The March 8 issue of PGN had two of my stories at the top of the front page, and another one teased. (That’s the one at the top right, under the name of the paper.) But none of them caused as much local attention or controversy as the one we published online, that same March 8.
The title of this post came from thinking about the 10pm news headlines at WSVN in Miami. Lots of stories can be big stories. The two at the top of the front page certainly were. But the one that didn’t make it to print until the next week was definitely the biggest (at least so far this month).
It’s not a good story – many aren’t – and luckily working at PGN has not been reporting on all the crime that most local news has become.
On March 8, after that week’s newspaper was published, we got a response to some serious allegations facing a 25-year-old well-respected institution.
The Attic Youth Center’s mission is helping “LGBTQ youth to develop into healthy, independent, civic-minded adults.” Keep in mind, these are young people who have probably been bullied and may have been thrown out of their homes.
It has had the same executive director since before I first moved to Philadelphia, more than 20 years ago. Now, there are questions to be answered, and an investigation is underway. Let’s hope for the best.
I did a lot of research and was connected to the president of the board of directors, who I spoke to by phone. That was much better than the night before, trying to get answers from anyone by phone and email, and eventually stopping by and getting shown the door on the coldest night in a while. (I wouldn’t have been able to live it down if anything had happened there and I hadn’t stopped by.)
The other big stories were political. I found out about the first while talking to a state representative about the second!
Rep. Kevin Boyle (D-some of Northeast Philadelphia and a little of Montgomery County) told me about the push to toughen Pennsylvania’s hate crimes law after an especially vicious attack, a few years ago. The three people responsible could not be charged with hate crimes, which would’ve led to more serious penalties. This is a bipartisan effort, which sounds good, but it didn’t pass in the last legislative session. (Pennsylvania’s legislative sessions last two years.)
The original political article was simply wondering what happened after my first PGN story, two months earlier. The difficult (link will explain) state Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R-Butler County, north of Pittsburgh), who single-handedly kept the Pennsylvania Fairness Act from getting a vote, was replaced as chairman of the House State Government Committee by Rep. Garth Everett (R-areas surrounding but not including Williamsport) after eight years.
Since January, Pittsburgh Rep. Dan Frankel (D-Squirrel Hill) had been circulating the anti-discrimination bill, working to get as many cosponsors as possible before filing it. Rep. Metcalfe, whose committee had gotten the bill for several sessions, wouldn’t hear of it. Now, with Rep. Everett as committee chair, things will definitely look better if the State Government Committee gets it again.
I got my idea for the next story a month earlier, while reading about a Jewish camp in California that’ll have not one, but two, all-gender cabins this summer. The story was put on hold for awhile since it wasn’t urgent and they wanted it more localized, but it turned out the California camp wasn’t the first to do what it was doing. A camp in northeastern Maryland has offered all-gender cabins for older campers since 2017, and helped advise the California camp!
The story was changed around a lot and two important paragraphs were edited out:
“PGN also reached out to the Conservative movement’s branch of its Camp Ramah and private Pinemere Camp, both in the Poconos, plus Camp Young Judaea Sprout Lake in the Hudson Valley and Young Judaea’s national teen leadership camp, Tel Yehudah, on the Delaware River in Barryville, N.Y. None of those camps responded.
(Not hearing from Young Judaea’s camps was especially disappointing since my brother and I attended their camp in North Carolina for two summers. –Lenny)
“PGN did not contact Orthodox Jewish camps. Orthodoxy is diverse, and while it often does not discriminate against LGBTQ people, it is not egalitarian and only supports heterosexual relations within heterosexual marriage.”
Also not published was this picture of URJ Camp Harlam’s Pride flag, donated by camp alumnus, parent and director of GLAD’s (GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders) Transgender Rights Project, Jennifer Levi.
I also want to thank the Keshet organization – my friend James from years ago in Miami and several of his colleagues – for offering tips we didn’t have room to publish.
FYI, some of those tips are not to assume the sexual orientation or gender identity of your campers, ensure facilities are accessible to campers and staff of all sexual orientations and gender identities, and create inclusive policies. You can get details in Keshet’s Inclusion Guide for Summer Camps. Just click the link and then download details and explanations.
The next story was suggested by a member of “The Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia” (yes, that’s its name). It’s about a program called CEO Access the chamber says “creates an informal network of relationships between large business CEOs and entrepreneurs from underrepresented populations,” and they mean LGBTQ as well as disability, minority, and women.
I was hesitant at first, since some requirements are that applicants have an existing for-profit business with at least three-year sales history, and demonstrate at least $500,000 in annual sales and an increase from the prior year. Sounded like too much (and I avoided community calendar fullscreens from places with high admission fees as bumpers to and from commercials while producing local weekend morning newscasts at WCAU and KYW), but I asked for a success story, and they hooked me up and also told me about Small Business Month, which will be in April.
And then, of course, there was Street Talk.
There’s always a Street Talk story about how hard it was to get people to talk – often because maybe the question was too obvious, controversial, or something that would seem specifically for the LGBTQ community.
The questions are usually discussed in the newsroom before I go out. Some are timely while others are evergreen. This week, politics was making news.
Sounds like every week but in January, I’d asked that the story of South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg forming an exploratory committee for the Democratic presidential nomination run right away, even though it wasn’t local. It led to a mention in editor Denise’s editorial and then a follow-up.
This time, I owed very special thank you’s to the man on top, who spoke into my old phone, which transcribed his quote, which I finished editing and emailing myself a second before the phone died! Sudden battery drain is a reason that was my old phone. It was also four years old. I ended up using his phone to take his picture, and we emailed it to me.
And since I couldn’t do any more without a working phone, I went home and asked the lady in the middle, my building’s resident services coordinator. She was pleased to take part, and I’m extremely grateful.
So thank you to Phil and Meghan! I couldn’t have done it without you!
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