En español | As a gay man who was so uncomfortable with my sexuality that I didn’t come out until I was 39, I know how important it is for LGBTQ youth to embrace issues that are meaningful to them. That’s why I developed our public radio programs and podcasts, OutCasting and OutCasting Overtime, with each episode created by LGBTQ teens.
The problem I’m trying to solve
While a small number of media programs target LGBTQ adults, LGBTQ youth are a population without a voice in the media. Yet they are grappling with critical issues, from societal discrimination to owning their identity to coming out to a family that might throw them on to the streets. Unlike other minorities who at least have family members with whom they can identify, LGBTQ kids can feel isolated even in their own homes — one reason LGBTQ youth have an alarmingly high suicide rate. A radio show on youth-oriented LGBTQ topics is ideal because if you are an LGBTQ kid grappling with your sexuality, you can tune in in the privacy of your car or bedroom and hear a program featuring young LGBTQ voices talking about issues that matter to you. Plus, OutCasting has the power to enlighten and educate straight public radio audiences who might not otherwise seek out information on these issues.
The moment that sparked my passion
I’ve worked in radio my entire career, everything from being an engineer at NPR to founding and running the public radio station WDFH in Ossining, NY, for 18 years. It took me years to get that radio station up and running, but I knew how much it could benefit the community, so I never gave up. When a foundation I’d approached for operational support for the station asked what we could do to further serve underrepresented constituencies, it lit me up. It took years to get funding to build studio space, but again I didn’t let myself get discouraged. OutCasting finally got its start in 2011 and became nationally distributed in 2013.
I realized as soon as the idea struck me what a program like OutCasting could have done for me when I was a teen who didn’t understand or accept my sexuality — made worse because I came of age during the AIDS crisis, when there was so much discrimination. I had internalized all the negative messaging I heard from religion, government and the media, spending so many years suppressing my sexuality and feeling depressed. Knowing when I was younger that there were others like me grappling with the same issues I was could have changed my life.
Why my approach is unique
OutCasting is a 29-minute program heard monthly on more than 50 public radio stations (and online at mfpg.org). We also produce OutCasting Overtime, a monthly series of shorter pieces regularly run on the “This Way Out” show on more 200 stations. I do the final production, but the ideas, guest-booking and all the on-air interviews come from the 10 LGBTQ high-school kids who volunteer weekly at the studio. (In total, some 50 young people have participated so far.)
The training I give them in producing a show provides valuable work skills, not just in how to do radio but skills that will serve them no matter what they do, like planning, reaching out to experts, and organizing a project. But mostly, they get to explore the culture of their own people in ways that are otherwise unavailable to them. It’s been wonderful watching kids emerge from their (sometimes very hardened) shells. One teen, who had come out about his sexual orientation to only a tiny number of people, was shy and terrified when he started here. By the time he graduated, he was comfortably talking about LGBTQ issues on the air. Our teens have interviewed numerous prominent people, including Bishop Gene Robinson, the first openly gay bishop in the U.S. Episcopal Church; Evan Wolfson, one of the key architects of the marriage-equality movement; and Dan Savage, creator of the “It Gets Better” project. Sometimes we also feature our own students, such as a teen who was interviewed about his own asexuality.
What’s next for Media for the Public Good
Like most nonprofit organizations, we need funding to continue and expand. All my work is currently unpaid, but to maintain this as a lasting institution if and when I ever retire (which, since I only recently turned 60, won’t be for a long while), this position needs to be compensated. We also need other staffers to do development, outreach and marketing. My hope is that our show can be underwritten by foundations and businesses like other public broadcasting programs.
We also want to establish bureaus around the country; right now we are working with Michigan State, my alma mater, to create a program that could form a template for other universities. This expansion would not only broaden and improve our programming, it would give more LGBTQ students the opportunity to find a place where they can develop pragmatic career skills while learning about issues that help them feel at home.