A new program coming to Michigan State University offers students a national platform to discuss LGBTQ issues. OutCasting, a nationally syndicated public radio program, is planning to open a bureau on MSU’s campus this fall.
Marc Sophos, OutCasting executive producer and a graduate of MSU, founded the program in 2011. The show launched in Westchester County, N.Y., just north of New York City, and recently opened a bureau in the city. OutCasting explores issues like bullying and suicide prevention, and program guests have included figures like Olympian Greg Louganis, writer Dan Savage and transgender athlete Chris Mosier.
The idea for an MSU bureau, the program’s first extension out of its home state, started with a conversation between Sophos and Deanna “Dee” Hurlbert, director of MSU’s LGBT Resource Center.
“My husband Doug and I were in East Lansing for a football game and started talking with Dee,” Sophos said. “She was really intrigued with the idea of having an Out- Casting bureau at Michigan State.”
Hurlbert describes OutCasting as “a tremendous opportunity for our students to tell their stories and produce quality journalism on LGBTQ topics.”
The program is seeking volunteer contributors from the MSU community, including both LGBTQ students and straight allies. Information on contributing is available at outcastingmedia.org/msu. OutCasting takes measures to protect the identities of closeted volunteers by using only first names on air, allowing individuals to use a pseudonym or even having others read their content on air. The program also offers opportunities for students to work behind the scenes.
“There’s a wide range of skills that people can learn at OutCasting,” Sophos said. “It ranges from radio and journalism to interviewing techniques to digital audio production — while digging into LGBT issues and coming to understand them.”
OutCasting is produced by Media for the Public Good, a nonprofit organization that describes its goal as “giving voice to perspectives underrepresented in mainstream media.” Sophos hopes that OutCasting can provide participating students with tangible, real-life experience on a respected news platform while also supplying listeners with reliable news on LGBTQ issues that are often overlooked on mainstream outlets.
But Sophos’ target audience is not just LGBTQ people. He hopes to create engaging content that reaches listeners who may not be familiar with LGBTQ issues and provide information and context. One example he cites is attitudes toward transgender people, where many still believe “this is a freak who doesn’t know if he’s a boy or a girl.”
“That’s not the reality of transgender lives at all,” Sophos said. “But based on the stories that you hear in the mainstream media a lot of the time, that is what comes out.”
The program is affiliated with the Pacifica Radio Network and is syndicated on more than 45 public radio stations. It produces between six and eight new programs a year, but Sophos hopes to increase that output and eventually become a weekly program. The MSU bureau is a test case to see if the model can be transported to other communities.
“We want to go through this process with MSU and get a bureau going, learn what we need to learn and start contacting other colleges,” Sophos said.