committed LGBT activist by night and weekend. She has worked as a researcher at the Williams Institute. While in law school at UCLA, she was Articles Editor of the LGBT law journal. Liz lives in West Hollywood with her wife, Lynne. They are one of the 18,000 California same-sex couples who got married during the summer before proposition 8 passed. Liz has lived in California for over 20 years and brings a left coast perspective to AMERICAblog.

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