Marc Ambinder is a political journalist and reporter who recently stepped out of the game. He’s a regular contributor to GQ and the Atlantic, where he became the first political reporter for a “real” news outlet whose writing appeared only online, in the Atlantic’s political blog “On Call.” He’s also gay. He’s covered Osama bin Laden’s death, and reportedly wanted to out gay Republican Ken Mehlman long before he came out. And in an interview with BhTV he opened up about the idea that being gay gave him “significant career advantages.” Specifically, he referred to his fellow homosexuals in the DC journalism community as “the gay mafia.”
Given that we often associate being openly gay with damaging career success, it’s maybe surprising that Ambinder claims that being gay actually created a positive situation in his career. He feels it gave him an advantage, since other gay people (who remain nameless in his interview) were willing to both disclose helpful information about relevant news to him as a fellow homo. Of course, Ambinder’s in a very specific situation: he’s a (white, cis, male) political reporter in Washington DC, where alliances and networking make or break everyone’s career. The gay community in most cities is a place where gossip travels at light speed, and in Washington DC, for a reporter, secrets are what careers are made of. Ambinder worked with political stories, not Page 6-style news, but still managed to cause pearl-clutching when he wrote about the amount of sexual infidelity in the Capitol in his article “Ten Things I Learned During a Decade in DC.” Ambinder’s story of solidarity with his community is heartening, but one wonders whether the same phenomenon would be possible in a different work environment, or for someone slightly less privileged.
While Ambinder was perhaps uniquely well situated in an industry that relies on networking, he’s also in an industry that (like most) overwhelmingly rewards cis males. At The Atlantic, where Ambinder was a regular blogger, only 33% of its writers were women. It’s unclear how a “gay mafia” would have benefited a lesbian in Ambinder’s position; where would the community to help him along even be? The fact is, it’s hard to imagine many other industries in which there would be enough gay people in positions of power such that they can support and guide others. It’s hard to find that situation even for straight women — which is why mentorship programs for women in business are much talked about. Access to positions of power and mentorship opportunities are also hard to come by in many industries for people of color, and anyone experiencing intersection between these identities has it extra rough.
We often talk about why putting out queer people in positions of power, whether it’s as a politician or the CEO of Apple, is important — because when gay people are decisionmakers in the world, it means they’re better able to make the world safe and welcoming to other queers. But Ambinder’s experience points to something else, too — maybe queer people might finally benefit from the system of networking and guidance that straight people (especially straight men) benefit from all the time. If only we could do away with the laws that make it legal to fire or refuse to hire us in many states because of sexual orientation, as well as the systemic inequality that means that women and POC are often kept on the lowest rungs of the employment ladder if they’re hired at all, other parts of the community, like Ambinder, might get a chance to find out how that works.