Steve Rothaus: Journalist and Role Model
When Steve Rothaus joined the staff of the Miami Herald, it was 1985. Ronald Reagan was president; Rock Hudson was about to make AIDS a household word; and Rothaus himself was still a journalism major at Florida International University. "I started working at The Herald during my junior year at FIU," Rothaus recalls. "For about a year-and-a-half, I worked nights from 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. Wednesdays through Sundays. I attended classes weekday mornings before work." Twenty-four years later, Rothaus is the journalist that South Florida turns to for news and information about the local LGBT community.
In 1987, Rothaus came out at work; a still unusual step at that time. To The Herald's credit, there was no adverse reaction. As Rothaus notes, "Several co-workers knew from the beginning that I'm gay, but many of my bosses did not [sic]. I came out officially in 1987, when The Herald assigned me to the Miami Beach Neighbors office -- my partner Ric Katz was a political consultant at the time and he represented several Miami Beach commissioners. As a journalist, I felt it necessary to disclose my personal relationship. My editors told me it wasn't an issue. I made sure they understood I couldn't cover any of Ric's clients. No problem. There were plenty of other stories for me to report."
In his 24 years with The Herald, Rothaus has covered small towns and cities, police departments, and transportation issues in Miami-Dade, Monroe, and Broward Counties. He has interviewed many celebrities, including Bernadette Peters, Lily Tomlin, Joan Rivers, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Liza Minnelli and Judy Shepherd. Rothaus has also worked as a copy editor, metro and page one layout editor, and night business editor. In fact, Rothaus did not begin to cover the LGBT community until 1997, when fashion designer Gianni Versace was murdered outside his home on Miami Beach.
Rothaus copy-edited the Herald's coverage of that incident and only then began to write about LGBT issues. As a result, "most of my peers respect my work as a 'reporter,' not as a 'gay reporter.' Sometimes, however, newer Herald reporters and editors are surprised when I write something that's not gay-related."
In recognition of his work as a journalist, Rothaus won the GLAAD (Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) Media Award in 1998 and the Latin Media Award in 2007. He's also been honored by the Dolphin Democratic Club, the Gay and Lesbian Community Center of South Florida, the Unity Coalition, and the Miami-Dade chapter of the American Psychological Association.
To many who do not read The Herald's print editions, Rothaus is best-known for "Steve Rothaus' Gay South Florida," a blog that he updates several times a day. Rothaus began his blog about four years ago, making it one of the paper's first blogs. Unlike most blogs, "Steve Rothaus' Gay South Florida" is not about Steve Rothaus himself but about South Florida's GLBT community. In Rothaus's words, "it's a mix (I hope) of news stories, entertainment and commentary from throughout the gay community. That's why I established that it's 'for and about gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people throughout Miami and Fort Lauderdale.'" On any given day, visitors to Rothaus' blog may read stories about political victories or defeats; interviews with LGBT or gay-friendly personalities; photos of recent community benefits, social events, or circuit parties, and press releases from a wide variety of LGBT or gay-friendly businesses and non-profit organizations. The blog's very existence improves The Herald's reputation within the LGBT community. "Steve Rothaus' 'Gay South Florida' blog attracts thousands of online readers every day. This boosts circulation and helps the company sell advertising. The people who read the blog are a coveted demographic to advertisers," Rothaus says.
In addition to his professional work for The Herald, Steve Rothaus is renowned for his work with the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association (NLGJA). He helped form the Miami chapter in 1991-- a year after NLGJA was founded. He was a founding board member of the South Florida chapter and went on to become vice president and then president. Rothaus served on the NLGJA' national board from 2003 to 2008; founding the Association's 'newsroom outreach project' and traveling the country visiting newspapers, television stations, and college campuses to discuss gay news coverage and workplace issues. "NLGJA has helped make more positive changes in how gay people are presented in the news than any other group. That's because we are respected industry insiders, not activists from outside. We have access and respect from fellow journalists not accorded to others."
Steve Rothaus and his life partner, public relations executive Ric Katz, have been together since 1985. As he recalls, "I knew Ric casually when he was a journalism professor at FIU. We met and began dating in January 1985, after we ran into each other at Congregation Etz Chaim, South Florida's LGBT synagogue." As Rothaus puts it, there is no "secret" to a successful relationship. "We love, understand and respect each other, personally and professionally. And we were wise enough 25 years ago to recognize that we wanted to spend our lives together."
For both his professional and personal achievements, Steve Rothaus is viewed by many as a gay role model, a status he was reluctant to adopt.
"The first time I felt like a role model was about 10 years ago. I covered a gay student group meeting at FIU's University Campus in West Dade. Ric joined me so we could have dinner together after the meeting. When I introduced him to the roomful of students as my partner of 15 years, they responded with applause. Today, I hear from many young people online, especially on Facebook. It's really gratifying that gay teens read my blog and enjoy it. Also, it's great when people I meet say how important my work is to them and to the community."
This story originally appeared in January of 2010. Equality Florida's annual Equality Gala is honoring Rothaus this year as their "Voice for Equality Honoree." The event takes place Sunday, March 18 in Miami. Tickets are $125. Visit http://eqfl.org/miamigala for more information.