OutCasting's Founding Document
Written in December 2010 and (slightly) updated in September 2015
In recent years, the LGBTQ community has seen major advances: marriage equality in New York, the Obama administration’s speaking out against DOMA, the Supreme Court's momentous rulings in June 2013 and June 2015, the start of the It Gets Better campaign, and the repeal of the “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” military policy. In stark contrast, there continue to be a disproportionate number of teen suicides in the LGBTQ population. A few years ago, The New York Times published an article about anti-gay groups that actively oppose anti-bullying programs in schools. The article quoted Candi Cushman, an educational analyst for the notorious anti-gay organization Focus on the Family, as stating, “the advocacy groups are promoting homosexual lessons in the name of anti-bullying.”
In this unsettled environment that juxtaposes progress with ignorance, intolerance, and bigotry, a group of teenagers in the lower Hudson River valley started a public radio show in 2011 to explore the issues directly. The show, titled OutCasting, gives voice to the LGBTQ youth community with a combination of insight, reflection, respect, and a little humor.
Media for the Public Good, Inc. (MFPG), the nonprofit organization that produces the program, works directly with the students in its studio facility in Westchester County, New York, training members of a new generation of media activists by teaching them how to produce a regularly scheduled show from concept to broadcast. This includes identifying topics to cover in each edition; scheduling guests; preparing, conducting, and recording interviews; editing and assembling the show for broadcast and online distribution; and promoting the show through press releases, social networking, and other tools.
MFPG, which was then operating WDFH, a local public radio station in New York's lower Hudson River valley, started work on the program early in 2006 in connection with talks with the Elias Foundation, but the effort was cut short when the station lost its previous studio space. Once its new studio became operational, it re-started work in the winter and spring of 2011 by contacting the faculty advisors of Gay-Straight Alliances and similar student groups in local high schools and colleges. The program aired its first episode in October 2011.
OutCasting has expanded since then. In March 2013, it became nationally distributed on the Pacifica Radio Network and is now heard on more than 45 public radio stations affiliated with Pacifica as well as online. In October 2014, it opened a bureau in New York City in cooperation with the Hetrick-Martin Institute, a well-known nonprofit organization providing services to LGBTQ youth. And as of September 2015, it is working with Michigan State University to establish a bureau there. MFPG plans to replicate the MSU model at other universities around the United States so that OutCasting is not only nationally distributed but also nationally sourced, reflecting LGBTQ youth perspectives and realities from many parts of the country.
For the students working on OutCasting, it is much more than just an after-school activity. When asked why this show was important to her, Nora, one of the student participants, said, “I’m strengthening my voice as a supporter of LGBTQ rights through radio. Not only am I working for a cause I truly believe in, I’m also developing media skills that I wouldn’t have gotten anywhere else.”
Marc Sophos, MFPG’s founder and executive director, was shaken by the news of the apparent suicide of a bullied 14-year-old. He noted that a television news program opened with the anchorman saying, “We begin tonight with a story about something we don’t normally cover here. But an awful lot of people in Williamsville are hurting tonight because of a suicide there.” Mr. Sophos countered, “Why don’t they normally cover stories like this until they erupt into violence and suicide? There is far too much focus in the media on events and too little on issues, and it’s damaging our country. It’s like shining a spotlight at the outward symptoms of a disease without trying to understand and eliminate the underlying causes.”
He said that OutCasting is an on-air and online resource for young LGBTQ listeners but that the program is also heard by a general public radio audience that wants to better understand the complexities of LGBTQ identities. “Our country can’t seem to stop tying itself up into knots over LGBTQ issues,” he continued. “There is so much deliberate misinformation out there and it’s hurting and killing kids. OutCasting injects some humanism, and specifically an LGBTQ youth perspective, into the media conversation.”