Credit: Photo by James A. Molnar on Unsplash

LGBTQ journalists face high levels of online abuse targetting their sexual orientation and gender identity, with little support from their employers.

In a survey of 40 British LGBTQ journalists published by Birmingham City University, 86 per cent of respondents said they receive abuse and harassment, and 62 per cent of those do not report it internally.

The majority of respondents (78 per cent) also said that the environment for LGBTQ journalists is getting worse, while their employers are not providing sufficient protections (78 per cent) or policies that recognise specific risks (58 per cent).

On the nature of abuse, intense Twitter pile-ons - when a group of users bombards an individual with slurs and defamatory comments - are common, whilst others receive threatening emails and comments.

Articles covering events such as Pride - when written by LGBTQ journalists - can trigger abuse from trolls because they are seen as biased or positively spun compared to stories written by heterosexual colleagues.

"There is a view by some experienced journalists that abuse comes as part of the job, you need to just move on," says author of the report and freelance journalist Finbarr Toesland, speaking on the Journalism.co.uk podcast.

"Especially when companies are encouraging journalists to be online and on social media, the line between personal and professional is really intermingled. Sometimes it’s too much for people who don't want to be in the face of blowback.”

It is this established culture that prevents people from reporting the abuse internally. Many believe that they will be seen as weak and 'not cut out for it', if they express how abuse has affected them. 

Additionally, there are very few newsrooms in the UK that have a formal structure for dealing with cases of abuse and harassment. Consequently, victims do not report their experiences because they do not believe that anything will be acted upon by their employers.

The report provides seven key recommendations for newsrooms to improve support for LGBTQ journalists, informed by respondents to the survey.

  • Expand journalist training to specifically include threats faced by LGBTQ journalists around homophobic abuse
  • Training for media executives on the impacts of abuse against journalists and best practices for advising staff on combating abuse, especially in the digital space
  • Provide therapy/counselling services to both staff journalists and freelancers that face abuse due to their reporting
  • Ensure that incidents of abuse and harassment are recorded and tracked
  • Introduce policies that encourage journalists to report all forms of abuse easily and anonymously
  • Reassess abuse policies to make sure specific risks faced by LGBTQ employees are recognised
  • Ensure that initiatives move beyond achieving representation and expand to foster an environment where LGBTQ journalists feel truly included

Toesland hopes that his report helps to showcase the impact of unchecked abuse against LGBTQ journalists. Ultimately, recognising the issue is the first step to making sure people are not suffering in silence and that abuse is not going under the radar.

“It’s very hard for one journalist to say - ‘I’m going to change the whole newsroom environment’ - and change how everything’s done. It's much easier to find a newsroom that does value you and does make sure that you feel safe and comfortable," he says.

“Support is the biggest thing because there are so many barriers to sharing”

Read Toesland’s report ‘Are media organisations adequately protecting LGBTQ journalists from harassment and abuse?’ for the Sir Lenny Henry Centre for Media Diversity at Birmingham City University.

Free daily newsletter

If you like our news and feature articles, you can sign up to receive our free daily (Mon-Fri) email newsletter (mobile friendly).