New Jersey Spotlight: Cathy Renna

“At the end of the day, I really see myself as a storyteller, or someone who helps other people tell their stories. I get those stories out there to help the public think differently”.

This week we had the privilege to speak with queer media and PR expert, Cathy Renna. Renna worked as a News Media Director at GLAAD for just about 14 years. After these 14 years, Renna broke off to begin her own PR Firm, eventually becoming what is now known as Target Cue, an LGBTQ+ centered media organization. Renna began her own PR firm when she became a parent, telling us, “After I became a parent I decided I needed to be independent if I wanted to see my daughter grow up. She was about 6 months old when the first PR firm was founded and she will be 15 this Fall”. Renna’s media work took her through many of the most important moments in queer history, including the murder of Matthew Shepard, as well as the AIDS epidemic, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, and the movement towards marriage equality. Standing on the frontlines, Renna was one of the first to know about these major events, and one of the first to shape these narratives.

Our community is incredibly diverse, with widely varying viewpoints. It is our job as LGBTQ+ activists to advocate for all viewpoints, and not only those that apply to us. This is exactly what Cathy Renna has done in her years in media activism and public relations. This theme of media activism, and of activism within communications,applies to her greater message: a life lived out and proud is a life of change. “So anything you’re doing, just being you and being out, is an act in it of itself, it’s an act of activism. You want to do more than that? Find something that you’re interested in, get engaged. Find an issue that you can connect with, and find the people that you can connect with”. These words ring true for all forms of activism, but especially in a media role such as Renna’s: being yourself, and, better yet, advocating for yourself, is a form of activism. If you want to do more than that, find an interest, a niche: we’ll take all the help we can get.

When we think about activism, many ask how we can convince those who are diametrically opposed to our success. How can we spread inclusion in the face of those who will not even recognize us? Renna has a powerful answer to that question: treat them as humans. Renna told us that she holds relationships “with journalists who are decidedly anti LGBT, and I always approach them as people, and try to educate them about our community and about our issues in a way that makes us less abstract”. It’s personal relationships that show our humanity. Developing personal relationships with those who oppose our existence is likewise a form of activism. Still, in this process of making our issues “less abstract”, it’s important to keep in mind our own diversity, and not to homogenize our entire community as “just like straight people”. Renna says, “It feels a little disingenuous, because I feel like we leave people behind”. Renna goes on to add“We’re not in terms of who we are, we’re not in terms of how we’re treated, and we’re certainly not in terms of our status as essentially second-class citizens, still”. She emphasizes an important point within our work in activism: we are not the same, we’re not “normal” like every other heteronormative, cookie-cutter ideal. We’re our own community. Still, that’s not a valid reason to keep our community under public scrutiny.

Within this principle of community is an idea that’s crucial to sustained activism, one that Renna herself emphasized: passing down the torch, and standing on each other's shoulders. Renna has worked all through her career with high school and college-aged students, and she emphasizes the value in the next generation. Referring to her work with young people, Renna said, “I basically never say no, unless it’s totally impossible and that’s rare. I will always find time. I think I owe it to you all”. This value of helping the younger generation, of pushing for them to begin their own advocacy projects, is not unfounded. Renna’s passion stems from those above her, those who offered her their shoulders to stand upon. “But seriously, I feel like it may not be part of my job description, but I feel like it’s part of my responsibility. I know I’m standing on the shoulders of a lot of people who did a lot of work before I came along”. Renna recognizes those who helped her to get where she is today, while actively working to help those rising up behind her.

Renna herself holds an incredibly powerful marker for just how far we’ve come: her daughter. Renna self-started her LGBTQ+ PR Firm six months after the birth of her daughter. Now, Renna’s daughter reminds her and all of us just how far we as a community have gotten. Renna said, “My daughter is fourteen and she came out to me a year and a half ago as bi. She helped start the LGBT Student Group at their middle school in Houston, Texas, and she goes to an LGBT youth group that is just phenomenal at the LGBT Center in Houston. Her best friend is trans”. Referring to a previous question asking what she was most proud of in her career, Renna said “I could just look at my daughter and say ‘she’s who she is, and she’s totally comfortable being who she is, and in fact advocates for her friends, who may have parents who are not the most accepting, and advocates in her school, which is not a great climate’”. It is in this way that Renna’s argument for aiding the younger generation comes fully to fruition. If it wasn’t for the work of those who came before us, we would not be able to live our full and free lives. Hell, we wouldn’t have been able to start this publication in the first place.

Renna had many incredible points, with each sentence spoken having immense value. It was incredibly difficult to condense such a packed interview down to one short summary. For more information about Renna’s story and her wisdom for all queer advocates, please read the interview transcript which has likewise been posted.

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