Noah Michelson says he clawed his way to the top of LGBT media; we don’t buy it. Michelson is a nice guy, a fact that’s evidenced by his quickness to credit colleagues and pay homage to his forebears in LGBT media, art and politics.
In his first interview with 429Magazine’s All Out Politics column, we learn that Michelson is about as liberal as one can be—and that he takes very seriously his responsibility as one of the leading gay voices in media and politics. We also learn what it’s like working on the legendary Arianna Huffington’s team.
429Magazine: Just how political an animal is Noah Michelson?
Noah Michelson: I come from a very political family and I graduated from one of the most liberal and activist-heavy colleges in the country — Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota — so I’ve been mixed up in politics for a long time. I fall to the far left end of the spectrum, perhaps further left than many people are comfortable with, especially in terms of topics like sex positivity, sex work, and non-traditional families, among others. I was once called “The biggest threat to the future of the LGBT movement,” which I found charming (and giving me way too much credit). And don’t even get me started on what right-wingers have said about me.
429Mag: What special responsibilities to the LGBT community do you feel in your post as editor of Gay Voices, a vertical component of one of the world’s most widely news sources?
NM: I feel incredibly fortunate to have the job I have and I understand that running a site that has such huge visibility requires a great deal of responsibility. Not only do I strive to make sure our stories are honest and accurate, but I am also constantly thinking about who is represented on the page at any given time — and who isn’t. I want Gay Voices to be a place where everyone feels like they are being spoken to and about — and where they feel they have a voice. This also means running pieces that may be controversial, unsettling or that I don’t personally agree with, but at the end of the day what I’m trying to do is foster, grow and encourage discussions about the issues that matter to and affect queer people.
429Mag: What attracted you to journalism?
NM: Telling stories
429Mag: Where did you learn the trade?
NM: My background is actually in poetry. I received my MFA from New York University and then (thousands of dollars in student loans later) realized it’s incredibly difficult to pay the rent with poems. So, I managed to wrangle myself an unpaid internship at Out magazine. I worked my ass off, I had incredible mentors and a few people quit at the exactly right moments and I was able to claw my way up towards the top of the ladder over four years (I specialized in writing features on pop stars and I oversaw the magazine’s digital properties) before leaving in September 2011 to launch and edit HuffPost Gay Voices.
429Mag: How often do you get to interact with Arianna Huffington; what is she like?
NM: If Arianna isn’t traveling, she’s in the office. I think some people think she’s just a figurehead, but she is incredibly involved in the day-to-day operations of the site, is very down to earth and approachable and — it goes without saying — a brilliant thinker and business woman.
429Mag: How closely do you work with the other editors?
NM: I have my own team, which includes Associate Editor Curtis Wong, Editor-at-Large Michelangelo Signorile, Reporter Lila Shapiro and a member of our blog team, Clay Chiles, who oversees most of our blogs, but I also interact with other verticals (or sections) on the site on a regular basis. Because the queer community is so diverse and there are so many topics and issues that affect us — from politics to religion to entertainment to sports — I coordinate coverage of the day’s news with all of the other editors.
429Mag: Is there a hierarchy or a pecking order between Huffington Post’s original staffers and the more recent big-name former print people now working side-by-side in the organization?
NM: The Huffington Post works as one big well-oiled machine. Everyone’s position is important in order to deliver the amount of news and commentary we do on a daily basis. One of my favorite things about working at HuffPost is the interplay between different editors, writers, sections and the readers themselves.
429Mag: Is the president turning out to be the ally we expected after all, why or why not?
NM: I understand why many people are frustrated with Obama but I think if we zoom out and take into account how much he’s done, regardless of his motivation, it’s pretty astounding. The mentions of the queer community in his speeches alone are remarkable. But, obviously, there is a lot of room for improvement (let’s start with signing an employment nondiscrimination order). Still, we should never expect or rely on any kind of magical proclamation coming our way. We have still have many battles ahead of us and grass roots organizing, smart politicking and speaking up and using our voices and votes are critical to achieving further progress.
429Mag: Any predictions about SCOTUS decision vis a vis DOMA, Prop. 8?
NM: When it comes to the Supreme Court we’ve learned that it’s pointless to try and decode what may or may not happen based on what we see during the hearings. Still, I think we’re going to see both Prop 8 and DOMA shot down. However, I think they’ll both be narrowly decided, possibly on standing, and we’re not going to see any sweeping, all-encompassing federal rulings about marriage equality in the U.S. in June. But these will (hopefully) be huge wins for us and we’ll continue to march forward one state at a time.
429Mag: What is the most important issue facing LGBTs today, besides marriage?
NM: I think beyond marriage, employment protections, bullying, transgender rights and lgbt homeless youth, the biggest issue is still the very basic homophobia and transphobia that exists in this country. Until we really address why people are scared of, dismissive of and violent towards queer people, no matter how many laws we pass, we’re still going to be second class citizens (or worse) in many people’s minds. We saw this recently with the gay man who was removed from his sick partner’s hospital room even though he legally had a right to be there. Laws can only go so far — we need to deal with the underlying thoughts and feelings and misconceptions of those who oppose us.
429Mag: Will Hilary run?
429Mag: Will she win if she does?
NM: I’d really like to think that America is ready to vote for a female president but the pessimist in me isn’t convinced. And, yes, sadly, I think for many people it would come down to gender.
429Mag: Who do you admire most in the LGBT community? In LGBT history? And, in politics generally?
NM: How does anyone answer this without leaving someone out? A few of the people that spring to mind at this exact moment and for whom I have huge admiration and love and respect: Kate Bornstein, Michelangelo Signorile, David Mixner, Janet Mock, Armistead Maupin, RuPaul, Edie Windsor, Tom of Finland, Adrienne Rich, John Waters, Buck Angel, Audre Lorde, Robert Mapplethorpe.