June is Pride month in many states and municipalities across America, and in several countries around the world.
Unless you are sociologically tone deaf, you know that Pride month is a moment each year for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) community – and its allies – to celebrate their places in humanity. It is timed to commemorate the June 1969 riots in New York City’s Greenwich Village, which followed a police raid on the Stonewall Inn, a gay nightclub. The riots are widely recognized as the beginning of the modern gay rights movement.
The bar, which is still open for business in the Village, was designated as a national park by the Obama administration.
The occasion of this year’s Pride month, 49 years post-Stonewall, begs the question: Are you proud of your station’s or publication’s LGBTQ coverage?
Here are two questions to ask yourself as you contemplate your answer.
- Do you use the proper terminology when reporting LGBTQ issues? NLGJA, “The Association of LGBTQ Journalists,” has an excellent style guide that can help. Among many other things, it explains the difference between the terms “sexual orientation” and “sexual preference.” (Answer: The correct term is “sexual orientation,” since much of the scientific community believes that to whom one is attracted sexually is determined by nature and is not a choice.)
- Do you take into account in your coverage decisions the fact that a significant segment of society has sincerely held beliefs – often based on religion – that being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender is an affront? (Look at how the Supreme Court struggled to thread the needle this week in its Masterpiece Cake Shop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission decision, which favored a Denver-area baker who refused to make a custom wedding cake for a same-sex couple because, he said, it ran counter to his religious beliefs – but only in a narrow way that virtually guarantees the issue will have to be revisited by the high court in the future.)
Whether you realize it, you likely work alongside people in your newsroom who earnestly believe that being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender is, for whatever reason, wrong. Because of regulatory or workplace policies many companies have in place, or both, such individuals have tended to be less open about their beliefs.
I should note, parenthetically, that there is by no means unanimity among religious denominations regarding this issue. While the Roman Catholic church strongly prohibits same-sex marriage, Pope Francis reportedly told a gay man recently that “God made you this way.” Even at some of America’s most ardently evangelical institutions of higher learning, there is disagreement.
But that is not the point.
Rather, the objective here is to help you report on LGBTQ issues in a manner that is accurate and respectful, during Pride month and all year round.
First, resist the temptation to show footage only of drag queens on floats during your coverage of Pride parades or other celebrations. Not all LGBTQ people dress in clothing usually associated with a different gender and then lip sync – sometimes badly – to pop tunes. Ensure your coverage reflects the best obtainable representation of who was there, even the many straight LGBTQ allies who show up.
Second, and perhaps more important, use the correct terminology. In addition to the NLGJA style guide referenced earlier, the Human Rights Campaign has a helpful glossary of terms. We are journalists. We are supposed to be accurate in our reporting.
Third, make it your business – again, for the sake of accuracy – to know the difference between “sexual orientation” and “gender identity.” They are not the same. Earlier this spring, CBSN did a documentary on the subject. Watch it and learn.
Fourth, defy any instinct you may have to paint all opponents of LGBTQ rights as hate-filled bigots. Some most certainly are, but many have deep, thoughtful and, to them, well-reasoned beliefs that loving someone of the same gender, or identifying as someone with a gender different from the one with which he or she was born, is wrong.
Finally, use your air time or social media channels to help your viewers, listeners and readers understand LGBTQ issues specifically relevant to your community.
Last month, Nexstar-owned KARK-TV in Little Rock did just that on its Facebook page. Reporter Mitch McCoy, whose time at the station began in 2015 with him receiving a letter demanding the station take him off the air because he is gay, led an 18-minute Facebook Live interview with two LGBTQ advocates in the heart of Arkansas, one of the reddest states in America.
What McCoy – and Nexstar’s KARK-TV – did was use one of the station’s social media platforms to show members of the LBGTQ community that they have support networks available to them if they need them.
I wish I could say their efforts were met with universal praise, or, at least, acceptance. Sadly, though, one of the people who commented on the Facebook Live video wrote, “Sick nasty demons talk about the disease they are spreading.”
Here are the facts:
- Whether you – or your viewers, listeners or readers – want or choose to believe it, there are LGBTQ community members in your midst.
- The LGBTQ members in your community are human beings, worthy of the respect and the same accurate, unbiased coverage you provide to every other segment of your audience.
- There are people in your community who think being part of the LGBTQ community is sincerely wrong – for religious, cultural or other reasons – and they deserve your respect and factual coverage, too, although you have an obligation to expose any ignorance and hypocrisies that may be behind the outrage of some.
- Covering the LGBTQ community, and those who have legitimate religious and/or moral grounds not to support it, requires – in the effort to provide accurate, balanced coverage – your thoughtful and respectful journalistic consideration.
There’s plenty of name calling to go around. Who, if not us, will thoughtfully explore the real issues in a knowledgeable way, and in a way that educates the people who watch, listen to and read the responsible journalism we produce?
As the RTDNA Code of Ethics states, “Practitioners of ethical journalism seek diverse and even opposing opinions in order to reach better conclusions that can be clearly explained and effectively defended or, when appropriate, revisited and revised.”
There is no issue for which it is more important to follow that guidance than in our coverage of the LGBTQ community.