Leroy "Roy" F. Aarons (December 8, 1933 – November 28, 2004) was an American journalist, editor, author, playwright, founder of the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association (NLGJA), and founding member of the Robert C. Maynard Institute for Journalism Education. In 2005 he was inducted into the NLGJA Hall of Fame.
In 1989 the American Society of Newspaper Editors (ASNE) asked Aarons to coordinate a first-ever survey of gay and lesbian journalists. Responses from 250 print journalists revealed that most gays and lesbians were closeted in their newsrooms. An overwhelming majority said coverage of gay issues was "at best mediocre." Fewer than 60 percent had told colleagues about their sexual orientation; fewer than 7 percent said their work environments were good for gays.
At ASNE's national convention in 1990, Aarons presented the results. Aarons closed his speech by coming out to his peers.
Four months after his speech, Aarons convened six journalists in his California dining room to launch the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association (NLGJA). Modeling its mission after the Maynard Institute's, he was elected its first president, a post he held until 1997. Aarons remained on NLGJA's board until his death in 2004. By then the organization counted 1,200 members in 24 chapters nationwide.
After working on it for more than a year, in 2001, Aarons, Dane S. Claussen (then at what is now Point Park University), Amy Falkner (Syracuse University), Rhonda Gibson (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill), and others relaunched the then-GLBT Interest Group of the Association for Education in Journalism & Mass Communication (AEJMC). Aarons asked Claussen to serve as the first Head, but he could not because he already was to be 2001-2 Head of AEJMC's Mass Communication & Society Division. David Adams (Indiana University) and Sue Lafky (University of Iowa) served as the first Co-Heads, with Claussen as Vice-Head/Program Chair, and Aarons as Secretary. Aarons, then teaching what he called SOIN (Sexual Orientation in the News) at the University of Southern California, followed that up a few years later by persuading the Accrediting Council for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (ACEJMC) to add sexual orientation content in its curriculum diversity standard. (For many years, Claussen served as a liaison between NLGJA and the AEJMC's LGBTQ Interest Group as the Interest Group's Teaching Committee Chair and, in NLGJA, Education Caucus convenor, curator of its Educators Toolbox, a Scholarship Committee member, and Chair [2006-14; member, 2005] of its Hall of Fame Task Force.)
On its 15th anniversary in 2006, NLGJA established the annual Leroy F. Aarons Scholarship Award for a lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender student pursuing a journalism career. CNN provided $100,000 to fund the scholarship. The AEJMC LGBTQ Interest Group's Teaching Committee also awards, generally every two years, its Leroy F. Aarons Award for lifetime contributions to university teaching and/or research related to the LGBTQ communities.
Influence in journalism
Aarons had, in the 1970s, collaborated with Robert Maynard in establishing programs to educate people of color for journalism careers. Now Aarons turned to LGBT issues in journalism.
Aarons believed that coverage of the gay community, as with other minorities, required sophisticated training of journalists. He began to lobby journalism schools to include gay issues in their diversity training and achieved some success. In 1999, as a visiting professor of journalism at the USC Annenberg School for Communication, he founded and directed its Sexual Orientation Issues in the News program. Adapted by universities around the country, the program analyzes how the media have shaped public perception of people and issues since the early 20th century. In 2003, Aarons, Dane S. Claussen, David L. Adams, and several other U.S. journalism professors relaunched the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Interest Group of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication. The group biannually presents the Leroy F. Aarons Award for career contributions to media-oriented education and research affecting the LGBTQ community. Recipients include Edward Alwood, Fred Fejes, Loren Ghiglione, Lisa Henderson, Larry Gross, Rodger Streitmatter, and Gust Yep.