Durhams said the organization originally planned for an in-person gathering in Chicago in early September but had to transition to a virtual convention due to COVID-19.
He said this virtual format lowers the cost of attendance and presents an opportunity for more students to join this year. Students pay a $25 membership fee to attend the convention, while the cost for attendees in a regular year is usually about $200, in addition to paying for travel and hotels.
“It makes our convention a lot more accessible, and we're trying to take advantage of that,” he said. “We just have members who are really interested in making sure that students can have this kind of experience, and I love to see the fact that people stepped up and wanted to eliminate any cost barrier for as many students as we could.”
Giulia Heyward, a second-year master's student in journalism at the Hussman School, said she will be sponsored to attend the association's virtual convention.
She said she applied to the AARP Freelance Fellowship and received an email saying that the board of directors offered to pay her membership to attend the convention, which she will have access to for one year.
“I'm really thankful, and I think especially for students, being able to have someone to cover it and financially support it,” she said. “It is a great opportunity.”
Heyward said this would be her first time to attend the convention. Her journalism thesis focuses on LGBTQ people living in North Carolina, and many of the sessions of the convention are relevant to this topic, she said.
She also said as a lesbian herself, she is looking forward to working and networking with other LGBTQ and ally journalists.
Durhams said the organization first heard from a student from Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University who needed help with attendance, and a colleague stepped up and said she would help pay the cost.
Then, he heard from the staff that a UNC student also needed help with attendance, so as a UNC graduate, he said he decided to help.
“Our goal is that if a student wants to attend, we will figure out a way for them to attend,” he said. “If they can afford $25, that's even better, you know, leave some more money to help others. But if they can't, we'll figure out a way to make it work.”
Erin Siegal McIntyre, a UNC Hussman professor who accepted Durhams’ sponsor challenge on Twitter, said as a queer person herself, she feels she has a moral obligation to help younger people or those from more disadvantaged backgrounds.
“If you are well resourced and have some privilege, doing the right thing matters, and if it's just helping someone out, you should do that,” she said.
Durhams said the the association is planning to have at least 30 breakout sessions in which small groups of attendees will discuss topics such as coverage of the transgender community, 2020 politics and issues with the LGBTQ community that should be covered by the media.
Everyone is welcome, he said.
“We have an industry where most people aren't LGBTQ, just as we have an industry in which most of the journalists aren't, for instance, Black,” he said. “If we want to have a conversation about the kind of coverage that we should have as an industry, then everyone needs to be welcomed.“
CLARIFICATION: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated the current title of the NLGJA: The Association of LGBTQ Journalists. This article has been updated to reflect the proper attribution for the organization. The Daily Tar Heel apologizes for this error.