Jon Holmes is the senior home page editor at Sky Sports and the founder of Sports Media LGBT+, a network, advocacy and consultancy group.
In the last few years, I have covered a broad range of stories about people connected with sport who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender.
Sky Sports is the media partner on Stonewall's Rainbow Laces campaign, which seeks to make sport everyone's game by raising awareness around LGBT+ inclusion. We have invited athletes, coaches, administrators and others involved in sport who are either LGBT+ themselves or vocal allies to talk about their experiences and help to reflect the growing visibility of the wider community in society.
Occasionally those contributors are people who are involved in elite sport, but visible LGBT+ representation at that level remains rare, particularly in men's team sports or other male-dominated competitions. This means I am often speaking to those below the elite, such as athletes in grassroots sports, to learn more about their respective journeys and how the barriers that have held LGBT+ people back in the past are being gradually broken down.
I set up Sports Media LGBT+ in 2017 to encourage more visibility and networking in our own part of the sports journalism industry. The group soon took on an advocacy role - our #AuthenticMe initiative encourages conversations on how being your authentic self can help to unlock peak performance if you are LGBT+ - and as a consultancy, we offer guidance and assistance to anyone with a goal to achieve in LGBT+ sport who wants to harness the power of the media.
I have now distilled learnings from all these activities into a resources pack called 'Rainbow Ready: Communicating LGBT+ Inclusion in Sport'. It is aimed at anyone in a media, communications or related role - that could be a press officer, a journalist, an agent, or even the athlete themselves using a social platform. The aim is to give them the confidence to discuss LGBT+ inclusion in sport, especially if they are not LGBT+ — and of course, the majority of people in those roles are not. Being a good ally is not complicated, but often the fear of getting something wrong means opportunities to send out a positive message are passed up.
Here are five tips to help you report on LGBT+ with confidence. These can apply to the wider media industry too, not just sports media. You can find more information in the resources pack itself.
Check the calendar!
Inevitably, it is the sport that is going to be the focus (and rightly so) but the people who are either participating or helping to make the action happen are part of the picture. So when would be a relevant time to learn more about those who are LGBT+, and how that might shape their experience in sport?
For example, February is LGBT History Month in the UK and also the annual month of action for the Football v Homophobia campaign, a long-running anti-discrimination initiative that is recognised across the game. Awareness days and events such as local Prides are increasingly supported by NGBs, clubs and groups; they provide opportunities for everyone to discuss inclusion and why it is important to the whole community. Here are a few dates to put in your diary.
Invite LGBT+ people and allies to contribute
We should all want our content to be representative but how do we build trust with LGBT+ people so that they can help to provide that visibility?
In sport, there is a thriving scene of inclusive clubs full of people with fascinating backstories — and though they might not be household names, there is certainly interest in their journeys. In recent months, we have seen prominent articles on major websites about a former Academy footballer who is a trans woman; a professional ice hockey player who came out as bisexual; a county cricketer who has faced transphobic abuse; and a London 2012 Olympic hero explaining why he is a vocal ally to the LGBT community.
With clear and respectful intentions, and a pledge to help share a person's truth accurately and in their own words as much as possible, you can build trust and bring in those LGBT+ voices.
Consider the power of presentation
It is often an exercise in empathy when you are helping LGBT+ people tell their stories. Unless you are reporting for a publication for the community, the majority of your audience will not be LGBT+ themselves.
The impact of a headline and chosen image can have even greater impact than usual here — you are probably trying to summarise what may be a complex and nuanced interview into just a few words, with a picture to match. If the subject is coming out publicly for whatever reason, their sexuality or gender identity may be the main angle. It is important to not sensationalise such a story, or make someone feel uncomfortable by 'minimising' them to just a label in a headline.
Meanwhile, if you are reporting more generally or on a person you cannot name for whatever reason, do not go for the silhouette of a mystery figure - a tabloid favourite - as this perpetuates a stigma in sport and other walks of life that being LGBT is something to keep hidden or secret. Consider using a picture that sends out a more inclusive, welcoming message instead. There are plenty of Pride flags, rainbow laces and similar around in sport nowadays.
Take time on terminology
The LGBT+ lexicon is increasingly part of everyday vocabulary but fear of 'getting it wrong' persists, even among those who would consider themselves to be strong allies.
Meanwhile, in sport particularly, there are still stereotypes and perceptions that make LGBT+ people reluctant to be vocal and visible about that part of their identity. Finding the right words may require extra research.
For example, it is preferable to just say 'gay' and 'lesbian' instead of using the more clinical term 'homosexual'; there's no need to 'deadname' (use the previous name) of someone who is trans, and doing so is likely to cause distress; and while some people may tell you they identify as queer, others could find that term offensive, so check first before using it as a description. Ultimately, reading around the topic and listening carefully to the language that each person uses to talk about themselves will ensure you get it right.
Be prepared for a range of reactions
It is natural to be cautious around covering a story with an LGBT+ theme, especially if you have never written one before. What can also be concerning is the potential reactions that might follow on from such content, such as on social media. Accusations of 'virtue signalling', 'cultural Marxism' or worse are occasionally used to discourage or shut down talk of diversity and inclusion.
On the participation of trans and non-binary people in sport, there may be debate around policies. The story of a trailblazer in their particular sport could attract significant engagement. When putting the content together, think ahead to what the outcomes might be and ensure those you are interviewing are fully prepared — they may even benefit from some bespoke media training.
Following these steps will help you feel more confident so that when the time comes to publish or broadcast, you know you have taken good care of something that is very precious to the people involved and that the content will reflect their lived experience.
Read and download 'Rainbow Ready: Resources for Communicating LGBT+ Inclusion in Sport' for free from the Sports Media LGBT+ website. The pack consists of a strategy and media guidelines, and is designed for anyone in a communications or media role who is looking for practical advice. Follow on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and email firstname.lastname@example.org for enquiries, feedback, etc.
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