Earlier this week, the Voice went on SiriusXM’s Michelangelo Signorile Show to talk about our experiences at the UNITY convention.
As we noted, this was the first UNITY without the official participation of the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ). It was also the first UNITY with the participation of the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association (NLGJA). Many members of NABJ still attended, including NABJ president Gregory Lee, who we interviewed.
NABJ’s departure from UNITY and NLGJA’s inclusion were not directly related to each other. Yet as we wrote, there was the appearance that the two were linked because of the timing, and there were feelings of unease between some members of both groups (particularly in that the name was changed from “UNITY: Journalists of Color” to simply “UNITY: Journalists”).
We also reported that several people at UNITY told us that, though NABJ had not departed because of NLGJA, they had been the only group to vote, in the past, against NLGJA joining. (In the embedded audio of our post, current NABJ president Gregory Lee addressed this.)
But two other reputable sources contacted us to counter this claim. We updated our last post with a note from John Yarwood, former UNITY board member, to say it was not mathematically possible for NABJ to be the sole group to have blocked NLGJA.
We also want to print what Vanessa Williams of the Washington Post wrote us, who served as NABJ president from 1997-1999. Here is our exchange via email, which is worth reading (emphasis added):
Williams: Hi, Steven,
Saw your piece. Thanks for your take, which better explains what happened on that panel.
In the third to last graf, tho, have to say that your multiple sources are incorrect about NAB being the only organization to vote against NLGJA’s inclusion. Numerically impossible for us to have single handedly kept NLGJA out of Unity. Even though we were the largest group in the coalition, each group had the same number of votes, three, for a total of 12 voting members on the Unity board. Representatives of the other associations also voted no.
Don’t know why people keep putting it all on NABJ, but it’s wrong. And because people know it and still do it, says it’s deliberate. So what’s up with that?
The Voice: Hi Vanessa,
Thanks for writing….Several different people told me that NABJ had been the only group to vote against it before. Indeed, in the audio of my piece, Lee did say
that such an accusation is giving NABJ more power than it actually
has. If the votes are equal, is it possible that the process of a new
group joining might be through a different process (or a committee
Let me know and I’ll gladly update with your quote (and, when I go on
the air on SiriusXM at 4:30 to talk about this, I’m happy to explain
Williams: Just so you know, I was NABJ president from 97-99, so my experience is from that period. (It’s possible that the Unity board now has 16 members, but whatever the number, each association has the same number of votes.)
I can assure you that at the time there was no “different process” for voting on NLGJA’s inclusion. We had three votes like the three other groups. If every representative of the other groups voted to include NLGJA, it would have passed 9-3 — and there would have been *nothing* NABJ could do about it. So the assertion that NABJ was solely responsible for keeping NLGJA out before last year is an urban myth.
Right after this exchange, we talked about all of this on the air with Michelangelo Signorile on his show on SiriusXM OutQ 108, who was experiencing his first UNITY convention. Take a listen.
It’s worth repeating two things here that we talked to Michelangelo about. First, we have been fully embraced with welcoming arms by both NABJ and NLGJA. Second, any recent vote about NLGJA joining did not happen until after NABJ pulled out for financial and governance reasons.