Being Publicity Officer for Switchboard from 1999
Mike worked as Publicity Officer for Gay Switchboard, from 1999 - 2003.
With a background in marketing and sales, he identified all the media in Birmingham and set out to build as many contacts as possible, including the main West Midlands radio stations, Galaxy, BRMB and BBC Radio WM were all fine and he was “pleasantly surprised at the positive response - Radio WM was actually contacting me”.
He began to be contacted whenever a local issue needed a statement from a gay perspective and was regularly interviewed, particularly about Switchboard and coming-out issues. He found radio and TV staff to be very pleasant and positive.
“When I issued a press release for the thirtieth anniversary of Gay Switchboard it was publicised on many of the local radio stations and I was on the radio all day, which got the 'g' word and the 'l' word out there”.
He contacted the papers but had never had any success with the Wolverhampton Express and Star. However, he made inroads into the Birmingham Evening Mail after a change of editor at the end of the ‘90s. He described it as having been, through the 1990s, “a rag which had no relevance to the multi-cultural society that I was living in” with no mention of black and Asian or gay issues in any positive way.
“It was full of letters from moaning minnies complaining about the Council. In 2000 the editor retired who had been there for 30 years, possibly 300 years (laughs).”
When the new editor was appointed Mike wrote to him, and got a very positive response. He was invited to a meeting with the new Editor and some of his staff. Mike gained an immediate rapport with the Editor who was from the same suburb in Manchester that he was. He and the staff were very interested in addressing some of the problems that he highlighted in relation to the reporting about gay issues, such as the negative language used such as 'gay haunts' and the equation of 'gay' and 'paedophile'.
The issue about the positive reporting of black and Asian lives was also raised in conjunction with this to aim to reflect the multi-cultural population. He feels that since 2000, there is much more focus on black and Asian perspectives and lives as well as gay issues.
Mike asked for improved – and positive – coverage of the 'colour' of Pride rather than moaning about how much public money had been spent on it and that happened. He asked for a souvenir issue following it but that hasn’t happened.
“Now they report it as a gay celebration, of course they’ll put in photos of the drag queens but who cares”.
He also asked for more awareness of the language that was used to report gay issues, particularly difficult ones, and not to use negative language.
His third request was for the paper to print the Gay Switchboard number and within a few months they printed it every day under the emergency numbers (among the plumbers and gas!) every day which “meant that the 'g' word and the 'l' word was given visibility every day.”
The Women’s Editor, Dianne Parks, still there was given responsibility for gay and lesbian issues and wrote a very positive three page feature about Gay Switchboard around 2001.
Through this contact other gay organisations such as the Birmingham Parents' Support Group, operating from a church in Solihull, run by a lovely lady called Maureen, for the parents of gays and lesbians, have benefited from features printed about them.
He feels that the Evening Mail is contributing to a more positive image of gay life in Birmingham, “it’s a much better paper today”.
He also mentioned Midlands Zone, the local gay newspaper, which has always been very supportive of Gay Switchboard and other charitable gay organisations.
“I would say to any community group if you want publicity let them know and they will print it.”
Contributed by: Mike