Fair, accurate, and inclusive news media coverage is vital to expanding public awareness and understanding of LGBTQ people. While recent decades have shown remarkable advancements in accurate reporting on issues affecting our lives and increasingly nuanced portrayals of the incredible diversity within LGBTQ communities, many reporters, editors, and producers continue to face challenges covering LGBTQ issues in a complex, sometimes rhetorically charged climate.
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LOCAL MEDIA ACCOUNTABILITY INDEX – U.S. SOUTH
The South is also leading all regions for people living with HIV and new HIV diagnoses, realities worsened by longstanding racial and economic disparities, discrimination in accessing healthcare, stigma and a lack of awareness about HIV as a preventable, treatable and when treated properly, untransmittable condition.
In pursuit of accelerating LGBTQ acceptance in the U.S. South and nationwide, and to defeat stigma around HIV driving new infections, GLAAD, as part of a three-year, $9 million, multi-state program with Gilead Sciences, examined the coverage of LGBTQ and HIV-related issues in media outlets across the South.
GLAAD’s “Local Media Accountability Index – U.S. South” researched 181 local media outlets, both print and broadcast television, across Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas, over an 18-month period, June 2019 to December 2020. The evaluation period was designed to include coverage before and during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has heavily and disproportionately impacted LGBTQ people and LGBTQ people of color. Local LGBTQ and HIV-specific outlets were not among those measured, as they consistently cover the issues important to their local LGBTQ and HIV-related communities.
This research creates a baseline count of stories and beginning evaluation of LGBTQ news coverage. In this report, we also provide recommendations for local media outlets in the South to increase the quantity, quality and diversity of news stories about LGBTQ people and about HIV.
Covering stories about HIV and people living with HIV is critically important to public health and eliminating the stigma that drives infections. The importance of LGBTQ representation and accurate coverage of LGBTQ people in their local communities cannot be overstated.
Over the past few years, the increase in reported violence against transgender people, as well as proposed and passed legislation unfairly and inaccurately targeting transgender youth, has become one of the greatest barriers to LGBTQ people’s safety, as well as full equality, acceptance, and participation in American society.
“Local media have a tremendous responsibility to represent all in their communities, and that must include LGBTQ people,” said GLAAD President and CEO, Sarah Kate Ellis.
“As anti-LGBTQ legislation is on the rise and HIV continues to impact communities across the U.S. South, GLAAD’s Local Media Accountability Index shows significant under-reporting of LGBTQ stories, a lack of local LGBTQ voices in stories and limited coverage of issues like HIV. Fair and accurate news coverage can break HIV stigma and accelerate acceptance of LGBTQ lives. Our new report is a baseline count to partner with local Southern newsrooms to ensure more stories are told that include LGBTQ residents and organizations from across the region.”
This new research is part of the Gilead COMPASS Initiative®, an unprecedented more than $100 million commitment over 10 years to support hundreds organizations working to address the HIV epidemic in the Southern United States. In its first four years, COMPASS has helped train over 13,000 people across the U.S. South to become better advocates, combating HIV stigma and educating communities across the region.
“HIV remains a public health crisis in the United States and it continues to disproportionately impact Black and LGBTQ+ communities, particularly in the U.S. South,” said Brett Pletcher, Executive Vice President, Corporate Affairs and General Counsel, Gilead Sciences.
“Stories to present facts and raise awareness about HIV while dismantling stigma are essential to helping end the epidemic in the region. Gilead is proud to partner with GLAAD and we hope this Media Accountability Index will help impact change within media outlets in the Southern United States.”
In total over the 18 months, GLAAD measured 1,300 stories about or including LGBTQ people across all nine states, and only 79 stories addressing HIV, in a region where nearly 500,000 people are living with HIV. Of the HIV stories, only 23 were substantive and included facts about HIV that are critical for public awareness, such as HIV as preventable with medication, and treatable to the point of undetectable and thus, untransmittable.
39 of the 181 produced no or negligible LGBTQ content over the 18 month period. At least one outlet in every Southern state studied did not produce an LGBTQ-related story. 12 outlets in Mississippi did not report a single LGBTQ story.
GLAAD also evaluated Southern local news coverage for basic reporting practices for covering LGBTQ people and issues, and found common areas of problematic coverage across all states.
In addition to limited or a total lack of coverage among dozens of outlets, LGBTQ voices were missing in some LGBTQ-related stories. Local outlets also leaned heavily on national wire service reports, without seeking out local LGBTQ voices to include in local coverage. Stories about HIV-related issues were limited, and often did not contain key information about latest science and medical breakthroughs that can slow or stop the epidemic, and encourage people to take preventative medication, get tested and receive proper treatment.
Other concerns were reports that platformed anti-LGBTQ spokespeople, at times without including an LGBTQ person, or without providing accurate data to counter false claims, or to explain the spokesperson or group’s history of advocating against LGBTQ people. Outlets also too often misgendered transgender people or reported their “deadname,” or birth name they no longer use. GLAAD also noted LGBTQ coverage relegated to opinion sections, and not as reported news stories, where more readers might encounter and accept them.
GLAAD is encouraging local newsrooms to implement the following recommendations to ensure more accurate reporting of LGBTQ people and issues, including seeking out LGBTQ voices and local LGBTQ people and advocates. Journalists should also make it standard procedure to ask for interview subject’s pronouns and use them in their reports, critically important not only for the transgender community, but for nonbinary people.
GLAAD also recommends that journalists avoid “false balance,” to include an anti-LGBTQ voice just for the sake of seeking that “side.” Human dignity and safety are not both sides issues, and outlets should include context on a person or group’s history advocating against LGBTQ people.
Reporters covering crime involving transgender people should fact check names and pronouns beyond official police and medical examiner reports, which can overly rely on official documents that are inaccurate and often not easy for a trans person to change. Seek out the person’s social media contacts and others who personally knew them.
More local news outlets should commission stories about people living with HIV so more people can see how they are living long, healthy, full lives. Stories about HIV should include current science about prevention, treatment and transmission, including the fact that effectively treating HIV means it becomes undetectable and untransmittable.
GLAAD and COMPASS partners across the South are reaching out to newsrooms to discuss the findings and share best practices to improve coverage of LGBTQ stories and HIV. LGBTQ Southerns need more and better representation from the media outlets in their local communities.
A church commemorating Transgender Day of Remembrance in Washington, DC, November 2016 (Ted Eytan) Content…