Jeremy Rodriguez’s first day as staff writer at Philadelphia Gay News was the day before the 2016 presidential election.
“I came into this position thinking that human rights were going to keep being progressive and that Hillary Clinton was going to win,” he recalled. “Lo and behold, the very next day, a lot of priorities shifted. I never anticipated I’d be covering protests or seeing the community with so much anger.”
The changing landscape of LGBT rights is one of the many challenges he’s eager to explore as he moves to the helm of the publication as interim editor. Rodriguez is taking over for editor Jen Colletta, who is departing the organization after 10 years.
Rodriguez, 27, is a resident of Eastampton, N.J., but intends to move to Philadelphia in 2018.
“Throughout this past year, I have grown to fall in love with Philly and its LGBT community. It’s my dream to be closer to the action not only to shorten my commute but to also enjoy the city as an average citizen.”
Rodriguez, who graduated from Rowan University in 2014 with a journalism degree, began writing for PGN’s LGBTQ Youth Supplement in 2015 before becoming a freelance contributor.
As part of his freelance work, Rodriguez wrote the “Day in the Life of Philadelphia Gay News” column for the paper’s 40th anniversary in the spring of 2016. It was during that visit where Rodriguez got to see the inner workings of the publication.
“Spending those two days at the office, that’s when I realized that this was definitely a place I would like to work,” he said.
During his visit, Rodriguez sat in as a former staff writer received news on the murder of Maya Young. He observed the writer as she gathered information on the developing case. After he was hired for the writing position last fall, it became one of the cases he followed closely. He completed coverage of the case by reporting on court hearings of the two co-defendants, with one pleading guilty in February and another entering a guilty plea during a trial in August.
“It was really interesting to jump into this role and cover that case through to completion,” he said.
Beyond crime, Rodriguez’s stories have included politics, community events and profiles, legislative developments and more. That well-rounded writing experience has helped him understand the depth and breadth of the community.
“Prior to becoming staff writer, I knew nothing about the criminal-justice system, politics or the important work of local LGBT nonprofits. Now, I’m going to murder trials, attending political functions and I can tell you which nonprofit does what like it’s second nature,” he said. “Other journalists will often ask me, ‘What’s your beat?’ and I often respond by saying, ‘I don’t know what a beat is.’ This position has required me to know a little about a lot and that has made it exciting while keeping me on my toes.”
PGN Publisher Mark Segal noted that Rodriguez’s past two years of writing for the paper made him a natural fit for the transition.
“PGN always attempts to promote within and having someone like Jeremy in the interim editor’s position, who started with our Youth Supplement, is an example of what that structure was designed to do, to encourage the next generation of LGBT journalists,” Segal said.
On a personal level, Rodriguez’s work as staff writer has also helped him to better appreciate the marginalization many people in the community face.
While he noted he has encountered discrimination as a gay man, he said he is also in touch with the privilege that he possesses.
“Yes, I am the ‘G’ in ‘LGBT’ but I am also a white-passing cisgender man. My struggles are completely different from the other letters in that acronym. Women — not just lesbians — have struggles that I would never be able to fully identify with; bisexuals experience erasure in the community; and people of color are often sidelined in conversations.”
Of all the lessons he’s learned in his first year, Rodriguez said he most appreciates developing a deeper understanding of and connection with the trans community.
Especially with the ongoing scourge of violence against transgender people, particularly trans women of color, Rodriguez said it’s important to have journalistic advocates like PGN.
“I noticed that we are different from other media outlets in regard to our coverage of [violence against trans individuals],” he said. “Other outlets will cover the initial report of a trans woman’s murder and will subsequently stop following the story after that. We don’t do that at PGN. We will cover the initial case but we will also cover the arrest of the alleged killer, that killer’s court hearings and the final trial if it comes to that. I think it’s important to cover these types of stories from beginning to end and not as attention-grabbing headlines.”
Rodriguez said he will continue to prioritize diversity of gender expression in PGN’s reporting.
“As staff writer, I interviewed several people who go by ‘they/them’ pronouns and, while I have tried my best to respect these individuals, I definitely made some mistakes. It is my goal to not let these mistakes slip by as simple grammatical errors.”
PGN is in the process of hiring a new staff writer, and Rodriguez said he will also encourage reporters to ask for pronouns from all interview subjects, which he will also aim to do in his future reporting.
Rodriguez also plans to be more aggressive in expanding PGN’s online readership and social-media presence.
“I want more people to consume our content not just on the local level but on a national level too. Mark Segal fought like hell just to get PGN into readers’ hands more than 40 years ago and I plan to walk in his footsteps to ensure we reach even more readers — whether that’s through their typical print consumption, on their smartphones or on their social-media feeds.
“I want to make sure all people in the LGBT community will continue to see this publication as a resource. And if anyone feels like we are not giving issues the coverage they deserve, please reach out. We want to hear from you,” Rodriguez said. “Jen Colletta has done an excellent job at maintaining collaborative relationships with the community. It’s my wish to continue those partnerships and create even more with other community members.”
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