by Ken Schneck, Editor
The opening line on Megan Mitchell’s profile page on the WLWT-TV website is pretty darn clear:
Megan couldn’t be more in love with Cincinnati!
The out award-winning journalist joined the Cincinnati NBC affiliate as an anchor and reporter in 2016 and quickly fell in love with the Queen City, most definitely including her fellow members of the Cincy’s LGBTQ+ community.
“There is so much to do here and so many incredible people to meet,” says Mitchell, an active member of The Association of LGBTQ Journalists. “And the best part is that I just get to be myself.”
The Buckeye Flame caught up with Mitchell to talk all about life behind the anchor desk, including covering LGBTQ+ stories, her super important work in North Dakota, and, yes, her undercut.
When little Megan Mitchell was running around Brookfield, Connecticut, was she saying, “I want to be a morning anchor when I grow up!”?
It really started in 9th grade. I was a freshman in high school. I really liked theater, but I was also a really big jock, and I loved writing. I really couldn’t pick a thing! And then I realized that journalism would allow me to do all of those things while also getting that performative aspect.
I loved media. I built a green screen in my basement when I was a freshman with studio lights, and this was prior to everyone having ring lights and stuff. My friends and I would make green screen videos and I knew then that I wanted to do this. I sought out Emerson College because they had a great broadcasting school. It all worked out there and I had the best time ever.
There are a ton of news anchors out there. What sets you apart? Who is Megan Mitchell as a news anchor?
That’s an interesting question. I would say Megan Mitchell as an anchor is Megan Mitchell on the anchor desk. I really don’t change too much, except that I try to avoid swearing.
I try to be authentic with whom I am. If I feel like wearing a suit that day, I will wear a suit that day. If I feel like making fun of my weatherman for saying something completely hilarious at 5am, I’m going to do that. Whether or not my authenticity is about my sexuality, my sense of humor, or the jokes that I make, I really am who I am.
If someone comes up to you and asks if they should be out of the closet in broadcasting, how would you advise them?
I hope this is not some type of cop-out answer, but it really is a case by case basis. For me, I had already created a great network of close family and friends who loved and supported me. Granted, it took quite a few years for the family support to come, but it did come.
So, because I had that stable system of support, I was able to feel comfortable coming out. I know so many people don’t have that support or they’re not ready to be out yet, and that does not invalidate their experience. It does not make them any less a part of the LGBTQ community.
But I also do feel that if you do have that urge to come out and you do feel like you have that support system, I do think of coming out as a responsibility. Ohio is a place where we tend to swing red, which is fine. Although there are gay Republicans out there, for the most part there aren’t that many out gay people in the Midwest, compared to maybe the coasts. And we shouldn’t just have these pockets of places in the country where people feel comfortable.
You spent a number of years as a reporter in North Dakota. On paper, living there as a member of the LGBTQ+ community would freak me out.
<laughs> It’s so interesting. I got that job in 2014 and one of the first things I did was google “North Dakota” and “LGBTQ.” Because I was curious. A Gallup poll popped up from that year that said North Dakota had the least amount of gay people per capita. I sat with that for a little bit.
Was there a LGBTQ+ life there?
Pride in Bismarck, North Dakota is something I’ll never forget it. It was 50 people on a river boat floating down the Missouri River.
I assume you were the Grand Marshall.
[laughs]I don’t think there even was a Grand Marshall.
Then they had a Pride Boat Captain. You could have been the Pride Boat Captain!
That would have been…something.
Part of your work in the Dakotas was a series covering Two-Spirit Native Americans. I have to imagine that was an incredible experience.
That probably was the most impactful thing I have ever done as a journalist. The LGBTQ community across the country was in such celebration mode for gay marriage—it was 2015–and rightfully so. But we forget about a portion of the population that the celebration didn’t happen for and here were these LGBTQ Native Americans saying, “Why aren’t we being heard?”
Through that reporting, I was able to meet so many Two-Spirit Native Americans on many different reservations. I know this will make me sound like a loser, but I didn’t make many friends in North Dakota because I figured I wouldn’t be there very long and this was before I understood how important it is that you make connections everywhere you go. But the connections I did make were on the reservation and in these communities.
The most impactful yet devastating of those stories was about Aiyana Adrian. This person was 15-years-old and so completely identified with the term Two-Spirit, because they held the spirit of both a man and a woman. They led this rally against bullying in the high school on their reservation. And then they committed suicide. I was friends with someone who was on the reservation who posted about it. He connected me with Aiyana’s mom and grandmother and I ended up going to the funeral and the wake. It was the most impactful thing I’ve ever done.
I can only hope that their story goes far and wide because of the documentary, but at least I have this connection as a result. Even two months ago, they sent me a nice blanket as a thank-you, and that experience I had with them was five years ago.
How do you navigate LGBTQ+ stories like when the Cincinnati Reds sportcaster’s homophobic comment made national news. You’re right there covering the story but you’re also a member of the LGBTQ+ community, which I imagine is a tough spot.
That story was crazy. I woke up that morning—and I wake up at 2 or 2:30am—to a ton of texts saying, “Oh my gosh, Megan, did you see what happened overnight?” One of them said, “This is definitely going to be your morning story.” Which was true.
So you have this story where one of the most beloved men in the city—his family are legendary sports announcers—and he’s saying disparaging things about my community. I know the gay community here. I’m so deeply enthralled by the gay community here. I knew people this was affecting.
I had to take a step back and realize that, in that very moment, conversations were happening in homes with kids who probably aren’t out yet—12 or 13-years-old—and these kids are having to hear their parents say, “Thom Brennaman shouldn’t be fired.” Those closeted kids are now recognizing that they are in an unsafe environment to come out.
Lord knows I know what it feels like to not have your parents accept you. So when you see something like that happen, you know that the worst thing you can do is stand by idly and see news coverage run amuck. I was able to work with our senior reporter, Brian Hamrick who called me right up and said, “Hey Megan, I think you may be able to help me with this one.” He didn’t say, “You can help because you’re gay,” but I do have such deep connections within the LGBTQ community here so I knew I would be able to help make sure that a diverse range of voices were being heard.
How gay are you allowed to be with appearance? Didn’t you get an undercut of some sort and that was controversial?
[laughs]Yes! This is hilarious. So, I’m not like too edgy, but I’m not your typical news anchor. I don’t love the bob. I always want to add a little spice to it.
Four years ago, I got an undercut and I have had a barber shave different designs in it every time. When I go out to brunch—in non-pandemic times—I have my hair up and I have my undercut out and nobody really recognizes me. Well, in June, I decided to put my hair up and on put my suit. I made a Tik-Tok, and out of nowhere it had like 13 million views.
Oh my gosh!
I know! Look, I’m not the first person to break gender norms. We have amazing role models like Jana Shortal, Robin Roberts, and Stephanie Gosk. I think it’s just like whoa, the difference between seeing Megan on air and seeing her with her undercut was just jarring. But, yes, I try to bend the rules as much as I can..without getting fired.
Ken Schneck is the Editor of The Buckeye Flame. He is the author of Seriously, What Am I Doing Here? The Adventures of a Wondering and Wandering Gay Jew (2017), LGBTQ Cleveland (2018), LGBTQ Columbus (2019), and LGBTQ Cincinnati (2020). In his spare time, he is a professor of education at Baldwin Wallace University. You can follow him on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.