Ryerson University’s school of journalism recently started offering Queer Media, a course that introduces journalism and news studies students to queer history, and the ethics underpinning the reporting of LGBTQ stories.
Instructor Andrea Houston has been teaching the course since September, but has been active in queer journalism since working as a reporter with the Peterborough Examiner, where she was assigned the lion’s share of queer interest stories. Later in her career, she worked in Toronto as a reporter for the city’s LGBTQ newspaper Xtra (now a digital publication called Daily Xtra).
“I was the token queer person in the newsroom in Peterborough, which I’m totally fine with, getting all the queer stories and covering Pride every year. But I did also see how homophobia and transphobia and the intersectional bigotry that still exists in small towns and how critical it is that small town media journalists know how to cover these stories,” Ms. Houston says.
The curriculum for the queer media course has used history as its guide. Students examine benchmark events in LGBTQ history, such as the Stonewall riots of 1969, the bathhouse raids of 1981, and the rise of HIV/AIDS, its impact on the community and its coverage in the media. Ms. Houston says that developing a connection to this history, to its social and political movements, has fuelled her interest in covering LGBTQ stories.
“I grew up in Brampton, [Ontario] so when I was growing up there wasn’t much of a queer community there. It wasn’t ‘til I started coming to Toronto and started going to Pride that I started to get a network of friends and become really active. But really, it was journalism … that made me an activist,” Ms. Houston says. “The more I read about issues, particularly issues related to social justice and social movements … I started to really get radical in my politics. One of the reasons I went into journalism in the first place was to make a difference, somehow, someway.”
Ms. Houston has also given the course a more global perspective by delving into the correlation between colonization and homophobia. One of the class’s guests was Kamoga Hassan, a gay Ugandan filmmaker and activist who was in town promoting his film Outed: The Painful Reality at the Toronto International Film Festival. The screening of Mr. Hassan’s film for Ms. Houston’s class became so popular that it was moved to an event space at Ryerson and all students in the journalism program were invited.
Ms. Houston hopes the course will inspire her students to work thoughtfully when they are chasing stories involving marginalized communities.
“To use journalism to raise up the voices of marginalized people, to tell the stories the other people in mainstream media are not covering … that’s probably the central aspect of why I wanted to teach a journalism course to begin with,” Ms. Houston says. “I’m really giving students the information I didn’t have in journalism school. You know, how to cover social movements, particularly the LGBTQ movement, with sensitivity, compassion and respect, and to give … ordinary marginalized people the dignity they deserve.”