In my first story for PGN, I had to mention the phrase “penis-shape bagel-eating contest.” What did I get myself into? I wondered. I was 21, fresh out of college and on my first day assigned a preview story about OutFest 2007. I quickly learned this was not going to be a run-of-the-mill, entry-level journalism job.
Getting my feet wet as PGN’s staff writer gave me much more than reporting experience; it was like a crash course in psychology, communication and history all rolled into one, largely owing to the many colorful characters who served as sources, tipsters and sounding boards. I learned who in the local LGBT community was the one to call when I needed the gossip no one else would dish on, which contacts would call me back three days after my deadline, who got along and who didn’t, who loved the spotlight and who loved the heavy lifting, who was chatty and who was curt — and how all these wonderfully diverse and divergent personalities worked together to make a thriving, vibrant community that was forging forward.
And I was thrown into that momentum headfirst. During my tenure at PGN, I got to report on some of the community’s most momentous milestones. When I started, just one state sanctioned same-sex marriage. I kept maps and lists of court cases and wrote feverishly as state after state followed suit. When Pennsylvania’s turn came, I remember then-staff writer Angela Burns and I anxiously refreshing our Twitter pages until we saw the news, rejoicing for a moment and then posting our pre-written celebratory stories (we’d done several versions) and dashing to City Hall to cover the impromptu celebration. Two years later, I again hit refresh until I saw the news of a national victory, as photographer Scott Drake furiously sent photos of the scene outside the Supreme Court building in D.C. Our next Wedding Issue was overwhelming, yet exhilarating, as couple after couple responded to our ad for announcements.
It wasn’t all happy news. I talked to many spouses, parents and siblings who had lost loved ones, and I placed too many calls to police for details on murder victims. I spent a grueling week-and-a-half on the uncomfortable benches of the Criminal Justice Center anxiously gathering every detail in the Kathryn Knott trial. I worked hard for stories: Scott and I literally chased the (blind) governor of New York and Arnold Schwarzenegger out of Independence Hall to press them on marriage equality, and I was part of a team that spent a whirlwind five days covering the Democratic National Convention. There were many victories to report, and many losses, but with each major development we could see the pendulum swinging in the right direction.
I also moved forward at PGN, being promoted to editor in 2012. I was able to see this organization from a new vantage point, and take on the joys and struggles of management. I got to work closer with the editorial team on the paper’s vision, brainstorming and implementing ways to reach new readers, engage with our longtime supporters and embrace new media. I conceived of and put in motion efforts like our monthly Day in the Life Of column and the LGBTQ Youth Supplement and spent considerable time revamping our digital and social-media presence.
As always, the successes of PGN were a team effort. The newsroom is home to a free flow of ideas, where each person’s contributions are valued and celebrated. That culture instilled a sense of confidence in my team, and hopefully vice versa; the most rewarding aspect of being editor is knowing that I’m working with a staff who genuinely is invested in their work, and always willing to lend a hand to get the job done.
While the team is consistently dedicated and driven, there’s plenty of room for fun. We’ve taken part in many awkward “Happy Birthday” renditions; for a time worked amid three dogs and two cats; learned together what not to do in an earthquake; eaten way too much Copabanana; hosted some very random visitors like a man dressed as a rainbow popsicle; dined and danced at countless community functions and staff parties; and, in the process, become a family.
The folks who work at PGN have been an integral part of the biggest moments of my life, both good and bad, in the last 10 years. I relied on their comfort and understanding when my dad passed away, their shared excitement as I prepared to get married, their patience as I went through my first home-buying experience, their tolerance when my possessed puppy visited the office and now their support as I prepare to embark on a new venture.
While I am excited to start this journey, I doubt I will ever again find a staff like that of PGN. We’ve been through ups and downs, fights and frustrations and the downright weird and wild things that have happened at 505 S. Fourth St. It’s rare to have so many personalities in one building that are so polar opposite of one another, yet that fuse so seamlessly. I think the thread that holds that fabric together is the deep appreciation for and understanding of PGN’s mission: quality journalism that centers and gives a voice to LGBT people. The tenets of honesty, integrity and professionalism that have shaped PGN since 1976 will continue to guide it, and the staff, in the future, and I’m unspeakably grateful to have had the opportunity to be a part of a chapter in this organization’s remarkably storied history.