Many journalists outside of the LGBTQ+ community are eager to tell the stories but find reporting around the topic difficult in fear of backlash should they get it wrong.
To help you navigate the maze, we spoke to a number of LGBTQ+ journalists about their views on reporting issues that are affecting them, and what news organisations can do better.
Get a wide range of voices
One of the main objections about coverage of the LGBTQ+ community in the press is the lack of the variety of voices in stories. Jem Collins, editor of Journo Resources, explained that one of the biggest problems around reporting issues involving LGBTQ+ people originate from not speaking to people in the community itself.
"This will hopefully be fixed by hiring more people who identify on the LGBTQ+ spectrum, but in the meantime, it’s a case of going out there and speaking to people who actually experience these things - they’re the experts," she said.
Eve Hartley, freelance video producer at Metro, added that journalists should also go a step further than just ensuring you speak to LGBTQ+ people and expanding the range of interviewees from the community.
"I’ve seen the same bisexual man quoted on dozens of stories surrounding Pride. It needs to be more diverse, journalists need to do a better job at speaking to underrepresented voices," said Hartley.
"Not every LGBTQ+ person is an encyclopedia for the whole spectrum. I identify as a lesbian, for example, but this doesn’t mean I can answer questions on trans issues, or bisexual issues. Everyone has a unique experience and voice."
Sharan Dhaliwal, editor of Burnt Roti, shares that view: "Find out who you’re erasing and make a point not to. A lot of the time black, trans and sex worker activists are written out of stories. Make sure you’re not doing that by researching accordingly but specifically looking for this."
Ensure trans people are heard
Among those voices should be representation of all the different parts of the LGBTQ+ acronym, including trans people. Another major criticism of press coverage of issues affecting LGBTQ+ communities is the way stories about trans people are portrayed.
"We’re seeing an increase in publications telling LGBTQ+ stories but of that coverage, especially within some national newspapers, we’re seeing a misrepresentation of the trans community," Hartley explained.
She added that she knew through her own experience that not enough trans people are being consulted and quoted on stories that are specifically about their lives.
Jasmine Andersson, staff writer at the i, said that there has been an unwillingness among some trans people to speak to the press as a direct result of coverage of issues that affect them.
"A lot of transgender people feel that they’re demonised a lot and they’re not so willing to put themselves out there and put themselves at risk,” she explained.
Reiss Smith, a freelance journalist for PinkNews, highlighted a particular example of bad practice of reporting on trans people - a story by the Evening Standard about trans women’s right to access a single-sex swimming pond.
Andersson added that journalists need to "look behind the sensationalism" and brush up on the legal rights that trans people currently have.
"We see a lot of content at the moment about trans people using bathrooms of their choice. They've been able to use bathrooms of their choice ever since the Equality Act came in. I don't know why that's being purported to be an issue now, never mind the fact that no trans person would ever have to show their gender recognition certificate in order to use the facility."
In addition, it is essential when reporting what is said from trans people that their pronouns are correct in the final published text. Simply asking at the start of an interview what a person’s pronouns are can easily avoid unintentional hurt feelings later on.
Alongside getting pronouns wrong, avoid 'deadnaming,’ which means using a trans person’s former name. Andersson said that this is repeatedly done by publications and not only is it disrespectful, but it can also be quite traumatic for the person involved.
Do your research
As well as speaking to groups across the LGBTQ+ community, it is vital to do your research into the issues that affect them to better understand the story and avoid an unintentional distortion.
Andersson said that Stonewall, the UK-based LGBTQ+ charity, provides a wide range of help and advice, as well as a glossary of terms to define the terminology used by the LGBTQ+ community. She also recommended the American media monitoring organisation GLAAD for resources, in particular their Media Reference Guide specifically tailored towards journalists to help them report stories fairly and accurately.
Amy Ashenden, video editor at PinkNews, also suggested following LGBTQ+ activists on different social media platforms, such as Twitter, to get a better perspective of the views of the wider community on different current events.
Dhaliwal added: "Before writing on a country’s volatile behaviour to an LGBTQ+ person, find out who brought in the legislation - a lot of the time it’s the British rule that brought in the law, so don’t define a culture’s homophobia until you know whether it’s actually ingrained in them."
Have LGBTQ+ people in the newsroom
One of the big steps to having a greater understanding of LGBTQ+ issues is to ensure that there is greater diversity in the newsroom and hiring people from the community.
For organisations and companies where hiring is not an option, Collins suggested commissioning LGBTQ+ people to write stories affecting them will not only ensure greater diversity but also bring a greater understanding of the issue.
It is, of course, important to avoid pigeonholing reporters into reporting only on LGBTQ+ stories just because they happen to be part of that community. However, Andersson suggested that the experiences that LGBTQ+ people face, such as higher rates of poverty and homelessness, can help those journalists bring interesting and different perspectives to a wider range of stories.
At a time when homophobic and transphobic attacks are on the rise across the country, and with questions over whether LGBTQ+ relationships should be taught at schools, it is perhaps more important than ever that the press take more steps to avoid mistakes in reporting and prevent offense to LGBTQ+ people, whether unintentional or not.
Free daily newsletter
- How to identify new audience growth opportunities
- Over-reliance on graduate hiring can thwart the efforts to diversify the UK news industry
- 'Treat rejection as a networking opportunity'
- How can journalists use Clubhouse to source and report stories
- Nikki Akinola, diversity and inclusion co-ordinator, NCTJ, on diversifying British journalism