Profile: Adam Pawlus, executive director, NLGJA: The Association of LGBTQ Journalists

For the past 20 years, Adam Pawlus (MA ‘01) has dedicated much of his career towards advocating for proper coverage of members of the LGBTQ community and promoting the need for diversity in newsrooms. 

Currently, Pawlus serves as the executive director for NLGJA: The Association of LGBTQ Journalists, an organization of over 1,000 journalists, news executives, communications professionals and educators that serves as a strong voice in the news industry, educating newsroom decision-makers about coverage of the LGBTQ community, promoting non-discrimination policies and the establishment of equal benefits, and creating educational opportunities to support the next generation of LGBTQ newsroom leaders.

Following is a brief interview with Pawlus.

Pawlus sits at a table and smiles.
“Pride month remains an opportunity to put a spotlight on the inequities faced by LGBTQ people and communities,” said Pawlus. (Photo:Submitted)
GC: What classes at Grady College did the most to prepare you for your career?

AP: I believe the balanced curriculum, including the practical, theoretical and skill-based course components that Grady College offered me as a master’s student, prepared me for a career in communications, as well as in nonprofit management. Twenty years after graduating, I may not be able to recite the five stages of the Transtheoretical Model of Change, but the analytical and critical thinking skills that were sharpened by the case studies presented as part of the curriculum have helped me through my career.

GC: What does LGBTQ Pride month mean to you?

AP: In the early morning hours of June 28, 1969, a group of LGBTQ people gathered outside of the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village and stood up to systematic discrimination and oppression in what has become immortalized as the Stonewall Uprising. That event was covered by the New York Daily News, under the headline “Homo nest raided, queen bees are stinging mad.”

These days, a headline like that would never fly (pun intended). Thanks, in part, to resources like the NLGJA Stylebook on LGBTQ Terminology, journalists across the country know that stereotypes and epithets like “homo” and “queen” are not appropriate for coverage.

In many ways, Pride month remains an opportunity to put a spotlight on the inequities faced by LGBTQ people and communities. Simultaneously, it is also an opportunity to publicly celebrate the people, successes and advancement the community has seen over the past half century.

On the most personal level, I see Pride month as an opportunity to celebrate the journey each of us in the LGBTQ community has taken in coming to terms with our own challenges, successes, milestones and self-acceptance.

GC: What advice do you have for a young member of the LGBTQ community who will soon be entering the workforce?

AP: Seek out allies and mentors who will support you to be your authentic self at work. Early in your career, it may be difficult to point out, and hold accountable, when you see people playing into stereotypes, using offensive, outdated language, or when you are on the receiving end of microaggressions. Find those leaders in your organization that can amplify your voice and help make cultural change when needed.

Also, join a professional network like NLGJA: The Association of LGBTQ Journalists, Journalism & Women’s Symposium, Asian American Journalists Association, Native American Journalists Association, National Association of Black Journalists, National Association of Hispanic Journalists, Society of Professional Journalists, Public Relations Society of America and others.

There are so many professional associations that have programs, scholarships, fellowships, job boards and mentoring opportunities geared toward helping young professionals launch and navigate their careers. Get involved and never stop networking.

GC: What has been your greatest accomplishment since graduating from Grady College?

AP: I still regard graduating from Grady College with a Masters in Journalism as one of my greatest accomplishments. After graduating, I expected to work in corporate communications or at a public relations agency. When I took an entry-level communications position at a small nonprofit, my career shifted faster than it started. I found myself moving more and more into the world of nonprofit management. Even with that shift, the foundation that Grady College gave me in journalism, public relations, branding, crisis communications, event management and ethical corporate social responsibility, has helped me become a successful catalyst for change. Finding my way into a role working in association management alongside LGBTQ journalists just seems kismet and is the current peak of my professional accomplishments.

GC: Any other comments?

AP: We are often asked what the state of LGBTQ news coverage is in the United States. The short answer is, we’re doing better than we were 50 or even 30 years ago. We’re seeing fewer mistakes in coverage, specifically surrounding lesbian and gay people. Reviewing increasing numbers of submissions to our Excellence in Journalism Awards, we see that coverage of the community is improving, not only in big cities, but also in smaller towns. We see that journalists are holding themselves accountable to produce fair and accurate coverage. 

But as the base of knowledge around lesbian and gay people has grown, it’s becoming obvious where the gaps in knowledge and coverage lie. It has shown us where we still need to focus our efforts and programs. For instance, the most questions we get about coverage are around stories relating to transgender and nonbinary people. The transgender community faces much higher rates of violence than their cisgender counterpoints. Even in that group, transgender women of color are disproportionately affected. But beyond the mistakes, those critical stories are all but missing in coverage.

One of the groups that continues to be erased in coverage is bisexual people. Bisexual people are often misidentified as gay or lesbian. Not to mention, the age-old, harmful stereotypes that continue to come up in coverage.

It is critical that we properly report how people identify and avoid perpetuating damaging narratives.

Profile: Jim Farmer, director of Atlanta’s LGBTQ film festival

Every fall, audiences gather for Out On Film, an 11-day, in-person and virtual film festival annually featuring more than 150 films by, for and about the LGBTQ community and its allies. The director of the festival is none other than Jim Farmer (ABJ ’88), who oversees the programming and scheduling of Out On Film, while also working with filmmakers and talent attending the event.

Following is a brief interview with Farmer.

GC: What clubs and activities did you participate in at UGA and Grady that were instrumental to your success?  

JF: I was in Cinematic Arts, which handled film programming for students at the Tate Student Center. I wrote about the arts for The Red & Black student newspaper. I served as president of Di Gamma Kappa broadcasting fraternity. I was also a student judge for the Peabody Awards.

Farmer (left) stands on stage during a screening of the film "Mapplethorpe" with director Ondi Timoner and actor McKinley Belcher III
Farmer (left) stands on stage during a screening of the film “Mapplethorpe” with director Ondi Timoner and actor McKinley Belcher III. (Photo: Submitted)
GC: What does LGBTQ Pride Month mean to you?

JF: For me, Pride Month is a time to remember and honor all of the LGBTQ pioneers who have made our lives today possible and celebrate everyone for their diversity and uniqueness, while also remembering that we have work to do still. 

GC: What advice do you have for a young member of the LGBTQ community who will soon be entering the workforce?  

JF: That is a tough question. Today’s workplace is different than when I first entered it. I took a job many, many years ago for the salary but had to remain closeted. It was in a Georgia county that had a history of LGBTQ intolerance. When I did come out, I was fired a few months later for “my job performance.” I vowed never again to take a job for the money and to find a place where I could be comfortable. Luckily, I have been able to do that. My advice is to find out everything you can about the company, your colleagues and the climate beforehand and make a decision accordingly. It’s obviously important to find a job that allows you to make a good living, but it’s also important to be in an environment that respects you for who you are.

GC: What has been your greatest accomplishment since graduating from Grady College? 

JF: I’m old, so I have several! I am proud of what my team with Out On Film has accomplished over the years, the support we provide filmmakers and that we have grown into an Oscar® qualifying film festival. I am an arts reporter as well and proud of the stories I get to write and cover every week. Most of all, I feel lucky to continue doing what I started doing during my UGA days, do it professionally and be happy doing exactly what I want to be doing.

Editor’s Note: UGA students looking for more information to learn about resources and support the LGBTQ community here on campus are encouraged to visit the UGA LGBTQ Resource Center website.

Blake Mitchell: Approaching DEI and LGBTQ communities through listening and learning

Two years after graduation, Blake Mitchell (ABJ ’11, BBA ’11), made a big professional pivot — moving from a job in the film industry to one that centered more on human connection.

“I realized that one of my strengths that aligned with my values was working with people and investing in them in a positive way,” Mitchell says of his shift. “I never thought I would do human resources but I do feel like I can have a positive impact on folks which is really important to me.”

Mitchell is making an impact through his role as people manager at Google at their headquarters in San Francisco. His role focuses on retention and progression aligning with diversity and inclusion initiatives for the tech company, including those in the LGBTQ+ community.

Working with this group is particularly important to Mitchell who identifies as a gay, queer man.

Mitchell leads a team focused not as much on recruiting employees with underrepresented backgrounds, but on keeping them once they join the organization. His team provides them support through programs like one-on-one consults and specific strategies to determine how to make things more equitable at work, encourage paths to promotion and maintain retention. This focus on retention is relatively new way of supporting employees, Mitchell admits, and Google has a dedicated and progressive program of support.

“We have found that when we can build trust and demonstrate that we are there to support our employees, this improves outcomes,” Mitchell continues. “I am kind of like a corporate counselor.”

Blake Mitchell and his colleagues at Google host events to encourage employees to ask questions and learn about their co-workers.

Mitchell said that months like LGBTQ+ Pride month are important for those in the community to be visible and supportive particularly for young people questioning their value and place in the world.

“We need to have a place to say you are important and loved and there is a place for you where you can be accepted. There is a community out there and you are not alone.”

Mitchell credits his involvement in a myriad of activities while a student at UGA with equipping him with the skills needed to lead DEI initiatives. He was a dual mass media arts major, now Entertainment and Media Studies, and international business and finance major through Terry College. He was involved with Student Government Association, Leonard Leader Scholarship program, the UGA Visitor Center, student mentorship and Grady Ambassadors, among others.

He continued: “Fortunately, my involvement allowed me to flex some of my leadership skills through my volunteer work and team activities. My formal leadership strategy helped me identify my leadership values, as well.”

With his degrees in hand, and a summer at Cannes Film Festival and several film-related internships on his resume, Mitchell started in the film industry but acknowledged soon afterward that he missed connecting with others. While researching his next move, Mitchell networked with a friend who was a recruiter at Google for advice. Soon another path was evident and he started at an entry level position in human resources. He has spent the past eight years in various roles, many which focus on diversity and inclusion. He now leads the team that is also focused on expanding YouTube’s diversity strategy.

Strategic organization and activism are activities Mitchell not only works on during the day, but also in his off hours. He is involved with supporting several racial justice groups and finds this community organization and activism is an important way of learning and connecting with the people he serves in his role at Google.

“Exposure to different individuals and being able to continually learn from them is an important way of understanding the world,” Mitchell explains about the balance of this work and his activism that accelerated with the racial reckoning last summer. “If I was standing on the sidelines and not contributing to what was happening in a productive way and using my voice and privilege to make change, then I was doing myself a disservice to those values that I spoke to around valuing equity and diversity. I learn things from both that are helpful. Both are about disrupting systems and structures that are in place that are limiting people of diverse backgrounds from being successful.”

Mitchell is also a drag performer who entertains under the name Mary Lou Pearl. Much of his work as a drag performer raises money for the activism groups he supports including the San Francisco AIDS Foundation. He also hosts events at Google in drag so people can ask questions and learn.Mitchell says his best advice for working with people who are diverse or those in the LGBTQ+ community is to continue listening and learning.

“We should start from a place of listening and learning,” Mitchell advises. “It’s important to understand yourself and be educated about race and privilege. So many groups experience the world differently and as with any community, individuals are super diverse within communities. Don’t assume you understand that person based on their community. As we get to know new people, be very open to what their experiences are…and how we can show up and support them.”

Mitchell concludes by encouraging students to show up and support underrepresented groups.

“Allyship is such a huge way that change happens by people who aren’t in these groups. Don’t be afraid. Being an ally to one person goes so far in helping them and helping to advance the support.”

Editor’s Note: UGA students looking for more information to learn about resources and support the LGBTQ community here on campus are encouraged to visit the UGA LGBTQ Resource Center website.