Crime stories that involve lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people invariably pique media curiosity. However too often they also garner sensationalistic coverage that focuses on lurid speculation and sexual innuendo.
When a lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender person stands accused of a crime, please treat him or her as you would treat any other person who is similarly accused. If you would not report on the sexual orientation or gender identity of a heterosexual cisgender suspect, please apply a consistent standard for LGBTQ suspects.
It is a false-cause fallacy to imply, suggest, or allow others to suggest a causal relationship between sexual orientation or gender identity and criminal activity. Straight and LGBT people commit crimes. But to insinuate – either through direct statements or by quoting others – that LGBTQ people are more likely to commit crimes because they are LGBTQ is blatantly defamatory. This also applies to insinuating that one person’s criminal acts are broadly representative of all LGBT people.
Stereotypes perpetuate myths. For example, far-right extremists long have claimed that gay and lesbian people are sexual predators, substance abusers, and prone to domestic abuse and child molestation. These baseless, defamatory myths only sensationalize crime stories and fuel anti-LGBTQ sentiment.
Hasty assumptions can feed rumors about the sexual orientations and/or gender identities of any of the involved parties. A criminal’s or a victim’s sexual orientation and/or gender identity is not always obvious – or relevant – based simply on the circumstances of the crime or preliminary investigation reports. If a person’s sexual orientation and/or gender identity is clearly relevant, please investigate to establish it factually rather than relying on speculation or innuendo.
Level the playing field. As a rule, avoid labeling an activity, relationship, or emotion gay, lesbian, bisexual unless you would call the same activity, relationship, or emotion heterosexual or straight if engaged in by someone of another sexual orientation. Do not identify someone as transgender unless it is directly related to the alleged crime. In most cases, your readers, viewers or listeners will be able to discern people’s genders and/or sexual orientations through the names of the parties involved, your depictions of their relationships, and your use of pronouns.
Providing Context. In the section on covering hate crimes, it is recommended that a journalist provide some context about the discrimination, violence and poverty faced by transgender people – especially transgender women of color. The same recommendation is made when reporting on a transgender person who is accused of committing a crime. For additional information about discrimination and violence faced by the transgender community, please see “Injustice at Every Turn,” a report issued by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the National Center for Transgender Equality.