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Kerr: Pittsburgh’s media outlets must do a better job covering the LGBTQ population

By June 25, 2018 June 30th, 2018 One Comment

By Sue Kerr

Pittsburgh Current Columnist

Pittsburgh is not a media-friendly town for the LGBTQ community. In fact, that holds true for all of Western Pennsylvania. There’s not a single LGBTQ-centric traditional or mainstream media outlet west of Harrisburg.

That has not always been the case. The Pittsburgh Gay News (1972-1976), Gay News (1978-1980), Gay Life (1977-1979), Planet Queer (1994-1999), and Pittsburgh’s Out (1979-2012) have offered news coverage of the regional LGBTQ community. Glossy magazines such Cue Pittsburgh (2009 – 2012), Pittsburgh’s Equal (2012-2015) and Metro Burgh (2015-2016), all have long since ceased publication

What we do have now is important. QueerPgh is an online cultural magazine. There is an online newsletter out of Johnstown and a print/online monthly newsletter out of Erie. We have a handful of blogs that have been around for awhile, including my own. But none of these are formal news outlets, an important distinction when the very soul of journalism is at stake in a national debate.

Broadcast journalism has not fared much better. There is only one openly gay anchor/reporter on a local television station. That same station recently aired a segment about a controversial Snapchat filter called “I’m a Big Gay Homo,” but would not use the word homo, instead opting for the phrase “a derivation of homosexuality.” HOMOsexuality instead of HOMO used in context of a story about slurs is not a constructive choice.

Only one regional outlet, to my knowledge, uses a LGBTQ style guide (PublicSource.) WESA FM used to use it. I hope Pittsburgh Current will as well (editor’s note: we will).

It is even more discouraging to witness the trend in local mainstream media to displace or replace allies who stood watch over LGBTQ stories as the outlets stagger to the right. Personnel changes by publishers and producers who are not firmly vested in telling accurate and fair LGBTQ stories can be devastating.  

What’s new in our region is perhaps the most exciting — a local chapter of the NLGJA, the National Association for LGBTQ journalists which now boasts nearly 40 members. The chapter was established in late 2017 by local journalists, including  Kristina Marusic.

According to its website: “Founded in August 1990 by the late Leroy (Roy) F. Aarons, NLGJA is an organization of journalists, media professionals, educators and students working from within the news industry to foster fair and accurate coverage of LGBTQ issues. NLGJA opposes all forms of workplace bias and provides professional development to its members.” The chapter has organized social and educational gatherings to build solidarity among the members.

This group brings together LGBTQ identified writers, editors, photographers, producers and more. They’ve organized more than a dozen social and educational gatherings.

I view that as a constructive change, to move from exclusively focusing on the failings of media outlets to focusing on the successes of the LGBTQ individuals working within them.

Personally, I do not think the region can support a print LGBTQ-centric publication. In addition to the general challenges facing print media, there is the reality that the LGBTQ community in this region is actually pretty small. A 2015 Gallup poll found that Pittsburgh had the second-lowest percentage  of LGBTQ adults in 50 metro areas. My experience as a blogger has been that there are a lot of LGBTQ folks who live in rural Western Pennsylvania and don’t necessarily want to relocate to Pittsburgh.

I’d like to see an organization such as the Pittsburgh Equality Center (formerly the GLCC of Pittsburgh) or Persad Center publish a regional newsletter, perhaps with foundation support, to build upon what does work and forge relationships with mainstream media outlets to raise the bar for their content as well.

The lack of accurate and fair reporting has an impact. It shapes public perspective on the LGBTQ community in two ways that are especially significant.  First, single reports that fail to adhere to best practices with regard to ‘real’ names, gender identity, and pronouns when covering the trans and non-binary communities, reinforce ugly stereotypes that are tied to harassment, bullying, and discrimination.

Second, some experiences are erased from the public eye. , There have been at least 8 QTPOC whom have died violent deaths in this region since 2014 and very little media attention to their deaths (or lives), much less acknowledging their identities.

Resources are available.

The GLAAD media guide is very helpful. I refer people to it all the time, journalists and non-journalists alike, because it clearly explains a lot of concepts that may be unfamiliar. The NLGJA national organization also has a style guide.

If we cannot cover stories about people at their most vulnerable moments with fairness and accuracy, what does that say about us as a society? And what does it say about our LGBTQ community that we demand accuracy around our role models and heroes, but remain indifferent to the coverage of our neighbors in terrible circumstances? 

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