An ugly dispute over race and class at one of Texas’ biggest LGBT newspapers deepened this week when a former top editor added charges of sexual harassment to his complaints about the management of the Dallas Voice.
John Wright, who was an editor at the Voice since 2008, alleged late last week that he had been fired for complaining about a lack of racial diversity on its cover, and for causing conflicts with advertisers. He told BuzzFeed Saturday that he also left with concerns over the newspaper’s internal culture.
“After I got fired, I started looking at stuff I had collected over the years,” Wright told BuzzFeed. “And [former Voice owner] Robert Moore was sending me these pictures of these Asian boys. He goes to Thailand sometimes, and there is this bigger issue because I know a lot of wealthy gay males travel to Thailand and Mexico and I don’t know if they hire prostitutes or what, but it’s using a Third World country as a glory hole is the best way to put it. It’s pretty horrible.”
Moore denied misconduct: “I have never sexually harassed anyone. That is a fictionalized account of history. Any implication otherwise is false,” he said in a statement to BuzzFeed.
Wright backed up his charges in a photo he posted to Facebook Friday, which has since been removed to due to a violation of Facebook’s terms and conditions. It’s what Wright said is a screenshot of text messages from Moore. Wright said that Moore sent the unsolicited messages because Wright has an Asian boyfriend.
Accusation of alleged sexual harassment
Leo Cusimano, the paper’s publisher and new co-owner, didn’t respond to a request for comment but told LGBTweekly.com Thursday that “John has opinions and we have ours and they are not the same.”
“We stand by the actions we took. We really see this as an internal employee matter for the most part. It’s unfortunate that he has published some inaccurate information,” he said.
Wright alleges that his reporting on this year’s strict dress code at Dallas’ gay pride parade upset the parade’s owners—who happen to be one of the paper’s biggest advertisers. Wright’s piece quoted a Dallas sergeant who said “If there’s an [exposed] erection and a child is present that could see it, it is a felony, and we don’t want to see that happen.”
The dress code issue was eventually cleared up, but that’s when Wright alleges the parade organizers got angry with him for turning the local story into a national issue.
“By Friday afternoon,” Wright said. “At the time they announced underwear was OK after all, the executive director of the Tavern Guild [which organizes the parade] left me this message and you know when people get so mad they talk in this fake voice? He went on and on and he was just ready to kill somebody.”
Earlier this year, Moore, one of the paper’s founders in 1984, sold the newspaper to Terry Thompson, his ex-husband whom he had recently divorced, and the paper’s longtime advertising director, Cusimano.
After the sale, Thompson became president of the paper’s parent Voice Publishing Company Inc. and Cusimano became publisher of the Voice.
Wright described the six months with the new owners as tough.
“They didn’t want to do journalism anymore and they want to milk it dry before they run it into the ground,” he said.
Wright also claims that these new owners became annoyed with him after he raised concerns of there not being enough racial diversity on the cover of this year’s pride issue. In an email provided to BuzzFeed, Wright asked Thompson about the cover:
I have concerns about this image being the Pride cover. Dallas is roughly one-third white, one-third Hispanic and one-third black. How can we better reflect the rainbow that is our community?
Thompson told Wright, “We chose this photo specifically because it addresses both race and age diversity.” In fact, although there is a wide age range in the photos, all of the faces do seem to be white because of an editing effect except for one African American male in the front.
Here’s an image of the pride cover that the Dallas Voice shared on Facebook:
In another Facebook post, Wright said the publishers repeatedly told him that LGBT people of color are “not our market.”
The allegations come at a time when legacy gay press organizations are struggling to stay relevant. Many of them were born after Stonewall or amid the life-or-death AIDS fight and have been important voices in the ongoing battles for LGBT civil rights. They now face both the kind of digital competition challenging every print publication — apps like Grindr, have, for instance, displaced personal ads — and, more significantly, the challenge of addressing a broader shift in the LGBT community toward a more diverse and inclusive vision than many of the older-line papers embodied.
And the Dallas paper isn’t the only one to struggle. In 2009, Window Media LLC, the former parent company of The Washington Blade and an assortment of other high-profile LGBT properties, declared bankruptcy, leading several former Blade employees to purchase and continue publishing the paper.
At the Dallas Voice, however, Wright says the publishers are turning it back into “an advertising rag” so they can maximize profits instead of focusing on journalism.
So far, no legal action has been taken by either side. Wright said he initially consulted with lawyers, but they told him he doesn’t have much of a case against the Voice publishers; however, another lawyer has since reached out to him after seeing the allegations posted on Facebook.
Shortly after his firing, Wright said the Voice has denied him unemployment, saying they would fight his attempt to receive it. “This is just devastating,” Wright said, adding he had just closed on purchasing a house two months ago.
“I just hope they give me unemployment, really,” he said. “Or severance pay or something.”
Regardless of what Wright achieves for himself, he said he will continue to make his message to the community heard, even if it gets “a little dirty,” he said.
“This is about justice and this is bullshit and I’m not going to let them continue to fleece the community for money,” Wright told BuzzFeed. “This is not about me. It highlights a lot of issues in the LGBT community like the racial issue and the third world glory hole issue. It touches on a lot of big issues in the LGBT community, including the fact that the newspaper is no longer objective.”
If he receives unemployment, Wright said he may launch his own LGBT news website to serve the local community.